“The Icy that we grew up and spent our high school days with — a diligent student, a committed and effective leader, an articulate writer, a skillful athlete, and a loyal and loving friend — could not be further from the gun-wielding terrorist the police is trying to portray.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – “We had our backs turned for about an hour while they planted evidence.”
These were the words of arrested journalist Lady Ann Salem after her inquest proceedings at the prosecutor’s office in Mandaluyong City yesterday, Dec. 11. This was the first time since her arrest that she has had access to her lawyer to set the record straight on what her colleagues and supporters have known from the start – the evidence against her were planted.
Salem, along with trade union organizer Rodrigo Esparago, was arrested in her Mandaluyong home on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day. Their arrest is part of simultaneous raids conducted that day, which the Philippine police, through its Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, described as their “intensified campaign against loose firearms and criminal gangs.”
Among those supposedly recovered in her condominium unit are four .45 caliber pistols and four grenades. These alleged evidence and the consequent filing of charges are the very same scenes that the Philippine alternative media feared will happen following the December 1 Senate hearing, where several news outfits were red-tagged.
The International Federation of Journalists said red-tagging is a “tactic of choice” used to shutdown, intimidate, and silence journalists. But in the case of Salem and many other progressives, activists, journalists, and truth-tellers, red-tagging not only incites violence but also translates to physical harm and is eventually used to justify graver rights abuses against an individual or organization.
But for many who know Salem, the journalist and press freedom advocate is far from the petty criminal that state forces are portraying her.
Model student, competitive athlete, loyal friend
Growing up, young Salem had more books than toys. She enjoyed reading and her family was not at all surprised when she got into the University of the Philippines Integrated School, where she graduated salutatorian.
In a statement, her batchmates at the University of the Philippines Integrated School vouched for Salem, whom they described as a model student, competitive athlete and loyal friend.
Her batchmates said that Salem, referred to as Icy by friends and colleagues, excelled both in the field of academic and extra-curricular activities, having graduated with honors and a player of the UP Women’s Junior Fighting Maroons Basketball team since Grade 7. She also later became a campus journalist and served as managing editor of their school paper Ang Aninag and batch’s corps commander in the Citizenship Army Training.
“The Icy that we grew up and spent our high school days with — a diligent student, a committed and effective leader, an articulate writer, a skillful athlete, and a loyal and loving friend — could not be further from the gun-wielding terrorist the police is trying to portray,” said the Daluyong class of the UPIS.
Salem then entered the University of the Philippines – College of Mass Communication and graduated in 2006. She also joined the renowned UP Repertory Company.
In a statement, the UP-CMC attested Salem’s integrity as a journalist, who also returned to the college as a fellow of the 15th Lopez Jaena Community Journalism Workshop in 2011.
“That we produce graduates like Icy who opt to keep the torch of press freedom burning shows the quality of education we provide to our students. We teach them the value not just of seeking power of truth but also of speaking truth to power,” the UP-CMC said.
A journalist for the people
Salem’s younger sister Jas said that when her sister graduated from college, she knew it would not be hard for her to look for a high-paying job.
“But she did not choose that. Instead, she has chosen to use her intellect and craft for writing in helping others,” Jas said in a Facebook post.
Fresh from college, Salem joined the Tudla Productions, a Manila-based alternative news outfit that produces short and full-length video documentaries. Among the documentaries she produced are those that depict the plight of the urban poor and the impact of so-called development projects on indigenous peoples.
Salem spearheaded the holding of the annual film festival Pandayang Lino Brocka, in honor of the late progressive national artist, to cater to student and professional filmmakers.
In 2014, she became the editor of alternative news Manila Today.
“When you meet her, the first thing that will struck you is her beauty. But you will find her even more enamoring when she starts to talk with so much wisdom,” said Sarah de Leon, a journalist of Manila Today.
De Leon said her editor is always thinking of how to contribute to the public discourse and in raising funds for their small news outfit.
As a journalist and editor, she has always pushed her colleagues to provide context to their reports. While she may be gentle and kind, De Leon said they would tease her as their very own “Khaleesi,” referring to Game of Thrones character Queen Daenerys. But her being irate is usually reserved whenever she is making an impassioned point.
De Leon shared that Salem is a generous colleague. She uses a portion of the salary she receives as communications officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television to buy much-needed cameras and laptops for Manila Today.
“When she talks, everything seems possible. She dreams big,” said De Leon.
Media safety advocacy, gender-fair reporting
As a journalist, she also championed causes and campaigns on press freedom. Salem was a former officer of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines – NCR and was active in the campaign for the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.
For the past few years, Salem has been working as the communications officer of the IAWRT, where she assists its international board in reaching out to women journalists in their 14 chapters in over 57 countries.
Salem helped organize seminars and regional summits, including the 2018 Uganda Regional Conference, where women journalists from many countries received workshops that delved on community radio, proposal writing, countering gender-based online attacks, and media safety.
Amid the pandemic, Salem continued her work for IAWRT, and has even worked relentlessly in the first ever virtual biennial of the now 70-year-old international organization of women journalists.
After the inquest proceedings on Friday, her colleagues and loved ones continue to press for her release.
Her sister Jas said, “courageous and independent that you are, I know that you can surpass this. I know that she will come out even stronger after all these because she will fight for the truth and debunk all the lies. Do not worry, we will fight and pray for you.”