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Jonila Castro

Alliance for the Defense of Livelihood, Housing, and Environment

Jonila Castro is a Filipino woman human rights defender, serving as a community organizer at the local group Alliance for the Defense of Livelihood, Housing, and Environment in Manila Bay, known as Akap Ka Manila Bay. She is recognized for her activism against human and environmental rights violations caused by land reclamation projects in Manila Bay, including the construction of the US $15 billion New Manila International Airport (NMIA). Since the project received approval in September 2019, it has led to the displacement of hundreds of families, destruction of climate-critical habitats, and devastation of wildlife, as highlighted in a 2023 report by Global Witness.

On 2 September 2023, Jonila Castro, along with Jhed Tamano, another woman human rights defender, was kidnapped by four armed and masked men in front of the Orion Water District Office in Bataan province, North of Manila. They were forcibly taken into a grey sport utility vehicle, only to later discover that they were being held in custody by military personnel.

On 19 September 2023, after 17 days of disappearance, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) released Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, holding a press conference with them. The military attempted to present them as surrenderees of the New People’s Army (NPA), allegedly coerced into executing an affidavit of surrender. However, the two environmental women human rights defenders used the press conference to air their grievances, confirming that they were abducted by military forces, subjected to death threats, and endured 17 days of interrogation. Pressure from human rights organizations led to their prompt release.

On 29 January 2024, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano were charged with slander or grave oral defamation by the military. The Department of Justice (DOJ) found sufficient evidence to pursue the case, initially charging them with perjury before dismissing the complaint. If found guilty, grave oral defamation carries a maximum punishment of 6-month imprisonment in the Philippines.

On 15 February 2024, the Supreme Court (SC) granted Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano writs of amparo and habeas data, along with a temporary protection order against members of the Philippine Army’s 70th Infantry Battalion, members of the Philippine National Police Bataan, and NTF-ELCAC, respondents in the case. The court acknowledged elements of enforced disappearance in their case. Despite the temporary protection order, the two women human rights defenders have revealed ongoing surveillance by state agents. Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano filed a petition for writs of amparo and habeas data and a temporary protection order back on 28 September 2024.

On 21 February 2024, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano posted bail for Php 18,000 against the grave oral defamation charge filed by the military. The granted writs did not directly affect the defamation case, which continued to trial. On the same day, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) requested the SC to review the writs of amparo and habeas data and withdraw the temporary protection order granted to the two women human rights defenders. The SC then directed the Court of Appeals (CA) to conduct a summary hearing on the petition and other interim relief sought by petitioners.

However, on 22 February 2024, a preliminary conference in the CA for the issuance of a permanent protection order and the production order for the writ was postponed after the OSG sought an extension in filing their return.

On 14 March 2024, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano filed a motion to quash before the Doña Remedios Trinidad Municipal Trial Court (MTC), aiming to declare a specific indictment, information, or charge against the two women human rights defenders invalid. The motion argued that the Doña Remedios Trinidad MTC lacked jurisdiction over the charges of grave oral defamation filed against them, stating that the allegedly defamatory statements occurred at the Municipal Hall of Plaridel, Bulacan—not in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan. The same motion filed by the two women human rights defenders asserted that the Doña Remedios Trinidad MTC’s authority to try the case was nullified due to the infringement of their fundamental constitutional rights.

On 19 March 2024, the OSG failed to appear before the CA for the preliminary conference, citing the volume of documents it regularly receives. Meanwhile, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano's legal counsel expressed concerns over compromising the right of the two women human rights defenders to a speedy trial.

Meanwhile, the Doña Remedios Trinidad Municipal Trial Court deferred Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano’s pre-trial and arraignment to 25 April 2024, which was initially scheduled for 15 March 2024.

Prior to the abduction, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano had reportedly experienced intimidation, harassment, and red-tagging—a smearing tactic used against human rights defenders—accusing them of belonging to the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party. This alarming incident underscores the dangers faced by human rights defenders working in the Philippines.