Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the case of the resurfaced missing environmental activists 

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the case of the resurfaced missing environmental activists 

Acting on news reports and in pursuance of our Constitutional mandate, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), through the joint effort of CHR Central Office Protection Cluster and CHR Region III, prompted an independent investigation on the alleged enforced disappearance and arbitrary deprivation of liberty of two environmental defenders, Jonila Castro, 21, and Jhed Tamano, 22, who allegedly went missing in the evening of 2 September 2023 in Orion, Bataan. 

A total of 15 military camps and police detention facilities in Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, and Zambales were searched by CHR in an effort to locate Castro and Tamano.

On Friday, 15 September 2023, government representatives reported during a press briefing held by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) that the two were “safe and sound” after allegedly voluntarily surrendering to the 70th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan on 12 September 2023 for wanting to leave the communist movement. Castro and Tamano were not present in the said press briefing and were said to be staying in a safe house. A government representative during the same press briefing clarified that the incident was “not an abudction” but an “an elaborate hoax and scam.” The two environmental activists also reportedly expressed intent to participate in the government’s Balik-Loob Program meant to assist former rebels in reintegrating into mainstream society. 

It was only the following Tuesday, 19 September 2023, when the two missing activists resurfaced in another press briefing organised by NTF ELCAC at the Municipal Hall of Plaridel, Bulacan and belied the the claim that they have allegedly voluntarily surrendered, including the contents of the affidavit they signed to support this statement. 

This incident prompted the turnover to the CHR’s Regional Office of Castro and Tamano who were brought to the CHR Central Office on the same day to facilitate the formal turnover to their families in the presence of their counsels. 

Given the complexity of the issue at hand, CHR notes that this case remains to be open and subject to continuing investigation. 

CHR notes the activists’ concerns on their safety and claim for accountability for any human rights violation committed. At the same time, CHR also recognises the move of the government to file cases to be filed against Castro and Tamano after recanting their statements of voluntary surrender. 

CHR is approaching this case objectively and independently, and commits to exhaust the all applicable and necessary mandate of the Commission in seeking the truth and helping serve the ends of justice, as well as the protection of human rights.