Search team finds missing Pangasinan activists
April 1, 2024

By SHERWIN DE VERA
Northern Dispatch

BAGUIO CITY — The abduction case of two environmental activists in Pangasinan has been added to the growing number of “short-term disappearances,” an emerging global trend that the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights noted in its 2023 factsheet on enforced disappearances.

“After three days of persistent and tireless efforts and camp searches, we are relieved to confirm that environmental rights defenders and church workers Francisco “Eco” Dangla III and Joxelle “Jak” Tiong are no longer in the hands of their abductors, bruised but alive,” announced the fact-finding team formed to search for the two on March 28.

The OHCHR said victims of enforced disappearances of short duration “may resurface shortly thereafter, either dead or alive. If they are alive, it is likely that they have been tortured.”

“While they are still reeling from their harrowing ordeal, we hope that in due time, Eco and Jak will be able to fully recount the details of their abduction and subsequent release. Their captors should desist from making any attempts to further harass them,” the fact-finding team added.

Dangla and Tiong were abducted in Barangay Polo, San Carlos City, on the evening of March 24. Witnesses said the victims were mauled and were forced into an SUV. The two are convenors of the Pangasinan People’s Strike for the Environment and are active in the campaign against coal-fired power plants and offshore mining in the province.

In an earlier statement, Karapatan noted “the similarities between this abduction and that of environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano.”

Their disappearance drew widespread condemnation, including from the Catholic leadership. More than 250 organizations and 400 individuals from the Philippines and abroad signed the online petition calling for their immediate and safe release.

In a statement, Caritas Philippines Vice President Bishop Gerardo Alminaza urged a “swift and thorough investigation” of the case.

“This violent act against Mr. Dangla and Mr. Tiong, who selflessly dedicate their lives to protecting our environment, is a flagrant assault on us all. Their safety is paramount. We demand a swift and thorough investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the prelate said.

The incident also highlights the dangers of red tagging, the practice of linking activists to communist rebels, according to human rights and environmental groups. The victims were repeatedly vilified before the abduction.

“We are one with them in their demand for justice. Those responsible for their abduction and tortuous ordeal must be held accountable,” the fact-finding team stated.

The group further said: “This pattern of attacks against environmental activists, human rights defenders and whole communities, in the context of the prevalent climate of impunity and socio-economic ills, shows that the rights situation in the Philippines remains dire under the Marcos Jr. administration.”

The Pangasinan Provincial Police Office and the Commission on Human Rights have launched investigations into the incident. # nordis.net/Photo from Surface Eco and Jak Network

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