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Southeast Asian MPs call for justice to be served for France Castro and the ‘Talaingod 18’

10/07/2024

Southeast Asian MPs call for justice to be served for France Castro and the ‘Talaingod 18’

JAKARTA – Philippine authorities must bring an end to six years of legal limbo and provide justice for the Talaingod 18, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.

It is outrageous that 18 people dedicated to helping others – including APHR Member Rep. France Castro – have had these absurd charges hanging over their heads for almost six years,” said APHR Member and Malaysian Member of Parliament Syerleena Abdul Rashid. “It is high time that these charges are resolved once and for all so that the Talaingod 18 can move on and carry out their important work without the threat of legal action looming over them.”

In November 2018, Rep. France Castro and the other members of the Talaingod 18 – including former congressman Satur Ocampo as well as several pastors and teachers – joined a National Solidarity Mission to Talaingod, Davao del Norte, Mindanao in response to a paramilitary group Alamara’s besiegement and harassment of local indigenous communities.

On 28 November 2018, members of the mission were informed that Alamara had threatened students at a local school and sought to help evacuate them. The next day, police arrested 18 members of the mission – now known as the Talaingod 18 – on charges of kidnapping and failure to return a minor, human trafficking, and child abuse. Prosecutors eventually dropped the first two charges, but proceeded with the child abuse charge.

In the nearly three years since the trial finally began in 2021, the prosecution has failed to substantiate these patently ridiculous charges. The case is now awaiting promulgation of the judge’s decision on 15 July 2024.

Given the prosecution’s lack of credible evidence and failure to establish guilt, we urge the court to acquit Rep. Castro and the rest of the Talaingod 18. Acts of bravery must be commended and celebrated, not criminalized,” said Syerleena. “Rep. Castro and her co-accused should be recognized for their dedication to protecting vulnerable communities, not punished for their humanitarian efforts.”

We further urge Philippines authorities to take concrete action to end paramilitary abuse in Mindanao and other regions, and end all judicial harassment of opposition figures,” said Syerleena. “If the Philippines wants to be seen as a rights-respecting democracy, there must be no more Talaingod 18s.”

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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