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Makabayan bloc calls for dropping of charges vs. local journ Cumpio, activists

The Makabayan bloc has called for the charges against Tacloban City-based community journalist Frenchie May Cumpio and four other activists to be dropped, saying their detention is a use of law to stifle press freedom.

House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro of ACT Teachers party-list, House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas of Gabriela party-list, and Kabataan party-list Representative Raoul Manuel made the call under their House Resolution 752 on Tuesday, three years since the activists were arrested.

At the time of her pre-dawn arrest, Cumpio was working in the office of Eastern Vista, a regional alternative media outfit. The four others are activists belonging to various sectoral groups for labor, youth, and women. All were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The group has come to be known as the Tacloban 5.

“Article 3 Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution assures press freedom by stating that no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, expression, or press. However, the space for press freedom in the country has grown smaller and smaller in the past years. In fact, in the 2022 Global Impunity Index released by the international body Committee to Protect Journalists, the Philippines ranked as the seventh worst country in the world to practice journalism,” the Resolution read.

“As a community journalist and radio anchor, Frenchie covered and gave critical analysis to the stories of the struggling people of Eastern Visayas as executive director of Eastern Vista. However, the three years she has spent in jail have taken its toll on the reportage and functioning of the said regional community media group. In fact, Eastern Vista's operations have long been paralyzed due to the Tacloban 5’s arrest and incarceration. This can be considered a textbook example of how illegal arrests directly trample the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press,” the Resolution added.

Pre-dawn raids, the Resolution stated, can be considered part of the systematic attacks enabled by the issuance of Memorandum Order 32, which was issued by former Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on November 22, 2018, the same order that instructs the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to end "sporadic" acts of lawless violence in the provinces of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Samar island, and the Bicol region.

In addition, the Makabayan lawmakers noted that various laws have been weaponized in an apparent attempt to keep Cumpio and her co-accused in prison.

The Resolution cited an incident in  2022 when the Anti-Money Laundering Council even charged Cumpio and lay worker Mariel Domequil with a non-bailable case of terrorist financing under Anti-Terrorism law in connection with the money supposedly found during their arrest in February 2020.

“These cases sit atop the illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges that are proceeding at a slow pace due in no small part to the delaying tactics of the prosecution, which no doubt wants to keep Cumpio and Domequil in jail,” the Resolution said.

“A cursory review of the Tacloban 5's case would reveal that the prolonged trial and the filing of new unfounded charges against them constitute a violation of their right to a speedy trial,” the Resolution added.

Makabayan also noted that even before Cumpio’s arrest, she and her co-accused in the cases have been subjected to incessant red-tagging and had documented harassment and surveillance incidents that they believed to be perpetuated by state agents.

“Now therefore, be it resolved, that the House of Representatives express its sense that the Philippine justice system, including all courts and quasijudicial agencies should speedily exhaust all  means to drop the charges against the Tacloban 5, including community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, and stop the weaponization of the law to stifle press freedom,” the Resolution said.

“Be it further resolved as it is hereby resolved, that the Supreme Court, in light of the Minute Resolution on the Jessica Lucila Reyes case, be asked to conduct a cursory review of all pending cases in Philippine courts, especially those perceived as politically-motivated, which may be violating the right to speedy trial of the accused and submit to the House of Representatives a report on such, with the end-view of addressing this grave pockmark in our nation's justice system,” the Resolution added. — BM, GMA Integrated News