Charges vs green activists Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, an attack on freedom of expression – Karapatan

January 30, 2024

“We deplore the Department of Justice’s resolution to press grave oral defamation charges against environmental defenders Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro. This is an attack on freedom of expression in the country, where victims of rights violations are persecuted for speaking the truth,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay on what they called as another form of reprisal against the two women survivors of abduction.

In a 15-page resolution, the DOJ panel of prosecutors recommended Tamano and Castro to be charged individually for grave oral defamation under Article 358 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). The perjury charges against the two, however, are dismissed.

Palabay said it is appalling that the decision to press charges was made public at the same time that United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan is in the country, looking into the situation of the basic rights and freedoms of the people to express, and said that “this is very telling of how under the Marcos Jr. administration, the Justice Department which is supposed to support rights violations victims in seeking justice chose to pursue charges that are meant to discredit the two’s truthful account of their abduction.”

“This resolution belies the recent pronouncements made by the DOJ during Khan’s visit that they encourage the victims to come forward, so they can be assisted in their search for justice. Instead of considering the harrowing accounts of Jhed and Jonila on their abduction, captivity and torture, the DOJ made their abductors look like the victims in this whole incident,” said Palabay.

The group also said that this also showed the orchestration done by the AFP, the NTF-ELCAC, and the DOJ, to discredit and malign Tamano and Castro. “How they were portrayed as making up the story of their abduction, and defending their loophole-filled story of the two’s ‘surrender,’ is the proven dirty narrative of forced surrenders and abduction by state security forces.”

“To begin with, the AFP need not be ‘dishonored and discredit.’ Their dirty fascist deeds can speak for themselves on the institution’s notoriety for human rights violations. They are dumbfounded, however, that their concocted story did not work with the two and spoke out the truth in public, thereby exposing the policy of the state to silence and carry out abductions here and there,” Palabay said.

Palabay also said that the arguments of the DOJ resolution adopted the lies of the AFP that the two plotted their abduction story with their alleged objective of maligning the AFP, as well as the pronouncements done by DOJ secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, who said that the accounts of the two abduction survivors are part of the “CPP-NPA playbook,” to “discredit the government.”

“What do we expect then from a justice department that only serves as a mouthpiece of the Marcos Jr. government’s counter-insurgency campaign? Who would trust an agency to soundly decide and side with the truth when its chief itself is involved in red-tagging, and the grand choreography of belying the real experiences of rights violation victims like Jhed and Jonila? Not under Remulla, not under a Marcos Jr. administration that is a professional lie factory,” said Palabay.

Karapatan maintained that they will stand with the two environmental activists as they face this judicial harassment. They also appealed to the Supreme Court to grant the petition for the writ of amparo and habeas data which was filed four months ago, saying that amidst this development, all the more that Tamano and Castro should be given protection from the never-ending attacks against them.

“We will stand by Jhed and Jonila. They represent the victims of abduction and enforced disappearance who are being gagged in speaking out the truth of a State that carries out a campaign of repression against the people,” Palabay said.

Palabay also appealed to the public, and to UN Special Rapporteur Khan, to look into the case of Tamano and Castro as among the pressing issues on the state of freedom of opinion and expression in the Philippines.

“Despite their harrowing ordeal, taken away, held captive for days, kept in safehouses, and then brought to a military headquarters, and surviving from the threats and psychological torture they experienced in the hands of the military, Jhed and Jonila continue to speak out. They deserve our support and admiration. We hope that UN Special Rapporteur Khan joins us in seeking justice for them. No one who stands for truth, freedom and justice should ever be attacked for speaking out,” Palabay ended.

*Copy of the resolution is available upon request.