Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the alleged abduction of two young women environment defenders in Bataan

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the alleged abduction of two young women environment defenders in Bataan

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has dispatched a quick response operation through its office in Region III to probe the alleged abduction of two young environment defenders and community volunteers, namely Jonila Castro, 21, and Jhed Tamano, 22.
 
The two young women were reported missing by the anti-reclamation network AKAP KA Manila Bay on 2 September 2023. On their way to conduct relief operations and consultation with communities, Castro and Tamano were allegedly snatched in Barangay Lati, Orion, Bataan on the said date at around 7:00 PM. Based on the statement of the AKAP Ka Manila Bay and other environmental rights groups, the two volunteered to conduct research on the flooding in the area and the effects of the Manila Bay reclamation on the livelihoods of the fishing communities in the area. Prior to their alleged abduction, Castro and Tamano reportedly experienced intimidation and harassment.
 
CHR is gravely alarmed by this latest case of alleged abduction only a few days after the observance of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. We call for immediate and exhaustive efforts from law enforcement agencies to search for the missing young environment advocates. To help locate Castro and Tamano, it is also equally crucial for witnesses and individuals with information to step forward and coordinate with CHR and other investigation bodies.
 
In accordance with our protection mandate, CHR investigates any suspected case of enforced or involuntary disappearance. As Gender Ombud, we also call attention to the young women’s vulnerability to gender-based abuse. Hence, it is crucial that resources are maximized to immediately find the young activists.
 
The Commission stresses that arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of liberty, such as illegal arrest, detention, or abduction, are severe human rights violations punishable under the Republic Act No. 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012. It cannot be overemphasized that the Philippine Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee the right to life, liberty, and security of all.
 
This latest case of twin abduction manifests the continuing susceptibility of activists to enforced or involuntary disappearance. We hope that the State will take decisive action before another case of missing human rights defenders is reported. It is crucial to resolve all cases of ‘desaparecidos’ to curb the impunity that enable human right violations to continue.
 
CHR takes this opportunity to underscore the need to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to serve as a legal standard that will stand beyond political dynamics, leadership change, or shifts in policies. We also continue to remind the government to strengthen safeguards on the rights of environmental defenders. As many of them work to defend the environment through peaceful and responsible means, it is imperative that they are supported, instead of subjected to violence, harassment, and intimidation.