IAWRT community radio coordinator abducted in Cebu

Elena “Lina” Tijamo was forcibly taken from her home in Bantayan, Cebu in the Philippines in the evening of June 13.

by Sarah De Leon

Elena, 58, is the program coordinator for sustainable agriculture FARDEC,  non-profit, non-government organization that offers paralegal and educational services to farmers facing land issues. She is also the Community Radio Coordinator of FARDEC in Bantayan Island, Cebu. It has a radio program, Radyo Sugbuanon in partnership with the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) Philippines.

Suspected military elements—four armed masked men in civilian clothes accompanied by two women—held back family members while they covered Tijamo’s mouth with tape, tied her hands, and took her away. Elena remains missing after more than four days.

Elena’s sister Violeta Tijamo reported the incident at the police station.

Based on Violeta’s account, around 8:00pm after dinner of 13 June, 2020, all six members of the Tijamo household retired to their rooms to rest, except Elena who remained at the dinner table to work. Violeta went out of her room due to dogs barking and a commotion coming from outside. She saw two women toting pistols inside the house by the kitchen door holding Elena whose hands were tied behind her back and her mouth plastered by masking tape. An armed man was positioned in the front door at the sala, while another three armed men were positioned in the kitchen.

Violeta asked the men in Cebuano, “What are you going to do with my sister when she commited no offense?”

They heard one of the male perpetrators replied, “Her husband committed a major offense” and another was overheard saying “This house does not recognize a government.”

Elena and Violeta’s elderly parents, who were with them in the house that time and who are both deaf, was unaware of the incident when it happened.

FARDEC relayed that from the night Elena was taken, her family members received text messages instructing them not to contact the authorities and Lina would be able to go home later.

The following day, they received calls where they were able to speak to Lina who told them that she will be released if social media posts such as the one by Karapatan Central Visayas and news reports of her abduction such as the one by Rappler would be taken down.

Last May 24, Elena reported to the human rights group that a man claiming to conduct a survey for elderly beneficiaries of COVID-19 assistance visited her home but asked about her personal details instead. She later found out that the barangay had no knowledge of a survey.

The government returned Cebu to the 'enhanced community quarantine' protocol, also known as total lockdown, from June 16 and this has hampered the family and FARDEC's search for Elena.

The incident happened while the much-protested “Anti-Terrorism Bill” in the Philippines is in the process of becoming law. The said bill was transmitted to President Rodrigo Duterte by Philippine Congress on June 9 and the Office of the President said it is undergoing review but Duterte is “inclined” to sign it.

The bill, fast-tracked from May 29 and approved in Congress three sessions later, was condemned by all quarters of Philippine society—media, schools, lawyers, church, business, celebrities, etc. for the broad definition of terrorism that may be used against critics. It also features an Anti-Terrorism Council made up of presidential appointees in the Cabinet who will have powers similar that to a trial court and a judge, such as designating terrorist tags and approving warrantless arrests. The bill also prescribes 14 to 24 days of warrantless arrest and detention that many found to be violative of the Philippine Constitution that allows only up to three days even during martial law when the writ of habeas corpus is suspended.