Caritas Philippines hits government ‘crackdown’ on environmental activists

September 23, 2023

The social action arm of the Catholic Church in the Philippines has called for an end to what it describes as a “government crackdown” against environmental defenders.

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, president of Caritas Philippines, expressed concern over the alleged state-sanctioned attacks on environmental defenders, “who are simply working to protect our planet and the rights of communities affected by climate change and environmental degradation”. 

The prelate cited the recent abduction and enforced disappearance of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, two young environmental activists who were abducted by the military on September 2, 2023.

The activists went missing in Orion town, Bataan province on September 2. After weeks, the military presented them as rebel surrenderees and admitted that the activists were in government custody.

In a press briefing arranged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in Plaridel town, Bulacan province on September 19, Castro and Tamano, revealed that they were “forced to sign” an affidavit stating that they were members of the communist party.

The two environmental defenders that they were “abducted” and “threatened” by the state forces. “The truth is, we were abducted by the military. We were forced to surrender because they threatened our lives. That is the truth,” said Castro.

Bishop Bagaforo said the abduction of Castro and Tamano by state forces “is a clear attempt to silence environmental defenders and intimidate those who speak out against destructive development projects”.

The prelate called on the government to hold those responsible for the abduction and enforced disappearance of the two young women accountable.

Lawyer Tony Laviña of the Manila Observatory, said now is the best time for “the Public Affairs Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to hold NTF-ELCAC into account.”

Recently, the Commission drew criticism after it joined the executive committee of the government’s anti-communist task force.

“On this International Day of Peace, we urge the government to listen to the voices of environmental defenders and to work with them to protect our planet and the rights of all Filipinos,” said Bishop Bagaforo.

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