Altermidya correspondent, 4 human rights leaders arrested in Tacloban

Altermidya Network correspondent Frenchiemae Cumpio as well as 4 other human rights leaders in Tacloban were arrested early Friday, February 7, in a joint raid of the military and police, who accused them of illegal possession of firearms, reports said.

The authorities raided the two offices shared by various left-leaning groups, leading to the arrest of Cumpio, who is also Eastern Vista correspondent, and the following:

  • Marielle Domequil
  • Alexander Philip Abinguna, Karapatan national council member for Eastern Visayas
  • Mira Legion, Bayan
  • Marissa Cabaljao, People’s Surge Network spokesperson

Cabaljao was arrested together with her one-year-old baby, who was sleeping beside her when the police and military forcibly entered their office, Karapatan said in a statement. 

Both mother and baby, and the 4 activists are detained at the municipal office of the Philippine National Police in Palo.  

A military report said they supposedly raided “identified Communist Terrorist Group safe houses” in Tacloban and arrested the 5 personalities for allegedly bearing firearms.

But Karapatan said the guns and improvised explosive devices recovered by the authorities were “planted in the rooms.” (READ: No letup in human rights abuses under Duterte – Human Rights Watch)

“Today's arrests and raids should enrage should who stand for civil liberties and human rights, social justice and lasting peace in the country. We are calling on all advocates and communities to defend the rights of defenders against these attacks by the Duterte administration,” said Karapatan, a human rights group. 

Days before the simultaneous arrests, Cumpio had also informed Altermidya that she was being tailed by men riding motorcycles, whom she believes were military assets. Unidentified men were also patrolling Eastern Vista’s office in Tacloban.

On January 31, an unidentified person also visited Eastern Vista’s office and was reportedly carrying a photo of Cumpio and a band of flowers.

Call for release

“We condemn the Leyte police and state forces for this latest attack on Eastern Vista, our fellow community journalist Cumpio, and against people’s groups in Leyte. We demand their immediate and safe release, and call on the public to denounce this latest attempt to silence and intimidate independent media and human rights defenders,” said Altermidya.  

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said that Cumpio’s arrest is “clearly part of government’s crackdown against not only these supposed communist fronts but the critical media, mainstream and alternative, as well.” 

NUJP also said that Cumpio’s arrest is reminiscent of the case of Anne Krueger, a local journalist from the Negros-based alternative media outfit Paghimud-os. 

Krueger reported on extrajudicial killings in Negros and was among the 50 arrested in simultaneous raids in offices of several rights group in the island in November 2019.

“Since last year, the government has no longer bothered to hide the fact that the critical media have been included in their list of ‘enemies of the state,’” NUJP added. 

President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has long been notorious for its ongoing crackdown against journalists, media groups, and human rights organizations. (READ: 2019: Lawlessness in the Philippines under Duterte)

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) said that the arrest reflected the desperation of Duterte to end those who are critical of his administration.

 "Duterte and his police and military are so obsessed with ending the local communist armed conflict and are overzealous in tagging everyone as recruiters, sympathizers, and collaborators. This is happening while they remain mum and indifferent to the widespread problems of joblessness, low wages, and the lack of access to education and health services” CEGP national president Daryl Angelo Baybado said.

UP Visayas Tacloban’s student publication UP Vista Online also released a statement calling for the immediate release of Cumpio and the 4 others. 

“UP Vista vehemently condemns this blatant act of transgression against the freedom of expression. Journalists and activists should not be subjected to repressive acts just to silence calls and criticisms on the government's fascist and tyrannical state policies,” the group said in a statement. 

Cumpio is the former editor-in-chief of UP Vista and former coordinator of CEGP in Eastern Visayas.

This was also echoed by the alliance of UP student councils

“We call for the immediate release of the individuals illegally arrested earlier this morning. We condemn this work of terror in the face of undeclared martial law in the country,” the UP Rises Against Tyranny and Dictatorship said. 

The group is set to stage a protest at 5 pm on Friday, February 7 at the Vinzons Hall in UP Diliman. 

Media monitor Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network’s latest count of attacks and threats against journalists since Duterte took office stood at 154 as of December 5, 2019. Out of these, 69 “had linked state agents” as perpetrators. 

In July 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that tasked United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet to write a comprehensive report on the situation in the Philippines.

The International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor is also conducting a preliminary examination into the human rights situation in the Philippines and is expected to make a recommendation sometime this year. – Rappler.com