Filipino journalists

‘How long?’ Journalist marks 4 years in jail over pending Duterte-time cases

Jairo Bolledo

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‘How long?’ Journalist marks 4 years in jail over pending Duterte-time cases

FOR FRENCHIE. The groups National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Altermidya Network, and College Editors Guild of the Philippines submit a letter to the Department of Justice on February 7, 2024, urging the agency to review the cases against campus journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

Altermidya Network

UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression Irene Khan also recommends reviewing and dismissing the charges against journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio

MANILA, Philippines – Community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio on Wednesday, February 7, marked her fourth year in detention over still pending cases filed under former president Rodrigo Duterte’s time.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Altermidya Network, and College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) on Wednesday submitted a letter to Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, urging the department to review Cumpio and her companions’ cases.

The letter emphasized “profound concern” over the prolonged detention of Cumpio and human rights advocates Mariel Domequil and Alexander Philip Abinguna. It was signed by NUJP chairperson Jonathan de Santos, Altermidya Network chairperson Raymund Villanueva, and CEGP deputy secretary general John Ray Luciano.

Red-tagged Cumpio and her companions have been detained for exactly four years after their arrest over illegal possession of firearms in 2020. They were nabbed in Leyte during a series of raids led by the Philippine military, and amid the Duterte administration’s crackdown against progressive individuals.

While detained, a terror financing complaint under the draconian anti-terror law was filed in 2021 against Cumpio and her companions.

At present, the two cases are still pending. In the illegal possession case, the court had just finished the hearing for the prosecution witnesses, and the defense will be presented next month. For the other case, the hearing for the prosecution witnesses is still ongoing.

The NUJP, Altermidya, and CEGP’s letter came after the Philippine visit of United Nation Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan.

In her exit press conference on Friday, February 2, Khan, who had earlier paid Cumpio a visit in jail, urged the Philippine government to review and dismiss the charges against Cumpio. Khan added that it’s the responsibility of the justice system to ensure that the likes of Cumpio “do not languish in prison” by handling their cases with speed and empathy.

After her visit to the detained journalist, Khan posted a photo with Cumpio and her companions. “Arrested in Feb 2020, trial still dragging on. How long must they wait to be free?!” the UN special rapporteur posted in her X account.

The media groups, in their letter, also noted that the demand to review Cumpio’s cases was in line with the DOJ’s order stating that only cases with strong evidence for conviction should be filed. DOJ Department Circular No. 16, signed in 2023, allowed the withdrawal of cases with no reasonable certainty of conviction.

The groups also asked the justice department to hold an impartial probe into the alleged weaponization of the laws, noting the patterns of activists arrested in the last years.

“It is notable that illegal possession of guns and explosives charges [have] become standard complaints against government critics, buttressing doubts as to the credibility of the service and the Department itself.”

Aside from Cumpio, other individuals like journalist Lady Ann Salem and activist Reina Mae Nasino were also arrested over the same charges. But unlike Cumpio, Salem and Nasino were already free following the granting of bail and dismissal of their cases.

The groups also urged the DOJ to lead the review and advocate for the repealing of laws used against journalists, like the anti-terror law. They added that the human rights defenders bill should also be passed, like what Khan had recommended.

“The prolonged detention of Cumpio, Domequil, and Abinguna, coupled with the broader issues of law weaponization and attacks on press freedom, highlight the need for immediate and decisive action from the DOJ. The DOJ can demonstrate the Philippines’ genuine commitment to upholding human rights and freedom of expression by addressing these concerns,” the letter read. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.