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Philippine Church demands end to ‘systematic abductions’

State institutions involved in abductions and kidnappings must be held accountable, says Bishop Gerardo Alminaza

Filipino activists Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha were allegedly abducted in January this year.

Filipino activists Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha were allegedly abducted in January this year. (Photo Credit: Bulatlat via Civicus Monitor)

Published: September 26, 2023 09:38 AM GMT

Updated: September 27, 2023 03:24 AM GMT

A Filipino Catholic bishop has demanded the end of abductions of activists by state agencies in the Catholic-majority nation and called for accountability for the recent alleged abductions of two environmental campaigners.

The “systematic abductions” of activists across the country “point to state forces as the culprits,” said Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos in a statement, CBCP News of the national bishops’ conference reported on Sept. 24.

“Perpetrators, including military and police officers, as well as officials of state institutions… involved in abductions and kidnappings, must be held accountable,” said Alminaza, vice-chairman of the bishops’ Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace.

The statement referred to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the Department of National Defense (DND) which conducts investigations and arrests against criminal elements.

It came days after two environmental activists Jonila Castro, 21, and Jhed Tamano, 22, were allegedly abducted by security forces and then released.

The duo was allegedly abducted on Sept. 2. They claimed the state agencies targeted them for their work among coastal communities opposed to reclamation projects in Manila Bay in Bataan province.

Castro and Tamano were released on Sept. 19.

During a press conference, hosted by the state agencies, they claimed they were abducted and forced to sign a document stating they had surrendered.

Alminaza decried the press conference as “staged” aimed to show a “fake surrender” by activists and called for an end to the heinous practice.

“The existence of a 'fake surrender' scheme, promoted by military institutions and NTF-ELCAC, must come to an end,” Alminaza said.

The bishop also said the abduction of the activists “serves as a distressing reminder of the challenge we face.”

Rights groups have accused the Philippines of impunity towards scores of abductions, threats, detentions, and killings of activists.

Global Witness, a London-based environmental conservation group, has ranked the Philippines as the worst place in Asia for land and environmental defenders, with 270 defenders killed between 2012 and 2021.

Over 40 percent (114) of the defenders murdered were indigenous peoples campaigning to protect their land and the environment – with nearly 80 percent of attacks against indigenous defenders taking place on the island of Mindanao.

The group in its investigations found that more than 80 percent of the killings over the past decade in the Philippines are linked to “protests by defenders against company operations.”

“A third of the killings are linked to the mining industry, closely followed by the agribusiness sector,” the group alleged.

“Impunity is rife,” the group said, alleging that “state forces are behind the majority of killings in the few cases where the identity of the perpetrators is documented.”

In a report in March, rights watchdog, CIVICUS, rated the state of civic space in the Philippines as “repressed.”

“Over the last year, the CIVICUS Monitor documented the red-tagging, arbitrary arrest, and prosecution of human rights defenders and activists on fabricated charges, while journalists faced threats and attacks. Protests were also stifled,” it said.

The practice known as "red-tagging" – labeling individuals as communist sympathizers – can result in the arrest, detention, or even death of the person targeted.

The group in its report highlighted various incidents related to illegal abduction, threatening, and detention by state forces.

In January, development workers and labor rights advocates Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha were abducted and released after five days.

“They were threatened that they would be turned over to other units of a ‘task force’ for possible execution,” CIVICUS reported.

The group pointed out that no member of the police and the military was charged for killing nine community-based activists in coordinated raids known as the ‘Bloody Sunday’ in March 2021.

The Philippines’ prosecutor’s office dismissed a murder complaint against 17 police officers over the death of Emmanuel Asuncion – who was among the nine killed – citing “absence of proof.”

In January, martial law survivor and playwright Bonifacio Ilagan, a staunch critic of the Marcos family including President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., alleged that he had received death threats.

Ilagan claimed an unidentified man who introduced himself as part of a unit tasked to “wipe out” communists said that he and his unit were just waiting for “the final order from the higher-ups,” CIVICUS reported.

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