Activist and her baby arrested with journalist, rights leaders in Tacloban for alleged weapons possession

A 2018 protest on press freedom after the Philippines dropped by one spot in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, ranking 134th out of 180 countries <i>Photo: Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News</i>
A 2018 protest on press freedom after the Philippines dropped by one spot in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, ranking 134th out of 180 countries Photo: Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Four activists and a journalist were arrested early this morning in Tacloban City, Leyte by the military and police for allegedly illegally possessing firearms.

Those arrested in the raid were activist Marissa Cabaljao, the spokeswoman of activist group People’s Surge, and her 1-year-old baby; 21-year-old Altermidya Network journalist Frenchiemae Cumpio; Karapatan (“Rights”) leader Alexander Philip Abinguna; Bayan (“Country”) member Mira Legion; and Marielle Domequil.

According to a statement released by Karapatan, the authorities forcibly entered two offices shared by several left-leaning groups at around 1am and arrested Cabaljao and the others, including her baby, who was sleeping beside her. Minutes after the suspects were brought out of their rooms, Karapatan alleged that the arresting officers planted at least three guns, one of them a machine gun, and materials for an improvised bomb inside the rooms. They also alleged that the arrest warrants were “shown to those arrested [only] after they were accosted.”

Those arrested, including Cabaljao’s baby, are detained at the municipal office of the Philippine National Police in Palo, some 30 minutes from Tacloban. Reports did not say why they weren’t detained in Tacloban.

A military report said they arrested the six because they were allegedly staying in “Communist Terrorist Group safe houses,” Rappler reports. 

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), meanwhile, has called for the immediate release of Cumpio, who is also the executive director of independent news outfit Eastern Vista and anchor of the radio program Lingganay han Kamatuoran (Visayan for “Believe in the Truth”).

According to the Philippine Star, Cumpio’s arrest comes just days after the 21-year-old journalist reported to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility that unidentified men in masks had been seen prowling around the offices of her publication. Cumpio also alleged that unidentified men have been following her colleagues since December.

Read: No Surprise Here: PH drops in 2018 World Press Freedom Index

NUJP said Cumpio’s arrest is reminiscent of what happened to journalist Anne Krueger, of Negros-based media outfit Paghimud-os (Visayan for “Sigh”), who reported on extrajudicial killings in Negros. Krueger was one of the 50 arrested in simultaneous raids on the offices of several human rights groups on the island just over two months ago.

The journalist group added that such raids on the offices “of legal organizations long accused by the government of being ‘fronts’ of the communist rebel movement” needs to stop.

“Cumpio’s arrest is clearly part of the government’s crackdown against not only these supposed communist fronts but the critical media, mainstream, and alternative, as well,” the NUJP said.

“Since last year, the government has no longer bothered to hide the fact that the critical media have been included in their list of ‘enemies of the state.'”

 


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