Activists freed from military custody grateful to supporters, say fight is not over

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Jonila acknowledged the dangers of speaking the truth on that day of the press conference, but she said, truth should come out and they cannot allow themselves to be used in deceiving the public.


MANILA – It was a room jam-packed with supporters, friends and the media covering the two environmental defenders, Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, on October 5.

Progressive groups organized the event for the two to express their gratitude to those who helped them after their release on September 19 from military custody.

The mood was ecstatic. Supporters, young and old, were all smiles, an event which is different from other activities organized by the same rights groups that assisted Jhed and Jonila.

Edith Burgos, mother of the disappeared activist Jonas, who opened the program said, “I am very glad that I am here today. Finally, someone has surfaced,” she said.

She said that in activities of the families of the disappeared, they always feel sad and enraged as they have been searching for years. “Those of us who are left behind are always afflicted with a little sadness, maybe because of the reality that we will not see them anymore. Like me, I am already 80 years old, I don’t know if I will see Jonas again as long as I live,” she said.

“Now it is a happy (gathering). We see that there is hope in the dark tunnel,” Burgos said.
Many have expressed their admiration to the two young women activists when they revealed that they were abducted by the military in a press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on September 19 in Plaridel, Bulacan.

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During the press conference, they stressed that they were coerced into signing their sworn statement which they executed inside the military camp.

Time passes quickly

Both Jhed and Jonila were emotional while giving their speech during the gathering. In between sobs, Jonila said that what happened still has not sunk in.

“It was swift. Like, it was only the night of September 2 when we were thinking if we’re leaving (the community) because it was raining and we only have one umbrella and now we are here,” Jonila said in Filipino.

Jonila acknowledged the bravery and courage of those who searched for them.

“We know the nature of fact-finding missions that those who are searching may possibly be the one who will also disappear. That is why, from our companions in the organization and other organizations and church people, thank you so much,” Jonila said.

She also recognized the quick action of the locals of Orion, Bataan in posting alerts on social media that two young women were abducted in their community.

“If not for their swift posting of what happened on Facebook, it may take time for our colleagues to find us. The evidence that will prove that someone is missing might also have been taken away,” she said.

Jhed meanwhile thanked the Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag) for assisting them. She also thanked those who expressed solidarity in the Philippines and abroad.

A nightmare

Jonila said that when someone asks them how they are, she said that they are better now. They can now eat, she said, because food tastes better.

“Food has no taste during the days in the camp and in the safe house,” she said, adding that food tastes better depending on who you share it with.

“We suddenly missed our colleagues, the people, who, even if food is limited and simple, we were happy sharing it. You would have a good appetite,” Jonila said emotionally.

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They can also sleep better now, she added. She described the days when they were held captive by the military as a nightmare.

“Every morning is like waking up from a nightmare when we are at the safe house and (later) in the camp. Why am I here? There is fear because you wonder if the next morning you will still be able to see your family, our colleagues. Can we still continue with the fight that we left behind?” Jonila said.

“We were worried thinking about the situation of the communities in the coastal area of Bataan. Were they evicted? Are they continuing with reclamation activities in the sea? Did our relief operations push through?” she added.

Jonila said that the days that they were being held were time wasted because they should be in the communities. “We also wondered if our friends missed us? Because we missed them so much.”

Jonila acknowledged the dangers of speaking the truth on that day of the press conference, but she said, truth should come out and they cannot allow themselves to be used in deceiving the public. “That’s what made us strong and gave us courage – that we know the truth and we know that what we fight for is just and right.”

She added that what is more terrifying is the continuing injustice and that people’s human rights continue to be violated be it social and economical to civil and political.

Why they will persist

For Jhed and Jonila, no threat can replace their dedication to fight for the people’s rights and be with the people in their struggle. This is why they said that the fight is not over.

“No amount could equal in standing for each other for truth and the correctness of our fight, that is why I am hopeful that our fight would not end here because the current situation of our society demands a lot from us,” Jhed said.

Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel meanwhile praised the courage of the two. “This is a victory because they were released from their abductors. But we know that this is an ongoing battle, right? This should strengthen us together, the help we give each other should be strengthened in order to stop whatever attempts by the evil forces of the state,” Manuel said in Filipino.

Lawyer Dino de Leon also lauded Jhed and Jonila’s courage. “I think the reason why you spoke at that time is because you don’t want that fear, you know the just and right thing to do. And we are inspired by the courage and strength that you’ve shown,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He also stressed the safety of Jhed and Jonila. “I hope that we will continue to support Jhed and Jonila’s safety. Let’s watch out for them as a community,” he said.

Last week, Jhed and Jonila filed a writ of amparo and temporary protection order at the Supreme Court. Respondents include officials and members of the 70th Infantry Battalion, officials and members of the Philippine National Police- Bataan, National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya, and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

De Leon vowed that as Jhed and Jonila’s counsels, they will fight alongside them.

Meanwhile, asked about their plans aside from pursuing legal cases against their abductors, Jonila said their only plan is to continue organizing and be with the masses of the coastal area of Orion, Bataan. “Hopefully we can go back there soon,” she said smiling. (RTS, DAA) (

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