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NTF-ELCAC stands by facts, unfazed by unfortunate turn of events

LE September 19, 2023

Officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) stood firm on the merits of the police investigation surrounding the voluntary surrender of the two community organizers of communist front organizations.

“We will standby kung ano ang ni-report ng AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines),” said Director Alex Umpar of the NTF-ELCAC Secretariat during a press conference in Plaridel, Bulacan.

Umpar said this despite the change of narrative by Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro who told the media that they were “abducted” and “forced to surrender” by soldiers on September 2, 2023 in Orion, Bataan.

“Kaya nga tayo nagkaroon ng ganitong presscon para nga masabi nga natin na nandito, nandito ‘yung sinasabi nga nila na nawawala at nasa kustodya nga ng AFP. Nakipag-coordinate pa nga kami sa local government unit (LGU) ng Plaridel para makita na ‘yung pagkalinga dito sa dalawang kapatid na nanumbalik ay matulungan ng gobyerno lalong-lalo na dito sa Plaridel dahil constituents ito ni Mayor Jocell Aimee Vistan-Casaje. ‘Yun ang aming mission para mailapit at matulungan ang dalawang kapatid na nagbalik-loob, according to the AFP. We standby with what the AFP (and) PNP for that matter na nailahad hinggil dito sa insidenteng ito,” he insisted.

“Kailangan nating tulungan ang dalawang nagbabalik-loob na mga ito. Kaya nandito ang lahat ng line agency para maging maayos ang lahat. We will really provide the right assistance to these victims of terrorism,” Umpar said.

Plaridel Mayor Casaje, meanwhile, assured the LGU will throw its all-out support to Tamano and Castro like other sectors specially the youth.

“Kami (LGU) po ay nandito para tulungan ang lahat ng sektor, ganun din sa mga kabataan. Kami po ay sinusuportahan ang inyong pagbabalik,” she said.

In a statement released following the press conference, the NTF-ELCAC leadership bewailed the two students’ “sudden change of heart” but vowed that it shall remain committed in fulfilling its mandate.

“The said press conference was organized with only the best of intentions in mind for the said students and we are extremely grateful to the local government unit of Plaridel under Mayor Casaje for their generosity and hospitality in facilitating the event,” the Task Force said.

“The NTF-ELCAC stands by the position of the 70th Infantry Battalion under LtCol. Ronnel Dela Cruz on the circumstances surrounding the surrender of Tamano and Castro, backed up by the duo’s respective affidavits narrating their whereabouts from the time they decided to leave the underground movement until their safe arrival at the Battalion headquarters with the help of a friend,” it added.

The NTF-ELCAC leadership also stressed that it will “remain steadfast in ensuring the safety of the two and committed to upholding their rights as individuals under any circumstances.”

“The holding of the press conference was imbued with a tremendous amount of good faith, notwithstanding the unimaginable outcome of the same. If their intention was to humiliate the NTF-ELCAC and those who trusted them despite the good faith we have shown, we shall remain unfazed and committed to fulfilling our mandate for the greater good of the people and of the country. We leave to the wisdom of the Task Force’s legal eagles as to how to proceed from here,” it added.

Earlier, Captain Carlito Buco Jr., public information officer of the Bataan Provincial Police Office (BPPO), disputed the propaganda of alleged abduction by front organizations like AKAP Ka, an affiliate of fisherfolks group Pamalakaya; Karapatan; Kabataan partylist; among others.

Lieutenant Colonel Ronnel dela Cruz, commanding officer of the 70th Infantry Battalion whose men fetched the two militant students on Sept. 12 in Guagua, Pampanga, debunked Tamano and Castro’s claims of abduction.

“There has been negotiations for their surrender,” dela Cruz said.

Based on the police report, Tamano and Castro were fetched on Sept. 2 by a certain “Ate” whom they contacted for help after they had decided to leave the communist movement and start a peaceful life. Ate brought them to a safe place in Guagua town. From there, Ate contacted an acquaintance to seek help from the 70IB for the safety of the two activists.

Dela Cruz maintained Tamano and Castro executed their affidavits through the assistance by lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

“Nagkaroon po sila ng attorney na kanilang pinanumpaan po ang kanilang salaysay which is ‘yun nga po ibinigay sa kanila ‘yung salaysay nila. Klaro naman po, ini-edit nga po nila ‘yung salaysay nila, wala po kami roon nung kinuhaan po sila ng salaysay. That’s between the attorney and them po, ‘yun nga po ang nangyari,” Dela Cruz explained. ###


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