Media groups condemned government prosecutors and the police for their refusal to free Manila Today editor Lady Ann “Icy” Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago after the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissed charges of illegal possession of arms and explosives against the two.
The executive board of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT)-Philippine chapter said “dark forces” are preventing Salem and Esparago from regaining their freedom.
“[T]here are dark forces, it seems, lurking to keep her (Salem) from returning to the folds of journalism and do what she does best – speaking truth to power,” IAWRT said in a statement.
The group said it had been more than a week since the trumped-up charges against Salem and Esparago had been dropped but both remain in jail after prosecutors from the Mandaluyong City prosecutor’s office and the Mandaluyong police contested the decision.
IAWRT however pointed out that the Court found the search warrant used to enter her home was declared invalid and the evidence against the two accused as inadmissible.
“It stands to reason that she should be freed, following this historic decision,” the group said.
Earlier, Salem’s lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center said the Court’s decision was “based on evidence, and on the merits of the case.” As such, the “issuance of a release order should be automatic and mandatory.”
IAWRT-Philippine Chapter urged the Mandaluyong RTC to look into Salem’s urgent motion for release.
“The planted evidence and trumped-up charges filed against her have been proven false and she deserves no less but freedom and justice to finally be served,” it said.
In a statement issued from London, Violet Gonda, IAWRT International President, said that Salem was arrested for her journalism.
“Journalism is not a crime. No one deserves to be kept behind prison bars for exercising the right to freedom of speech nor deserves persecution for being a journalist.”
Salem is also IAWRT-International communication officer.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also condemned the police and the prosecutors “for cruelly continuing to block freedom for Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago despite the dismissal of the obviously trumped up criminal charges against them.”
The law is meant to protect, not persecute, the people, the NUJP said, urging the prosecutors to respect Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio’s ruling that Salem and Esparago’s arrest violated the Constitution and the Rules of Court.
Quisimbing-Ignacio also scored the police for going on a “fishing expedition” and providing “inconsistent” testimonies.
“If anything, the judgment should be more than enough reason not only to release Icy and Rodrigo but also to hold accountable each and everyone involved in this clear attempt to pervert the law,” the NUJP said in a statement.
The group bewailed that Philippine laws are turned into weapons “by the very people supposedly sworn to uphold it and wielded against those supposed to benefit from it.”
“Yet here we see the city prosecutor and police advocating double jeopardy!” the NUJP said.
Both media groups also called for the immediate resolution of the case involving Eastern Vista executive director Frenchie Mae Cumpio who was arrested on similar charges in Tacloban City last February 7, 2020. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)