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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Activists zap NTF-ELCAC surrender claim

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Malolos City—Two environmental activists whom authorities claimed surrendered to the military last week told a government-organized press briefing yesterday that they were abducted and coerced into signing their affidavits.

Activisits Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano both claimed they were abducted on Sept. 2 by military men aboard an SUV in Orion, Bataan, to the surprise of the organizers and members of the 70th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who joined them during the press conference.

Lt. Col. Ronnel dela Cruz, Batallion Commander of the 70th IB, opened the press briefing and announced that the two students, who are members of the human rights group “AKAP KA Manila Bay,” sought the press conference to clear speculations of their reported disappearance.

But when it was Castro’s turn to speak, she belied the claim of Dela Cruz.

“The truth is that we were abducted on September 2. We were forced to ride a van and were blindfolded,” Castro said.

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“We were subjected to intense interrogation by our abductors who admitted they were members of 70th IB Special Action Forces. That affidavit that they have been brandishing which claims we surrendered—we were just coerced into signing them. We could not say no,” she added.

Tamano added: “We were abducted. We did not surrender.”

‘WE WERE ABDUCTED.’ Activisits Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano (second and third from right) are flanked by government and military officials in a press conference Tuesday in Plaridel, Bulacan. Orlan Mauricio

The press conference was organized by the National Task Force to End Local Conflict and Communism (NTF-ELCAC), which later said it was appalled by the claims of the two environmentalists.

“We felt betrayed. The said press conference was organized with only the best of intentions in mind for the said youths and we are extremely grateful to the local government unit of Plaridel under Mayor Jocell Aimee R. Vistan for their generosity and hospitality in facilitating the event,” the task force said in a statement.

Dela Cruz said the military knows nothing of the alleged abduction.

“We are holding on to the fact that they signed custody papers,” he said. NTF-ELCAC Director Alexander Umpar said they will stand by what the military reported.

The task force added that it stands by the position of the Philippine Army’s 70th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. Ronnel Dela Cruz on the circumstances surrounding the surrender of Tamano and Castro, which it said was supported by the duo’s respective affidavits.

The NTF-ELCAC also said whatever caused the two’s sudden change of heart is beyond its comprehension.

“Earlier engagements by Task Force officials with the two students regarding the veracity and truthfulness of their affidavits were convincing enough to merit their public appearance. We were hoodwinked,” it added.

Despite the incident, the body said it remains steadfast in ensuring the safety of the two and committed to upholding their rights as individuals under any circumstances.

“We leave to the wisdom of the Task Force’s legal eagles as to how to proceed from here. Rest assured that the NTF-ELCAC remains committed to continue to tread the path of unity, peace and development at all costs and that Ms. Tamano and Ms. Castro’s safety and well-being are of primordial importance,” the group said.

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