ENVIRONMENTAL activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano who were earlier reported missing claimed on Tuesday, September 19, 2023, that they were abducted by the military.

In a press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) in Bulacan, Castro and Tamano denied they voluntarily surrendered to the authorities as claimed by the military and the NTF-Elcac.

“Ang tanong na dinukot po ba kami o kusa kaming sumurrender. Ang totoo po dinukot kami ng militar, sakay ng van. Napilitan din kami na sumurender dahil pinagbantaan ang buhay namin,” said Castro.

(The question is whether we were abducted or we surrendered voluntarily. The truth is that the military abducted us, in a van. We were also forced to surrender because our lives were threatened.)

“Yun po ang totoo. Di rin namin ginusto na pumunta kami sa kustodiya ng militar. Hindi rin totoo ang affidavit dahil ginawa -- pinirmahan yon sa loob ng kampo ng militar, wala na kaming magagawa sa pagkakataon na yon,” she added.

(That's the truth. We also did not want to go to military custody. The affidavit is also not true because it was made -- it was signed inside the military camp; there is nothing we can do at that time.)

Tamano said abduction happened on the evening of September 2 in Orion, Bataan.

“Nung gabi po ng September 2, naglalakad lang po kami sa kalsada nung mayroon pong dumukot sa amin. May tumigil pong SUV sa harap namin at dinukot kami, pinilit po kaming pasamahin sa kanila. Yun po ang totoo. Akala po namin sindikato pero kilala po nila kami,” she said.

(On the night of September 2, we were just walking on the road when someone abducted us. An SUV stopped in front of us and abducted us, forcing us to join them. That's the truth. We thought it was a syndicate but they knew us.)

In response, 70th Infantry Battalion Colonel Ronnel Dela Cruz maintained that Castro and Tamano voluntarily surrendered to them on September 12.

“Dinaan po naman namin sa tamang proseso...Pero klarong-klaro po sa atin sa militar po lahat ng proseso from tanggapin namin sila hanggang ngayon po na punto na to,” he said.

(We went through the right process...But it's very clear to us in the military, all the processes from when we accepted them until now this is the point.)

NTF-Elcac director Alexander Umpar vouched for the version of the military.

Various groups, however, called for the immediate release of Tamano and Castro.

Gabriela party-list Representative Arlene Brosas said kidnapping and illegal detention charges must be filed against the 70th Infantry Battalion and the NTF-Elcac.

He reiterated their call to abolish the NTF-Elcac “for brazenly enabling state terrorism using public funds.”

The Environmental Defenders Congress (EDC), which described Tamano and Castro as “dedicated environmental defenders,” said their admission, made even under duress and undeniable coercion, exposed the undeniable truth.

Tamano and Castro serve as community organizers working with fishermen opposing reclamation projects in Manila Bay. (SunStar Philippines)