NTF-ELCAC is accountable for the abduction, enforced disappearance and fake surrender of two women environmental defenders

Photo by Jam Sta. Rosa/Agence France-Presse

September 20, 2023

Now that the truth is out, Karapatan demands that everyone involved in the abduction, enforced disappearance and fake surrender of environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano be held accountable, especially the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) whose malicious and baseless accusations, harmful rhetoric and activities against ordinary folks and activist groups and individuals have enabled and encouraged the commission of countless human rights violations. The perpetrators, including those who conspired to cover up what really happened in Orion, Bataan on the night of September 2, 2023 should be charged, prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law.

The initial list of those who should be charged should include those who played prominent roles in what would have been an elaborate and sinister cover-up of Jonila and Jhed’s abduction, enforced disappearance and fake or forced surrender had not the victims courageously turned the tables on their abductors. Deeper probes should be conducted by credible and independent bodies to determine the culpability of other personalities in this despicable crime.

Following the principle of command responsibility, there is no way that NTF-ELCAC Chairperson, Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., along with co-vice chairpersons Vice Pres. Sara Duterte and National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano, can squirm their way out of accountability for this and many other human rights violations under their watch.

This incident, along with several others, are more than enough bases for the long-standing demand to defund and abolish the NTF-ELCAC. The ongoing budget deliberations in Congress provide us an opportunity to amplify this demand. Not a single centavo of taxpayers’ money should be used to fund an agency consisting of human rights violators and professional liars.

We must likewise demand the junking of all confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) in the national budget. The sole purpose of the CIF is to provide State forces the wherewithal to surveil, profile, harass, red-tag and persecute dissenters and set them up for fake surrender, unjust arrest and detention on trumped-up charges, or for involuntary disappearance and extrajudicial killing. Besides serving as funds for trampling on the people’s constitutional rights, the CIFs, being largely exempt from audit and scrutiny, are a convenient source of what amounts to pork barrel funds for corrupt politicians.

The perpetrators, and their conspirators, of Jonila and Jhed’s abduction and illegal detention are, at the very least, liable for violating Republic Act 10353, otherwise known as the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act. This law penalizes the crime of involuntary or enforced disappearance with life imprisonment. It prohibits practices such as solitary confinement, holding persons incommunicado or other similar forms of detention. We demand that State authorities disclose the Pampanga safehouse where Jonila and Jhed were brought to after they were abducted in Bataan as other secret detention facilities being maintained by the police and the military. There should be full disclosure and dismantling of such secret detention places.

Jhed and Jonila’s case should also prod the public and government officials, as it is their primordial duty, to strengthen investigations and efforts to find and surface all desaparecidos.

According to Karapatan’s documentation under the Marcos Jr. administration, aside from the cases of the individuals cited below who are still missing, peasant organizer Bea Lopez, 26-year old, was reportedly abducted in Cauayan, Negros Occidental on September 15, together with tricycle driver Peter Agravante. According to reports, they were on the way to Brgy. Gil Montilla when they were accosted by masked and armed men in a white van who forced them into the vehicle. The tricycle the victims were riding was also taken and loaded at the back of a pick-up vehicle. On September 17, Agravante’s body was found in a cliff in Barangay Nagbo-alao, Basay, Negros Oriental. His wrists were bound with rope and his eyes, mouth and ankles bound in duct tape. He had a gunshot wound to the head. Witnesses said that at around midnight of September 16, a white pick-up truck stopped at the area and threw something by the wayside. Lopez’s whereabouts is still unknown.
Jonila and Jhed’s abduction and State authorities’ attempts to portray them as “surrendees” are not happening for the first time under the Marcos Jr. regime. We recall the cases of public sector union organizers Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha in Cebu and indigenous people’s activist Steve Tauli in the Cordillera, to name a few. These form part of a sinister pattern of State-sponsored abductions and coercion to force activists to renounce their pro-people advocacies, disaffiliate from, and misrepresent, their organizations.

In view of this, Karapatan calls for an independent probe on all previous “surrenders” of “former rebels” and for the latter to be represented by competent counsels of their choice, free from any form of custody or coercion by State forces. Following what Jonila and Jhed have very bravely disclosed right in the middle of the NTF-ELCAC’s press conference, it is high time that the truth about the forced/fake surrender shenanigans of the NTF-ELCAC are scrutinized.

Prosecute and punish the abductors of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano!
Surface all desaparecidos!
Stop abductions and fake or forced surrenders!
Abolish NTF-ELCAC!