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Environmental defenders found after reported abduction in Pangasinan

MANILA, Philippines — Groups said on Thursday that two environmental activists, who were reported abducted in Pangasinan earlier this week, have been located. 

“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,” a fact finding mission team formed by rights and environmental organizations said. 

The team did not provide details about what happened to Dangla and Tiong during the time they were missing.

“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,” it added. 

Reports said that Dangla and Tiong were “severely mauled and dragged” into a waiting vehicle on Sunday evening in Barangay Polo, San Carlos City. According to groups, this was the 22nd and 23rd case of enforced disappearance under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

Dangla and Tiong are founders of Pangasinan People’s Strike for the Environment, leading the opposition to waste-to-energy, coal, and coastal mining projects in the province. 

They had been previously red-tagged and experienced surveillance, intimidation, and other forms of harassment prior to their abduction, according to groups.

“Those responsible for their abduction and tortuous ordeal must be held accountable. Their case bolsters our assertion that terrorist-tagging engenders graver human rights violations including enforced disappearances,” the fact finding team said. 

The reported abduction of Dangla and Tiong prompted human rights advocates to search for them in military and police camps in Pangasinan. 

Filipino environment defenders are frequently targeted with intimidation and violence. They are also vilified and falsely labeled as members or supporters of the communist insurgency. 

In September 2023, anti-reclamation activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano were forcibly taken in Orion, Bataan and resurfaced more than two weeks later at a government-organized press conference in Plaridel, Bulacan. During the conference, they accused the