Filipina reporter held for past year on trumped-up firearms charge
On judicial consistency grounds, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Frenchie Mae Cumpio, an alternative journalist held on a trumped-up firearms charge for the past year in the eastern city of Tacloban, after last week’s decision by a Manila court to free Lady Ann Salem, an alternative journalist held on an identical charge since December.
The court in the Manila suburb of Mandaluyong released Lady Ann “Icy” Salem, the editor of the Manila Today news website, on 5 February after ruling that the search warrant used by police to raid her Mandaluyong apartment on 10 December was “null and void’’ and that the evidence allegedly found there, firearms and explosives, was inadmissible.
The editor of the Eastern Vista news website, Frenchie Mae Cumpio has been held on an identical charge of illegal possession of firearms for the past 12 months and two days, ever since police officers planted firearms during a raid on her Tacloban home on 7 February 2020.
“We are very relieved to learn of Lady Ann Salem’s release, which should set a judicial precedent for all the other cases in which the police have abused their powers to intimidate troublesome journalists,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“We therefore call on the judicial authorities in Tacloban to order the immediate and unconditional release of Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who was also framed by the police. The security forces must put an end to the abusive practice of ‘red-tagging’.”
A hangover from the Cold War and, before that, from when the country was a US colony, “red-tagging” is a typically Philippine practice under which dissident individuals or groups, including journalists and media outlets, are identified to the police and paramilitaries as legitimate targets for arbitrary arrest or, worse still, summary execution.
Both the Eastern Vista and Manila Today websites are part of the Altermydia network of alternative media outlets that are committed to independent journalism and to defending the most marginalized sectors of Philippine society. As a result, they are routinely accused of harbouring members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which is regarded as “terrorism.”
In the latest example, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., the head of the government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, last week branded Inquirer.net reporter Tetch Torres-Tupas as a communist activist and threatened to sue her for “aiding terrorists.” His threats were prompted by a story in which she said two farmers were tortured into confessing to being members of the New People’s Army, the CPP’s armed wing. If charged, she could be facing a possible life sentence.
The Philippines is ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.