mental health

Continued detention of Tacloban 5 causing mental pain on their families

Jazmin Bonifacio
Continued detention of Tacloban 5 causing mental pain on their families

ON TRIAL. Police in Tacloban escort journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpion and religious lay worker Marielle Domequil on January 23, 2023 after their first hearing on "terrorist financing" cases filed against them.

Jazmin Bonifacio

(1st UPDATE) Coverage of human rights and community issues are often viewed as offenses, and anyone can be arrested even under a defective warrant, says National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chair Jonathan de Santos

TACLOBAN, Philippines – The families f five activists, collectively called the Tacloban 5, also suffer mental stress for every day their kin remain in detention, a sister of one of two women who attended a court hearing on Monday, January 23 said.

Journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and Marielle “Maye” Domequil, a lay worker and finance officer of the Rural Missionaries Philippines – Eastern Visayas, were whisked in and out of the Tacloban Regional Trial Court Branch 45 under very tight security, with media kept away from them.

It was the first hearing for additional charges on alleged ” terrorist financing,” against Cumpio and Domequil. They and Alexander Philip Abinguna were earlier slapped with illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges.

The three were arrested before dawn of February 7, 2020 at the office of alternative news outfit Eastern Vista, where Cumpio was editor. They were with two other activists now out on bail: Mira Legion, former KASAMA sa UP Vice chairperson for Visayas; and Marissa Cabaljao of People’s Surge.

The January 23 hearing coincided with Cumpio’s 24th birthday.

Kyle Domequil, sister of Maye, said they had greeted Cumpio during a visit on January 22. 

Aside from cupcakes and brownies, Kyle said, “we also brought books and novels, from friends of Ate Maye and my friends, too.”

They also gave the detainees notebooks for their journal writing.

Family trauma
TRANSPORT. Frenchie Mae Cumpio and Marielle “Maye” Domequil board a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology vehicle after a court hearing on “terrorist financing” raps filed by state prosecutors. Jazmin Bonifacio

Kyle spoke of how hard it was for the family to be separated from Maye for three years.

“Naka-apekto ito sa aming mental health. Meron kami sariling struggles,” she told Rappler in an interview after the January 23 hearing. 

(This has affected our mental health. We ourselves struggle.) 

“My parents are always worried about her,” she added. “We know the charges are not true. So this is traumatic for all of us.”

Kyle said the family is also witness to the continuing red-tagging. 

“They defaced Ate’s graduation picture. Words can’t describe how angry and sad I feel,” Kyle said.

As their parents are ailing and not equipped to deal with technology, the work of coordinating the collection of evidence of her sister’s innocence falls on Kyle’s shoulders.

“It takes a toll on my mental health. It triggers my depressive episodes po,” she said. “Even being here in Tacloban is hard. It is a traumatic place for our family.”

Kyle tries to cope by being a volunteer for the cause Maye works for.

“It’s where I feel closest to Ate because she is a lay worker who has sacrificed a lot for others,” she told Rappler. 

“I try to look for Ate in the faces of the masses that I meet. My parents and other sibling try to busy themselves with work to escape the pain,” Kyle said. “Sometimes we can’t even talk about it because it feels like scratching at a still open wound.”

HAPPIER TIMES. Frenchie Mae Cumpio never missed a date with the library before her February 2022 arrest in Tacloban. Altermidya

Rappler chief executive officer and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa mentioned Cumpio during her Nobel acceptance lecture. On her and Rappler’s acquittal on tax evasion charges on January 18, Ressa dedicated the legal victory to all unjustly accused, including detained former senator Leila de Lima and Cumpio.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines held a protest outside of the Department of Justice, to highlight how “lawfare” has been used in attempts to silence not only the media, but also civil society groups.

NUJP chairman Jonathan de Santos noted the continuing red-tagging, website blocking, and the growing number of cyber libel cases slapped against critical media and netizens.

“They say that if journalists are not doing anything wrong, we shouldn’t fear the Anti-Terror Law and the campaign against so-called terrorists. But we clearly see that coverage of human rights and community issues are often seen as offensive, and that anyone can be arrested even under a defective warrant,” de Santos said.

The raid on Eastern Vista was part of a series operations by the Philippine National Police on alleged “communist-terrorist” staff houses in Tacloban. Under then president Rodrigo Duterte, state security forces routinely tagged legal organizations as “terrorists”.

As it greeted Cumpio on her birthday, Altermidya, the network of alternative news outfits that includes Eastern Vista, called the terrorist financing charge as “trumped-up”.

“The charge made by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) against Frenchie and Mariel is connected to the money that was confiscated in the raid conducted by joint forces of the police and military at the two’s boarding house on February 7,” Altermidya’s statement read. 

“Two supposed rebel surrenderees were presented by the military to allege that the money is supposedly to finance the New People’s Army (NPA),” the media network added.

Around P500,000 in seized money underwent a civil forfeiture case at the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 18.

“It was granted in favor of the government in December last year, without prompt notice to Frenchie, Mariel, or their legal counsel,” Altermidya pointed out.

Prior to her arrest, Frenchie faced incessant red-tagging and had documented harassment and surveillance incidents which she believes were done by state forces, her Altermiya colleagues said. 

“As a community journalist and radio anchor, Frenchie covered and gave critical analysis to the stories of the struggling people of Eastern Visayas. For that, she was targeted.” – 

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