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Calls grow for release of Filipino journalist, rights advocates

Frenchie Mae Cumpio, Mariel Domequil and Alexander Philip Abingua were arrested on terror charges in 2020
Protesters call for release of detained journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and repeal of terror law at Miagao town in Iloilo province of Philippines on Feb. 7.

Protesters call for release of detained journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and repeal of terror law at Miagao town in Iloilo province of Philippines on Feb. 7. (Photo: Panay Today)

Published: February 13, 2024 11:16 AM GMT
Updated: February 13, 2024 11:38 AM GMT

Rights groups and fellow journalists in the Philippines have reiterated the call for the release of a journalist and two rights advocates who remain imprisoned since their arrest on terrorism charges four years ago.

The call for the release of community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, 24, and rights activists Mariel Domequil and Alexander Philip Abingua became louder following the visit of UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan on Jan. 27.

Khan visited the Catholic-majority nation to assess the human rights situation in the country for her final report to be submitted during the 59th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2025.

The trio remained incarcerated in a prison in Tacloban city in the central Philippines since their arrest on Feb. 7, 2020.

“We are grateful for Special Rapporteur Khan's commitment to amplifying the voices of local journalists and civil society organizations on the global stage,” said Jazmin Bonifacio, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in Leyte province.

Bonifacio said they hoped Khan’s visit to Manila, Cebu, Baguio, and Tacloban cities would improve press freedom and free expression in the country.

“Her visit serves as a reminder that the international community stands in solidarity with journalists striving to uphold truth and transparency,” Bonifacio told UCA News on Feb. 13.

“We eagerly anticipate continued collaboration with Special Rapporteur Khan and the United Nations as we work together to defend press freedom and create a safe environment for journalists to work without fear of reprisal,” added Bonifacio.

Following her visit, Khan called on the government to ensure justice for the detainees.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and I trust that my visit will encourage the relevant authorities to either review the cases and dismiss the charges as unfounded, or to speed up the trials with full due process,” Khan said during a press conference in Manila on Feb. 2.

"I hope the government authorities will look into the case and dismiss charges or bring them to trial rapidly. To leave young people to languish in jail sends a terrible message to youth of this country," she added.

Before her arrest, Cumpio hosted the radio program Lingganay Han Kamatuoran (Bells of Truth) in Tacloban and was the executive editor of Eastern Vista, a news outlet in the Eastern Visayas region.

Along with others, Cumpio was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives after military and police operatives allegedly found firearms in the staff house where they stayed in Tacloban.

They were also slapped with charges related to terrorism financing after a sum of money was also recovered during the raid.

Rights groups, however, said that they were detained on “trumped-up charges.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said it acknowledges the recent calls for the dismissal of a criminal case involving Cumpio and her companions.

The DOJ “remains dedicated to upholding the integrity of the legal process,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said in a statement on Feb. 8.

“We are committed to ensuring that the principles of due process and fair treatment are upheld in all legal proceedings. The decision-making process within the DOJ is guided by a thorough review of the facts, evidence, and applicable laws, with the ultimate goal of promoting justice and the rule of law,” Remulla said.

“We encourage all stakeholders to respect the independence of the judiciary and allow the legal system to function independently in accordance with the law,” he added.

The NUJP headquarters in Manila thanked Khan “for putting forward recommendations that aim to strengthen the protection of journalists and media freedom in particular, and freedom of expression in general.”

“NUJP hopes that the Philippine government heeds the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur by taking concrete measures for the protection of the Filipino people's right to free expression and opinion,” it said in a statement.

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the Philippines as the eighth worst nation for impunity for violence and abuses of journalists in the 2023 Global Impunity Index.

The country is categorized as one of the most dangerous places for journalists along with Somalia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan and India.

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