In 'Bike for Press Freedom,' groups demand release of red-tagged journalists

Several media groups and human rights defenders on Sunday, February 7, continued to call for the release of journalists belonging to publications earlier red-tagged by the Duterte government’s task force against communists. 

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, along with AlterMidya Network, and journalists from mainstream and alternative media issued their call through a cycling event that crossed landmarks in the government’s crackdown on press freedom and dissent. 

The bike ride on Sunday was done a year since Frenchie Mae Cumpio, editor of Tacloban-based Eastern Vista, was arrested in a string of operations that led to the arrest of other human rights defenders on February 7, 2020. Cumpio had been arrested over illegal possession of firearms and explosives – the usual charges against activists – and remains detained until today. 

Journalists and rights advocates likewise called for the release of red-tagged Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem, who was arrested over similar charges on Human Rights Day last December 10, 2020. Salem had been arrested along with 6 trade unionists on the same day. 

A Mandaluyong court recently cleared Salem and a unionist of charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, ruling that the search warrant used to arrest them was void. 

Despite this, AlterMidya says Salem remains detained as of today. 

“These two arrests based on trumped-up charges are part of the upsurge in press freedom attacks not only against the alternative media, but on the whole sector of media practitioners in the country,” it said. 

In calling for the journalists’ release, groups cycled through the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, with whom the Duterte government recently ended a decades-long agreement that prevented state forces from entering any of its campuses. The UP-Department of National Defense Accord, unilaterally terminated by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, was seen as the latest casualty in the Duterte government's war on dissent.

The groups then cycled past ABS-CBN Compound along Esguerra Avenue, which had been the subject of repeated attacks from the President. Just last week, lawmakers at the House of Representatives shelved a bill seeking to renew the media giant’s franchise after the House decided to reject its bid for a franchise renewal in 2020. 

The bike run then passed Roces-Ignacia Circle, where a monument of renowned newspaper publisher Don Alejandro Roces Sr is located, and capped off its route at the Commission on Human Rights. 

The groups said, “Today, journalists and human rights defenders pedal together to symbolize our commitment to continue fighting for press freedom. We are united in our call: free Frenchie Mae! Free Lady Ann! Defend press freedom!” –