“Our call to drop all charges against Frenchie Mae and to immediately release her is now more urgent than ever.”
By EMILY VITAL
MANILA – The local court denied the motion filed by lawyers of Tacloban community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and two human rights defenders during the first hearing, June 23.
Judge Georgina Perez of Tacloban Regional Trial Court Branch 45 junked the omnibus motion to quash information, to quash issued search warrant, suppress evidence and return seized items not included in the search warrant.
Cumpio, executive director of online media outfit Eastern Vista; Marielle Domequil, staffer of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) – Eastern Visayas; and, Alexander Abinguna of Katungod Sinirangang Bisaya, the local chapter of Karapatan in the region, are charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. They were arrested along with two others following the February 7 simultaneous raids of Eastern Vista office and joint offices of Bayan-Eastern Visayas and Alliance of Peasants in Eastern Visayas in Tacloban City.
The two others – Marissa Cabaljao of People’s Surge and Mira Legion of Bayan-EV – were charged with illegal possession of firearms and allowed to post bail in February. Cumpio,Domequil and Abigunia remain detained in Tacloban City Jail.
Altermidya, of which Eastern Vista is a member, lamented the court’s decision. “We fear that with this development, the motion to dismiss Frenchie Mae’s case and the other motions filed by her lawyers will also yield an unfavorable ruling,” Altermidya National Coordinator Rhea Padilla told Bulatlat.
“Our call to drop all charges against Frenchie Mae and to immediately release her is now more urgent than ever,” Padilla added.
“To detain our colleague Frenchie Mae for over four months is already a grave travesty and mockery of Philippine democracy. At a time when volunteer human rights defenders and community journalists are needed as frontliners to observe, report, and extend support to their communities in the arduous battle against COVID-19, the spurious charges that locked them up resulted in great disservice to the people. How many stories of the marginalized and underrepresented remain unreported because Frenchie Mae…was not able to perform her duties due to her incarceration?” Padilla said further.
A fact-finding mission in February revealed that the evidence were planted, with guns and ammunition allegedly recovered under the beds and under the tables. A witness said the raiding teams forced all people in both offices to head outside and made them lie on the ground at gunpoint. Members of the raiding team then went inside both offices unaccompanied by any witness, as required by the law, and stayed inside for about 10 minutes.
It was only about 45 or so minutes into the raid were members of the barangay council appeared in the scene to serve as witnesses. It was only when the search party and the barangay officials entered the offices this time around were the guns, ammunition, and explosives were found on top of beds and tables.
Padilla called on fellow journalists and the public to continue demanding Frenchie Mae’s freedom and “resist all attempts to silence critical media and truth-tellers.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), College Editors Guild of the Philippines as well as international groups Committee to Protect Journalists, International Association of Women in Radio and Television and AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters) have issued statements calling for the immediate release of Cumpio.