Calls for release of 24-year-old Filipino journalist, rights advocates heightened

Calls for release of 24-year-old Filipino journalist, rights advocates heightened
Photo by College Editors Guild of the Philippines

RIGHTS groups and fellow journalists in the Philippines have heightened their calls for the release of community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and two other human rights advocates who have been detained at the Tacloban City Jail in Leyte province since their arrest on February 7, 2020.

The condition of Cumpio, 24, and her colleagues was highlighted during the visit of United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan on January 27, 2024.

“We are grateful for Special Rapporteur Khan's commitment to amplifying the voices of local journalists and civil society organizations on the global stage,” said Jazmin Bonifacio, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in Leyte.

Bonifacio said they are hopeful and in high spirits after Khan assessed the situation of press freedom and free expression in the country during her 10-day visit in the country, particularly in Manila, Cebu, Baguio, and Tacloban.

“Her visit serves as a reminder that the international community stands in solidarity with journalists striving to uphold truth and transparency,” Bonifacio said in an interview on February 13.

“We eagerly anticipate continued collaboration with Special Rapporteur Khan and the United Nations as we work together to defend press freedom and create a safe environment for journalists to work without fear of reprisal,” Bonifacio told Sunstar Philippines.

After her one-on-one interview with Cumpio, Khan took to social media on January 28, saying: “We are only int’l visitors so far allowed by #Philippines govt to visit them! Arrested in Feb 2020, trial still dragging on. How long must they wait to be free?!”

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and I trust that my visit will encourage the relevant authorities to either review the cases and dismiss the charges as unfounded, or to speed up the trials with full due process,” Khan added in a separate press conference in Manila on February 2.

"I hope the government authorities will look into the case and dismiss charges, or bring them to trial rapidly. To leave young people to languish in jail sends a terrible message to youth of this country," she added.

Before her arrest, Cumpio hosted the “Lingganay Han Kamatuoran (Bells of Truth)” radio program in Tacloban and stood as the executive editor of Eastern Vista, an alternative news network in Eastern Visayas.

She was the former editor-in-chief of UP Vista, the student publication of the University of the Philippines Tacloban College, and chapter coordinator of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Eastern Visayas Chapter.

Along with four other companions, Cumpio was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives after military and police operatives allegedly found firearms in the staff house where they stayed in Tacloban.

They were also slapped with charges related to terrorism financing after a sum of money was also recovered during the raid.

Rights groups said that the charges were “trumped-up charges.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said they acknowledged the recent calls for the dismissal of a criminal case involving Cumpio and her companions--Mariel Domequil and Alexander Philip Abingua.

“We appreciate the concern expressed by your organization and the public regarding this matter. It is important to emphasize that the DOJ prosecutors are expected to be objective in their assessment and evaluation of the evidence at hand,” said Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla in a statement on February 8.

“We are committed to ensuring that the principles of due process and fair treatment are upheld in all legal proceedings. The decision-making process within the DOJ is guided by a thorough review of the facts, evidence, and applicable laws, with the ultimate goal of promoting justice and the rule of law,” Remulla added.

The Justice secretary said that the DOJ “remains dedicated to upholding the integrity of the legal process.”

“We encourage all stakeholders to respect the independence of the judiciary and allow the legal system to function independently in accordance with the law,” Remulla said.

As this developed, the NUJP headquarters in Manila thanked Khan “for putting forward recommendations that aim to strengthen the protection of journalists and media freedom in particular, and freedom of expression in general.”

“NUJP hopes that the Philippine government heeds the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur by taking concrete measures for the protection of the Filipino people's right to free expression and opinion,” NUJP added.

Khan’s assessment, along with her discussion with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), will be part of her final report during the 59th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2025.

“It must be noted that the conduct of country visits of Special Rapporteurs are part of the special procedures established by the UN. Their mandate is to report and advise on a range of human rights concerns from a thematic or country-specific point of view on behalf of the Human Rights Council,” CHR said in a statement on January 31.

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists found the Philippines ranked eighth in terms of the 2023 Global Impunity Index, identifying the country as a dangerous place to work as a reporter, especially for radio journalists.

Other worst countries for journalists are Somalia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan, and India. (SunStar Philippines)


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