Ecumenical bishops call to surface missing church worker, environmental defender

September 5, 2023

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF), which is composed of Catholic and Protestant bishops in the Philippines, issued an appeal to surface two missing environmental defenders, one of whom is a member of its staff.

“Whoever took them, they must surface and release the two young people. We are saddened that our youths, who are helping communities address ecological issues, are subjected to these inhumane acts, said retired Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Francisco, chairperson of EBF. 

On September 2, 22-year-old Jhed Tamano, coordinator of EBF’s Community and Church Program in Manila Bay, and 21-year-old Jonila Castro, a community organizer from AKAP Ka Manila Bay, were reported missing.

According to Karapatan, the two were abducted in front of the Orion Water District office in Lati village, Orion town in Bataan province by four individuals in a grey vehicle at around 7:00 p.m.

“The two young women were conducting consultations… A pair of slippers and sandals were left in the area where they were taken,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan.

The two are the 12th and 13th victims of enforced disappearance, following the case of Cedrick Casano.

The missing environmental defenders were engaged in research related to the impacts of the Manila Bay reclamation on livelihood and the environment. Both of them are alumni of Bulacan State University, holding degrees in psychology and business economics, respectively.

According to AKAP Ka Manila Bay, the missing young women were already experiencing intimidation and harassment from alleged state agents a few days before the abduction.

“Castro and Tamano continue to fight against the destructive projects looming on Manila Bay due to their impact on the environment and livelihood. Instead of support, they only reap fear and violence,” the group said in a statement. 

Bishop Francisco urged the Philippine government to “promote the respect of human rights and the dignity of life,” adding that authorities must “conduct immediate probe” about the alleged abduction. 

The prelate encouraged the public, church workers, and environmental advocates “to organize, strongly and courageously, to condemn and fight human rights violations directed towards us and our young people”. 

“We will not stop until our missing environmental defenders and other victims of enforced disappearances are surfaced. It is our prophetic role and responsibility to the people,” he said. 

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