Church takes custody of 2 ‘freed’ activists

Church takes custody of 2 ‘freed’ activists

By: - Correspondent / @yzsoteloINQ
/ 05:42 AM March 28, 2024

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas on Thursday reinforced his position as both a priest and a Filipino citizen, reiterating the patriotic duty to partake in politics “Pro Deo et patria” (for God and country).

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Archdiocese of Lingayen–Dagupan. FILE PHOTO / Roy Lagarde

DAGUPAN CITY — Environmental activists Francisco “Eco” Dangla III and Joxielle “Jak” Tiong have taken refuge in the Catholic Church as they surfaced on Wednesday, three days after their alleged abduction by masked armed men in San Carlos City in Pangasinan province.

But the circumstances behind their purported release were not immediately known, as the two men opted to stay out of the public eye even after allied groups drew attention to their disappearance.


READ: 2 environmentalists allegedly abducted in Pangasinan


READ: Search for 2 activists again leads to camps

According to people close to the activists, they are now in the care of the Lingayen-Dagupan Archdiocese and both have undergone medico-legal procedures.

Dangla, 39, and Tiong, 29, were allegedly seized and forced into a pickup truck by the assailants on their way to attend Simbalo, a Lenten recollection by Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, on March 24.

Both men are members of the archdiocese’s Ecology Ministry and have led local campaigns against proposed black sand mining operations, the setup of nuclear power plants and other environmental issues in the province.

They are also affiliated with the environmental groups Pangasinan People’s Strike for the Environment and People’s Empowered Action on Care for the Environment under the nonprofit Catholic organization Caritas.

‘Flagrant assault’

Except for a photo showing Dangla and Tiong talking to Villegas, details of how they regained freedom following the reported abduction are not yet clear.


Sought for comment, Villegas told the Inquirer that the archdiocese would not immediately release a statement on the incident.

Col. Jeff Fanged, Pangasinan provincial police director, said he had yet to receive a formal report from the San Carlos City police about the release of Dangla and Tiong.

“The city chief of police called me up about the release of the victims and I instructed him to coordinate with their families to find out what really happened,” Fanged told the Inquirer.

READ: Cooperate in finding missing activists or face probe, warns lawmaker

Before Dangla and Tiong surfaced, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, vice president of Caritas Philippines, said the attacks against the two were “a flagrant assault” on environmental defenders.

In a statement, Alminaza said “the well-being of the two missing activists is of utmost importance,” as he demanded a “rapid and comprehensive investigation to ensure the culprits are held accountable.”

Immediately after receiving the report that Dangla and Tiong were abducted, the human rights group Karapatan issued an alert on the incident.

Citing eyewitness accounts, Karapatan said the two were traveling on a tricycle in Barangay Polo in San Carlos when a gray pickup overtook them around 8 p.m.

Three masked men aboard the pickup grabbed the key to the tricycle and forced the tricycle driver and another passenger out of the vehicle, the group said.

Dangla and Tiong were also reportedly mauled as they were being taken by their alleged abductors.

According to Karapatan, Dangla and Tiong were the 22nd and 23rd environmentalists to be victimized by enforced disappearance under the Marcos administration.

Striking similarities

The group also saw striking similarities between the disappearance of the two and the cases of environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, who were taken in Orion, Bataan, in September last year.

READ: A press conference that went awry

READ: Activists back with kin after baring abduction

Castro and Tamano eventually surfaced weeks later, on Sept. 19, 2023, when they were presented by the military at a press conference in Plaridel, Bulacan province.

At the press briefing, the two women turned the tables on the Army, saying they had been abducted, interrogated and tortured by soldiers. The military denied this and filed complaints for grave oral defamation against the two activists.

On Wednesday, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it had launched its own inquiry into the abduction of Dangla and Tiong in Pangasinan.

‘Outright violation’

“Both activists were seen to have been tackled by the suspects and were then forced into the vehicle. Witnesses also reported that Tiong was heard shouting for help and that torn pieces of Dangla’s shirt were left in the area,” the CHR said.

The rights body also noted that the two had been targets of Red-tagging, or publicly accused of being part of the communist insurgency, before the incident.

“We take this opportunity to remind everyone that all acts of Red-tagging put the welfare of individuals at risk and may endanger their life, liberty and security. It is, therefore, an outright violation of one’s human rights,” the CHR said.

The commission urged the government to implement the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act to protect the rights of activists like Dangla and Tiong.

The international marine conservation group Oceana also released a statement late Tuesday urging the government to investigate the case of Dangla and Tiong, who were both at the forefront of conservation efforts in their province.

“It is indeed a cause for concern that the number of environmental activists constantly at risk continues to rise. It bears emphasis that the state has a duty to save our natural world, including the marine ecosystem and fisheries, so that the people truly benefit from these important resources,” Oceana said.

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According to the Surface Environment Defenders, the two are staunch advocates for the protection of the Lingayen Gulf from black sand mining and have strongly opposed projects like the proposed construction of nuclear plants in Labrador town, coal-fired power plants and waste-to-energy incinerators. WITH A REPORT FROM JACOB LAZARO 

TAGS: abducted activists, archdiocese, Commission on Human Rights, environmental activists, Pangasinan

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