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Environment advocate bares torture during abduction, enforced disappearance

by Maujerie Ann Miranda

Environment advocate and abduction survivor Francisco “Eco” Dangla III bared in a press conference at the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City today the ordeal he and a fellow activist underwent in the hands of their attackers.

Last March 24, Dangla and Joxelle “Jak” Tiaong were violently kidnapped in San Carlos City, Pangasinan by probable state agents while on board a tricycle on their way home from a consultation with community leaders. 

They were surfaced after three days of harrowing physical and psychological torture he feared he and Tiaong would not survive.

“After some time in the hands of our abductors, we really thought we would be killed,” he said.

The victims were convenors of the Pangasinan People’s Strike for the Environment, fighting against projects such as offshore black sand mining and the establishment of coal power plants they said are being opposed by many Pangasinan residents and institutions such as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan.

Dangla said he tried using his mobile phone but was ordered at gunpoint to stop. After a prolonged struggle with his abductors that left him with wounds and bruises, he also shouted for help from the residents.

Dangla said they were blindfolded in all the three days and nights they were kept in a safe house, leaving him with deep scars around his eyes.

He revealed that they were constantly interrogated about their alleged links with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA).

They were also given names the two were supposed to profile.

 “The first night of the abduction was the worse because they did not allow us to sleep with their incessant questioning,” he said.

The two environmentalists tried reasoning with their abductors, saying they are working with the Church in resisting the construction of more coal-fired power plants in the area, as well as the massive offshore magnetite mining project on Lingayen Gulf.

“I even cited Pope Francis’ Laudato Si as the reason for our activities,” to which our attackers retorted we are just using the church for our alleged activities as NPA recruiters,” he said in Filipino.

Both Dangla and Tiaong are environment ministry affiliates of the archdiocese.

Environment activist, and abduction and enforced disappearance survivor Francisco ‘Eco’ Dangla III. (Photo by R. Villanueva/Kodao)

Days and nights of torture

Dangla said he and Tiaong were repeatedly hit on the head, arms and torso when the abductors disliked their answers.

Dangla said that the pyschological torture was greater than the physical.

He revealed their abductors said there was a cobra beside them ready to bite. He also heard a back hoe in the background the kidnappers said they will use to bury them if they do not admit to their allegations.

Dangla added, “Susunugin kami, tapos ilalaga kami sa gulong. May naaamoy [ naman ako] na nasusunog na plastic, na gulong.” (They will burn us, stew us in burning rubber tires. That was when I smelled burning plastic, rubber.)

The abductors also threatened to electrocute them and were told that the biscuits offered them were laced with truth serum.

Dangla said that the death threats to their family were the worse. 

“They asked about our family background and told us they would kill them as well if we do not confess to whatever they were accusing us of,” he said.

Just before they were freed, the abductors allowed them to take a shower but put marks on their backs to continue the intimidation.

“Iniisip ko kung babarilin ba [ako] o sisipain tapos ihuhulog sa pozo negro,” Dangla said. (I was thinking, they would shoot us and dump us in a septic tank.)

On March 27, they were released. 

Surviving the ordeal

The environment activist shared, “Noong nasa kamay [kami] ng mga abductor ,nananantya [ako] kung mabubuhay o mamamatay [kami]. Gusto [ko] ding i-assure [si Jak] kung mamamatay man [kami], siguro naghahanap ‘yung mga kasama. Marami namang nagmamahal sa atin, na tama yung ginagawa namin.”

(While we were in the hands of the abductors, I did not know whether we would survive or die. I wanted to assure Jak that, if we indeed die, our colleagues were probably looking for us. There are many who love us; that what we are doing is right.)

He thanked the community, the churches and fellow advocates who helped them and called for their surfacing.

Francisco ‘Eco’ Dangla III with fellow environment activist and abduction survivor Jonila Castro (left) and Karapatan-Central Luzon leader Pia Montalban (right). [Photo by MA Miranda/Kodao)

It could only be state forces

The environment advocate shared that he has been experiencing harassment from state forces since 2014, which intensified in 2018 and 2019 when he was tagged as a “regional threat” by the Ilocos Regional Peace and Security Council.

Dangla revealed that placards were also hung around Pangasinan in the past accusing him of being a recruiter for the NPA for his environmental activism.

He was also a victim of online red-tagging during the pandemic.

Jonila Castro, herself an environmental activist, abducted and then surfaced last September with fellow anti-Manila Bay reclamation activities campaigner Jhed Tamano, called for accountability and justice for all victims of enforced disappearance during the press conference.

Castro said Dangla and Tiaong’s case is another proof that the human rights situation has not improved under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government.

She condemned the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and its practice of forcing communities and leaders to falsely “surrender” as Communist insurgents.

Karapatan Central Luzon regional coordinator Pia Montalban said enforced disappearance cases follow the pattern of red-tagging and harassment by the State before the abducted of victims.

“Kaya di po kami masisisi na ang sisisihin namin ay ang Estado o ang armadong pwersa nito,” said Montalban. (That is why we cannot be faulted for pointing out to the State and its armed forces as the perpetrators.)

Lee Sudario, Norman Ortiz, Steve Abua, Ma. Elena “Cha” Pampoza, and Elgene “Leleng” Mungcal are some of the abducted activists in Central Luzon that have yet to be surfaced, according to Montalban. 

The human rights advocate emphasized the legitimate advocacies of the abducted, such as the protection of the environment, land for the farmers, among others.

Karapatan Central Luzon called for the surfacing of all desaparacidos and the end to the abduction and other forms of harassment to activists. #

PLM names new gender and development program after Liliosa Hilao

The Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila launched on Monday, April 5, its new gender and development (GAD) program and named it after an activist alumna.

University President Emmanuel Leyco said PLM’s Liliosa Hilao Gender and Development Corner (LHGDC) honors its student leader and honors graduate who was the first political prisoner killed under President Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law.

“Liliosa Hilao remains relevant today. We look up to her as an icon of empowerment. More than gender emancipation, she exemplifies how the youth can spark important conversations on human rights, equality, and justice,” Leyco said.

“It is our privilege and honor to call Ms. Hilao as one of our own and to name our GAD corner after her and the causes that she represents,” he added.

Located at the Celso Al Carunungan Memorial Library, the corner will carry various materials that will promote gender equality and equitable opportunities for all members of the PLM community, the university said.

PLM said LHGDC shall organize annual lectures and forums as well as film showings and exhibits on gender and development as its initial set of activities once the coronavirus-19 pandemic is over.

The launch, held virtually, coincided with Hilao’s 48th death anniversary.

Lilliosa Hilao (PLM image)

Who was Lilli?

Hilao was associate editor of PLM’s pre-martial law student newspaper Hasik and held other positions with the student government while an honors student throughout her academic life.

She also organized the university’s Communication Arts Club, founded its women’s club Alithea and represented PLM College Editors Guild of the Philippines conventions.

Bantayog ng mga Bayani, an institution that honors and remembers martial law heroes and martyrs, wrote “Lilli”, Hilao’s nickname, had a strong sense of justice and a mind of her own.

“This was expressed in the thoughtful essays she wrote for the student paper at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (where she was associate editor); some had titles like ‘The Vietnamization of the Philippines’ and ‘Democracy is Dead in the Philippines under Martial Law,’” Bantayog said.

In April 1973, mere days short of her class’ graduation rites, Philippine Constabulary’s Anti-Narcotics Unit personnel raided their house to look for Lili’s brother, an engineer and activist.

“When the young woman insisted that they produce a search warrant or an arrest order, the soldiers beat her up, then handcuffed and took her away. She was brought to Camp Crame, headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary (now the Philippine National Police),” Bantayog said.

She would not be seen by her relatives until she was returned dead –– her body mangled, tortured, and reportedly raped.

The authorities claimed Hilao committed suicide by drinking muriatic acid.

The LHGDC logo

At the graduation ceremonies held two weeks afterward by PLM, a seat was kept vacant for Lilli, who was still conferred her degree, posthumously and with honors.

PLM Regent Wilma Galvante said during the launch their class wore black armbands on their graduation day in Lilli’s honor.

 Galvante said her classmate was a “true leader who wielded her pen to fight for what is right.”

Lilli’s name is inscribed at the Bantayog’s pantheon of heroes and martyrs.

In her birthplace and hometown Bulan, Sorsogon, a street was named after her in 2001.

Lilli’s sisters Alice and Josefina attended the launch in behalf of the Hilao family. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Communist leader and wife executed; corpses left in military safe house—CPP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) abducted, tortured and killed a retired top Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leader and his wife, the underground group said.

In a belated announcement, CPP information officer Marco Valbuena said the corpses of Antonio Cabanatan, 74, and Florenda Yap, 65, were left in a military safe house in Oton, Iloilo on December 26 last year, the revolutionary group’s 52nd founding anniversary.

The elderly couple were abducted around October 2020, secretly detained, tortured and killed by strangulation, Valbuena said.

Cabanatan, known as Manlimbasog (To Strive) by his comrades, was a member of the CPP Central Committee, served as secretary of its Mindanao Commission and member of its Political Bureau and Executive Committee until his reported retirement due to health problems in 2017.

The entire (CPP) and all revolutionary forces are seething with rage over the incident, Valbuena said.

“We hold the AFP, the Philippine National Police, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and other armed agents of the US-Duterte regime responsible for this brutal crime,” he said.

The CPP spokesperson explained that difficulties in lines of communication and vicious military operations by the government belated their confirmation of of the victims’ identities.

Valbuena said that the dimunitive and hunchbacked Cabanatan and Yap, known in the underground movement as Comrade Osang, have already retired from active duties in the Party.

“We cannot begin to imagine the cruelty of the psychological and physical torture that they were made to undergo before they were brutally killed,” he said.

Valbuena added that the couple’s assassination followed the successive brutal murders of Ka Nars (Julius Giron), Ka Fiel (Eugenia Magpantay), Ka Boy (Agaton Topacio) and Ka Randall Echanis in 2020 by Duterte’s blood-thirsty murderers.

NDFP Negotiating Panel peace consultant Randy Malayao was also assassinated in January 2019.

Valbuena said Cabanatan was among the first generation of Filipino communists who helped plant the seeds of the armed revolution across the country.

“He was among the vanguard of the expansion of the New People’s Army in the Visayas and Mindanao,” Valbuena said.

The AFP has yet to reply to the CPP’s allegations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Neri to Imee: Let’s debate at Plaza Miranda

Makabayan senatorial bet Neri Colmenares challenged Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos to a debate at Plaza Miranda on the issue of human rights violations during Ferdinand Marcos’ iron-fisted rule.

Angered at Imee’s statement that reports of human rights violations during Martial rule were just ‘political accusations’, Colmenares said he himself was tortured and imprisoned as one of the youngest political detainees during the Marcos eara.

“I was tortured and imprisoned for four years during martial rule for merely espousing the return of student councils,” Colmenares said.

“[I]f Gov. Marcos will insist that the human rights violations during her father’s regime are mere political accusations then I challenge her to a debate on the topic in Plaza Miranda,” added Colmenares.

After filing her certificate of candidacy at the Commission on Elections Tuesday, Imee said her entire family would never admit to human rights violations committed during the late strongman’s martial rule.

“If what they demand from us is admission, I think we could not do that. Why would we admit to something we did not do?” Imee said in Filipino.

Colmenares said Imee and her entire family are blatantly lying about the atrocities under the Marcosian martial law.

“[T}he Philippine government itself recognizes thousands of human rights violations under Martial rule by enacting Republic Act No. 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation & Recognition Act of 2013. With this law Marcos human rights victims are recognized and indemnified from the US$ 650 million ill gotten wealth returned by Swiss banks,” he said.

“Even the Supreme Court in Marcos vs Manglapus and many other decisions declared Marcos dictator and human rights violator and ordered the return of ill gotten wealth,” he added.

Before and during the first years of Marcos’s rule as president and strongman, Plaza Miranda was the country’s most popular site for debates and political events. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Arrested peasant advocates tortured, Karapatan says

The four peasant rights workers arrested in Nueva Ecija recently may have been tortured, human rights group Karapatan said.

In a statement, the group said Yolanda Diamsay Ortiz (46) of Anakpawis Party, Eulalia Ladesma (44) of Gabriela Women’s Party, and youth activists Edzel Emocling (23) and Rachel Galario 20 bore visible bruises on their faces when visited by kin last October 14.

The four were arrested by operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Philippine National Police and elements of the 7th Infantry Division in Sitio Bangkusay, Brgy. Talabutab Norte, Natividad, Nueva Ecija last October 13/

They are being held by the CIDG in their office at the Old Capitol building in Cabanatuan City.

Ladesma’s daughter told Karapatan after their visit her mother recounted that her hair was grabbed and was forced to drop to the ground when the CIDG operatives accosted her.

While on the ground, Ledesma was kicked several times and her hands tied thereafter while being forced to admit to being “Mariz”.

The daughter also relayed that she also saw Ortiz with a bruised face, her left eye swollen and there were hand marks on her neck due to strangulation.

Ladesma and Ortiz repeatedly told the former’s daughter that they were hit every time they refused to answer their captors’ questions.

Karapatan paralegals were not allowed to have access to the four women.

“Karapatan strongly condemns the illegal arrest, detention, and torture undergone by the four women human rights defenders in Nueva Ecija. This is indefensible,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“This is precisely what happens when you have security forces that have no respect for human rights. This is the kind of police and military that we have – uniformed men with no integrity and not the slightest respect for women and their rights,” Palabay added.

Palabay said the four were arrested two days being Rural Peasant Women’s Day on October 15 when the world honors the struggles of women peasants and their advocates.

Palabay also lamented how abuses against rural women persist in the Philippines despite the ratification of laws that explicitly prohibit such violations, including the Anti-Torture Law of 2009.

This is on top of legislation and policies that seek to protect women from all forms of violence, including the Magna Carta of Women, Palabay said.

Karapatan noted that there has been a spike in the number of arrests of activists on the basis of trumped-up charges and the an increase of harassment cases against rights defenders – all alleged to be “rebels” by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

The 7th Infantry Division for its part said in a statement that the four women were “rebels conspiring against the government.”

Palabay, however, said that the military’s statement has no credibility if the victims were tortured.

“We have no doubt the spin doctors in the military will use this opportunity to forward their deluded narrative, even at the expense of torturing women! This is a shameful act that truly exposes the atrocities of the military and the police. All of those involved should immediately be held accountable,” Palabay said.

Karapatan demanded the release of the four women. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Activist among this year’s Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda awardee

A farmers’ rights activist and former political detainee was named among the honorees of this year’s Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda (SUN) Award in a ceremony held at the Social Security System’s Ramon Magsaysay Hall in Quezon City Sunday.

Angelina Ipong, thrice detained and heavily tortured for her activism, was honored by the Coalition of Services of the Elderly, Inc. for her lifelong work with agricultural workers for just wages and democratic rights.

Ipong  was honored along with Eduardo Albonia (79, Bulacan), Bandayan Danwata (79, Davao Occidental), Erlinda Libor (76, Pampanga), Ceilia Ruiz (80, Baguio City), Anita Castor (64, Capiz), Esperanza Escoton (72, Quezon City), Josef Feliciano (71, Navotas City), Salvacion Garcia (64, Negros Occidental), and Leonita Labitag (73, Antipolo City).

In her acceptance speech, Ipong thanked her farmer father and the peasant sector.

Ipong accepting her Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda 2017 award. (Contributed photo)

Sila ang nagmulat sa akin, sila ang nagbigay sa akin ng buhay. Kaya gusto kong ilaan ang nalalabi pang panahon ng aking buhay sa kanila,” Ipong said.

The 72 year-old mother of one said she spent majority of her adult life as an activist because of the injustices suffered by poor peasants.

Ang magsasaka ang lumilikha ng pagkain ng bansa pero sila ay gutom at lugmok sa kahirapan. Sila ang naglilinang ng lupa ngunit sila ang walang lupa,” Ipong said.

Pito sa sampung magsasaka ang walang lupa. Atrasadong agrikultura, walang pag-unlad sa kanayunan.  Hanggang kalian ba magpapatuloy itong ganitong kalagayan?” she asked.

Ipong, who currently works with the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, was first detained in 1992 and again in November 1995.

She was abducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 2005 when she was accused to be a top commander of the New People’s Army in Northern Mindanao and slapped with rebellion, double murder, double attempted murder and arson charges.

At the start of her third and longest detention, Ipong was blindfolded for days, tortured and sexually-harassed.  She was also kept in isolation for 14 days.

Ipong acting out her torture for the One Billion Rising-Philippines video. (R. Villanueva)

Activist even in jail

In jail, Ipong said she could not stand the filth in their cells and bathrooms. She organized and led the cleaning brigades and soon managed to bring down cases of skin and other diseases among inmates.

“I asked my friends who visited me to bring me soap, brushes, paint and other supplies so we can clean the jail facility,” Ipong told Kodao in an earlier interview.

She soon trained her sights on her fellow inmates’ nutrition who were forced to eat nothing but poor prison food “unfit for humans.”

“I initiated dialogues with the wardens who eventually gave in to my incessant demands to be allowed to start an organic gardening program inside the jail compound,” she said.

In no time, the garden Ipong started supplemented their prison food with fresh and organically-grown vegetables daily.

Naku, ang mga guwardiya nga, nauuna pang mamitas ng mga gulay namin kasi masarap, fresh, organic at libre,” she said.

Ipong also started a livelihood program to allow fellow inmates to earn and help their families.

When she was arbitrarily transferred in the middle of the night to another jail facility, she started all over and again succeeded until the courts dismissed all charges against her and set free in 2011.

Ipong co-authored the book on human rights A Red Rose for Andrea: Writings from Prison (Quezon City: Southern Voices Printing Press) a year after release.

Secret to a long and productive life

In her speech, Ipong said the secret to her long, productive and eventful life is keeping healthy, staying young at heart and commitment to serving the people.

Ipong said she still asks to this day how she can contribute to improving the lives of poor peasants in the Philippines.

Paano natin matuturuan ang magsasaka na umasa sa sarili, gampanan ang tungkulin na paunlarin ang atrasadong agrikultura at krudong teknolohiya, maging ng buong  kanayunan?” she asked in her speech.

Ipong said the youth should be encouraged to contribute in the development of the countryside.

Gusto kong patuloy na magturo lalo na sa mga kabataan. Hinihikayat at hinahamon ko kayo—lalo na ang young agriculturists, engineers, technicians, farmers, scientists, teachers, artists—na tumulong tayo,” she said.

“Share your time, talent and especially your commitment. We need you.  Let us join our hands with the farmers in their struggle for food, for land, for scientific development and for justice,” she added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)