By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA – Four years since the simultaneous Tacloban City raids which resulted in the arrest of community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and four human rights advocates, media groups reiterated the call for their immediate release from detention.
Media groups Altermidya Network, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) went to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to send a joint letter addressed to Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla calling for the immediate release of Cumpio, human rights advocates Alexander Abinguna and Marie Domequil.
The joint letter came nearly a week after the official visit of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan in the Philippines.
Khan and her team were the only international visitors that were allowed by the Philippine government to visit Cumpio and her two companions in Tacloban City Jail since their arrest in 2020. Aside from the three who are in detention, others namely Mira Legion, a student leader in University of the Philippines-Tacloban and People Surge Secretary General Marissa Cabaljao were released on bail.
In her exit statement last February 2, Khan said: “As justice delayed is justice denied, I urge relevant authorities to either review the cases and dismiss the charges, or at a minimum expedite the trials with full due process.”
“The recent visit and observations made by UNSR Khan have brought to light the unjust state of their prolonged detention, begging an immediate review and dismissal of the charges against them, should evidence be lacking,” the groups said.
In the joint letter, the groups pointed out that the call for immediate dismissal of charges against Tacloban 5 aligns with the DOJ’s commitment to “only file cases with a reasonable certainty of conviction.”
They also cited that Cumpio remains to be the only journalist remaining in prison in the Philippines, according to the 2023 Global Prison Census of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The joint letter also outlined three critical concerns that the DOJ needed to address: First, is to have an impartial and thorough investigation of the weaponization of the law, particularly on how state prosecutors and various government officers have been weaponizing laws to attack journalists and vocal critics. Second is for the DOJ to fulfill its obligation to promote, respect, and protect human rights by taking steps that would foster and enable press freedom in the Philippines. Lastly, they also urged the DOJ to review and advocate for the repeal of existing laws and policies that have been used to harass journalists and activists, particularly Republic Act No. 11479 or the “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.”
They also urged the DOJ to support the calls for the enactment of the Human Rights Defenders Bill, which has been supported by Khan.
“We hope to see significant strides towards creating a more transparent, fair, and enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders in the Philippines,” they said.