Women writers in detention continue to fight for freedom


(UPDATED: Jan. 24, 2023; 8:30 pm) MANILA — The official visit of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion on Tuesday, January 23, can signify a lot of positive things for writers, artists, and journalists in detention.

In this article, Bulatlat highlights the story of women writers who are in detention for expressing their criticism and dissent through their craft.

Frenchie Mae Cumpio

Frenchie Mae Cumpio was only twenty-one years old when she was arrested, along with four others, in simultaneous raids by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police on February 7, 2020.

Prior to her arrest, Cumpio started her career as a young journalist at the University of the Philippines in Tacloban. Despite studying Biology, she became a campus journalist for UP Vista, the university’s student publication, where she eventually became one of its editors.

She continued her media work outside the campus, eventually becoming the executive director of Eastern Vista and the first ever anchor of Lingganay han Kamatuoran which aired at DYVL Aksyon Radyo.

As a writer and radio broadcaster, Cumpio focused on reporting on human rights stories — putting particular attention on the struggles of the victims of Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan).

She also wrote and produced stories on countless human rights violations in Samar, including under-reported incidents of then president Rodrigo Duterte’s Memorandum No. 32, which ordered the deployment of more troops in the province.

Read:  Frenchie Mae Cumpio’s brave truth-telling

Because of her critical reporting, Cumpio reported several incidents of surveillance and harassment from people she believed to be state agents.

She was charged with trumped-up cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives after police alleged that they found guns in the office where she was arrested.

Cumpio is also facing charges on “terrorism financing” after authorities seized the money intended for her collaborative humanitarian project called, “Stand with Samar”. They declared this action as a form of “neutralizing terrorism financing.”

Four years have passed since her arrest and she remains in detention with no resolution on her case.

Cumpio’s twenty-fifth birthday coincides with the arrival of Khan in the Philippines, the fourth time that she celebrated her birthday inside the prison.

Amanda Echanis with her son after her arrest in December 2020.

Amanda Echanis

Amanda Echanis was arrested in the early morning of December 2, 2020 when combined police and military forces conducted a series of warrantless raids in Baggao, Cagayan.

Echanis is a woman peasant organizer of Amihan, a federation of women peasants, in Cagayan. She is the daughter of slain peace consultant Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis.

According to reports, the raid initially started in the house of Isabelo Adviento of Danggayan Dagiti Mannalo ti Cagayan Valley, regional chapter of peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

Adviento was not in his home at the time of the raid, but his family who was present at that time recounted how authorities forcibly entered their residence and ordered them to go out of the house during the duration of the search.

Amanda’s house, which was three houses away from Adviento’s, was also raided and she was arrested along with her one-month old baby, Randall Emmanuel.

The police reportedly found an M16 assault rifle, 1 long plastic magazine for M16 rifle, 1 long steel magazine for M16 Rifle, 6 pieces live ammunition for M16 Rifle, 13 pieces live ammunition for M16 rifle, 1 live ammo for M16 rifle.

Her arrest sparked outrage, and then minority senators Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, Leila De Lima and Francis Pangilinan called for the release of Echanis and her one-month old son on humanitarian grounds.

Their arrest reminded the public of the tragic story of Baby River who died after she was separated from her politically detained mother, Reina Mae Nasino.

Echanis is known by her friends and colleagues as an amazing writer, writing stories on the plight of the marginalized, such as farmers and fisherfolks.

She pursued a degree in writing at the University of the Philippines, and later became the executive director of the Urban Poor Resource Center of the Philippines.

In 2015 she wrote “Nanay Mameng, isang dula,” a play on the life of the urban poor leader Carmen Deunida, a beloved icon in the progressive movement. Through the play, Echanis was able to depict the struggle of the Filipino people and how it shaped Deunida’s life.

Read: ‘Nanay Mameng,’ the story of the urban poor

Being detained did not stop Echanis from honing her craft. On August 26, 2023, she revealed that she is studying online for a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Malikhaing Pagsulat with UP Diliman.

She remains detained in Camp Adurro in Tuguegarao City.

UP Cebu Mass Communication graduate Myles Albasin. Photo by Anakbayan Cebu.

Myles Albasin

Along with five other young activists, youth leader Myles Albasin was among those arrested on March 3, 2018 in Barangay Luyang, Mabinay, Negros Oriental.

At the time of her arrest, Albasin was a fresh graduate from the University of the Philippines Cebu where she graduated with a degree in Mass Communication. In high school, she was a staff writer for the school publication of Xavier University.

During her years in college, she served as secretary general for a youth alliance in UP Cebu, while also acting as chair for another youth activist organization. As a student leader, she advocated for the rights of the indigenous peoples from Mindanao and provided sanctuaries for those affected and forcibly displaced due to military operations in their communities.

She initially planned on studying law after her graduation, but chose to serve the poor and the oppressed as a peasant organizer in Negros, until her arrest in 2018.

Dubbed as the Mabinay 6, the military accused them to be members of the New People’s Army, claiming that the six were involved in a firefight with the 62nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. Residents in the area claimed that there was no encounter on the day of their arrest.

When the Negros Oriental Provincial Crime Laboratory conducted a paraffin test for gunpowder, the six activists tested negative, debunking the military’s claim that they were involved in a gunfight prior their arrest.

They were eventually charged with fabricated cases of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the usual charges filed against activists and organizers based on planted evidence and testimonies by state agents.

Being in detention did not stop Albasin from pursuing her passion. In a report posted by Rappler in 2021, Albasin’s sister Marley Albasin said that Myles had passed the requirements to enter the Siliman University College of Law and will be attending her classes from her jail cell.

Adora Faye De Vera narrating her experience during martial law. (Screen shot from a short video circulating online.)

Adora Faye De Vera

Activist and martial law survivor Adora Faye De Vera was on medical leave when she was arrested by authorities on August 25, 2022 in Teachers Village East, Quezon City. She allegedly had a warrant of arrest for multiple murder with the use of explosives and multiple frustrated murders issued on March 19, 2006.

They also alleged that she was a high ranking officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

De Vera was arrested and held incommunicado for several hours, where she asserted that she had been denied due process during the preliminary investigation of the complaints against her.

De Vera is an advocate for women’s rights, herself being a victim of torture, rape and sexual violence when she was arrested by the military during Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship. She left her post as deputy secretary general of Gabriela and focused on championing the rights of peasant women instead.

When news of her arrest surfaced, human rights defenders were quick to debunk the military’s accusation, and said that De Vera is a martial law survivor. She was among the ten named plaintiffs in the landmark class suit against Marcos Sr. in Hawaii, United States after the fall of the dictatorship in 1986. Her testimony being one of the strongest in the pursuit of justice against all the atrocities of the Marcos dictatorship.

Groups had continuously called for the humanitarian release of De Vera for her security and for medical reasons.

Ron, De Vera’s son, said that his mother needs treatment for her chronic asthma and other complications. He also stated that their family is continuously worrying for his mother’s safety in Iloilo, especially since most of them reside in Metro Manila.

Now, with more than a year in detention, De Vera continues to write about the state of women prisoners in the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology District Jail in Pototan, Iloilo, where she is currently detained after her arrest in Metro Manila.

Read: First Person | One year in detention

She is currently facing non-bailable charges with a P2.5 million ($44,500) bounty on her arrest placed by the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). (RTS) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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