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Journalist, human rights defenders arrested in Tacloban early morning raids

[UPDATED]

A journalist and four other human rights defenders were arrested in Tacloban City early Friday morning, February 7, raising cries of condemnation from media and human rights organizations.

Eastern Vista reporter and Aksyon Radyo – Tacloban DYVL 819 kHz broadcaster Frenchie Mae Cumpio was arrested at the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) staff house in Barangay Calanipawan in Tacloban City along with RMP staff Mariell Domanquill.

Guns were planted in their rooms, human rights group Karapatan said.

The RMP is the mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines.

Cumpio acts as Eastern Vista executive director, Altermidya correspondent in Tacloban City and an active member of the Philippine chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television.

She co-hosts the long-running weekly DYVL radio show Lingganay Han Kamotuoran produced by the Promotion of Church People’s Response in Eastern Visayas.

Simultaneous with the raid on the RMP house, the police led by a certain Lt. Col. Pedere raided the Katungod Sinirangang Bisayas office where Karapatan National Council member for Eastern Visayas Alexander Philip Abinguna, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) -Tacloban’s Mira Legion and People’s Surge spokesperson Marissa Calbajao were arrested.

The Katungod office in Fatima Village, Bañezville, Brgy. 77, Tacloban City is shared with Bayan and peasant organization Sagupa.

Calbajao’s one-year old baby was also taken to the police station. Her organization, People’s Surge, is a Leyte and Samar-based organization advocating for genuine rehabilitation for Supertyphoon Yolanda victims.

The five are being charged with illegal possession of firearms and are detained at the Palo Philippine National Police (PNP) office, Altermidya said.

Media groups up in arms

“We condemn the Leyte police and state forces for this latest attack on Eastern Vista, our fellow community journalist Cumpio, and against people’s groups in Leyte. We demand their immediate and safe release, and call on the public to denounce this latest attempt to silence and intimidate independent media and human rights defenders,” Altermidya said in its alert.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also condemned the police for its arrest of Cumpio and demanded her immediate release.

“We offer our full support to Cumpio and our colleagues in Eastern Vista and Lingganay han Kamatuoran and call on the community of independent Filipino journalists to close ranks with us,” the NUJP said in a statement.

Before her arrest, Cumpio had been the subject of continued harassment and intimidation by men and at least one woman believed to be state security agents who had been tailing her around since September last year.

In the most recent incident on January 31, an unidentified man described by witnesses as tall and sporting a military-style haircut, visited the Eastern Vista office bearing a flower bouquet and showing a photo of Cumpio as he asked residents for her whereabouts.

On December 13, Cumpio reported that motorcycle-riding men she believed with military were tailing her around Tacloban City.

The arrest of Cumpio is reminiscent of that of Anne Krueger of the Negros-based alternative media outfit Paghimud-os, who was among the more than 50 persons arrested in simultaneous raids by the military and police on the offices of legal organizations long accused by the government of being “fronts” of the communist rebel movement, the NUJP said.

Krueger had been temporarily released after posting bail on similar illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives.

Cumpio’s arrest is clearly part of government’s crackdown against not only these supposed communist fronts but all critical media, 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,” the NUJP added.

“The arrests of Cumpio and, before her, Krueger, the red-tagging of the NUJP and other press freedom groups and advocates, the continued attempts to shut down Rappler, ABS-CBN and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, are all part of this government’s efforts to silence the free exchange of ideas and co-opt media into mouthing only what it allows,” the NUJP said.

“Let us thwart this government’s attempts to muzzle freedom of the press and expression, without which democracy cannot survive. Let us send out the message that we are free not because anyone allows us to be but because we insist on being free,” the media group added.

Gestapo-like raids

Karapatan said the raids, conducted between 1:00am to 2:30am, were “Gestapo-like” as the activists were sleeping when the police forcibly entered the Katungod-Bayan-Sagupa offices.  

“They were brought out of their rooms and minutes after, at least two guns, 1 machine gun and materials for an improvised explosive device were planted in the rooms,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.

As in the case with the RMP staff house raid, the warrants were only shown to those arrested after they were accosted, Palabay added.

“Today’s arrests and raids should enrage should who stand for civil liberties and human rights, social justice and lasting peace in the country. We are calling on all advocates and communities to defend the rights of defenders against these attacks by the Duterte administration,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Detained for interviewing protester’: Altermidya denounces arrest of Radyo Ni Juan reporter

AlterMidya

National alternative media group Altermidya strongly denounces the intimidation and arrest of Davao-based reporter Glenn Jester Hitgano of Radyo ni Juan. 

Hitgano was interviewing protesting workers from banana company Philippine Dream Farm Dev’t in Carmen, Davao del Norte on Jan. 21 when police cut short his interview and took him to the police station. 

The police claimed that Hitgano “insulted” them by interviewing the protesters, and attempted to handcuff the reporter. They also tried to confiscate his phone and demanded him to delete the interview.  

Hitgano was held for an hour, and was released only after convincing the police that he will not report on the workers’ protest. The Radyo ni Juan reporter said he covered the protest after receiving information that the workers were harassed by uniformed men the previous night. 

Altermidya condemns this attack on our colleague, who was clearly being coerced into silence by state forces who were uncomfortable with the truth. The arrest and intimidation of journalists like Hitgano is a blatant violation of media’s task of exposing the truth to the public. It is pure assault not just on press freedom but on the public’s right to know. 

Altermidya calls for an independent investigation to hold into immediate account the members of the Carmen police involved in this gross wrongdoing. State forces should be at the forefront of safeguarding rights such as free speech and expression, and not be the purveyors of abuse. 

Habambuhay na kulong sa mga Ampatuan

Hinatulan ng habambuhay na pagkabilanggo ang mga pangunahing akusado sa malagim na Ampatuan masaker noong 2009. Matapos ang sampung taong paglilitis ay makukulong sina Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., Datu Anwar Sajid Ampatuan, Datu Anwar Ampatuan, Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan at Anwar Ampatuan, Sr.

Sampung taong naghintay ang mga pamilya at kaanak ng mga biktima ng malagim na masaker noong Nobyembre 23, 2009 para sa makabuluhang sentensiya ni Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes. Mayroong 58 katao ang pinaslang sa Amapatuan, Maguindanao at 32 sa mga biktima ay mga mamamahayag. Ang malagim na pagpatay na naganap lamang sa isang araw ang naglagay sa Pilipinas bilang pangalawang mapanganib na bansa para sa mga mamamahayag sa buong mundo.

Ang pagbabasa ng hatol ay naganap noong Disyembre 19 ng taong kasalukuyan sa Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

Bidyo ni Arrem Alcaraz/Larawan ni Lito Ocampo

December 19 and the quest for justice

ON DECEMBER 19, the day set by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 for the promulgation of its much-awaited verdict on the Ampatuan massacre, it will be 10 years and 25 days since the killings occurred in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.

Let that sink in: a decade of injustice. Ten years since 58 men and women, of whom 32 were journalists and media workers, were brutally killed in the worst election-related violence in the Philippines and the worst attack on journalists in history. These are millions of moments when swift decisive justice could have been served on the alleged perpetrators of the crime and its masterminds.

On December 19, the Filipino public expects nothing less than a conviction from Quezon City RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes. But the Ampatuan case is one more indication of the fact that in the Philippines, a verdict in the lower courts even on a patently heinous crime will take at least a decade. It proves that impunity thrives for the powerful, while for the victims of crimes such as the Ampatuan massacre, a decade can pass without attaining justice.

A decade has indeed passed but the conditions that led to the Ampatuan massacre remain: political dynasties and patronage are still alive, paramilitary groups have not been dismantled, and the Ampatuans’ collusion with the administration — Arroyo then and Duterte now — still persists.

But in this climate when attacks against free expression and the press escalate relentlessly – from the killings of journalists to illegal arrests to online attacks – we should remain undaunted. Despite the stark lesson on how elusive justice is from the Ampatuan massacre case, journalists, activists, and advocates must not only soldier on, but also up the ante in the fight to shatter the culture of impunity that has enveloped the nation.

A conviction of the Ampatuans would be considered an initial victory against impunity. An acquittal, on the other hand, would spell death to press freedom.

December 19 will not only underscore how elusive justice is in our country. It should also be a time for all of us to renew our commitment to continue fighting for it no matter the cost, and no matter how long.

On December 19, let us express our solidarity with the families of the Ampatuan massacre victims and register our resounding call: Justice for the 58 massacre victims. End Impunity. Convict the Ampatuans.

* Pooled editorial of the members of the AlterMidya Network, a national organization of independent media outfits in the Philippines.

Media groups demand justice as promulgation nears

Groups continue their countdown 10 days before the promulgation of judgement on the decade-long trial on the Ampatuan Massacre on December 19. Groups such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Photojournalists Center of the Philippines, Altermidya, College Editors Guild of the Philippines , Justice Now and others are expected to be present when Quezon City Regional Trial Court 221 hands down its verdict. (Video by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao. Background music credits: Haunting Sadness – Scary Background Music For Creepypastas – Mediacharger)

Groups condemn attack on Kule

Media groups condemned the reported attack on Philippine Collegian by suspected government intelligence operatives late Saturday night, November 16.

The Union of Journalists of the Philippines-UP (UJP-UP) and the People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya) said the incident is an act of intimidation against the official student publication of the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

In an alert, the Philippine Collegian reported that a certain Wilfredo Manapat forcibly entered their office at around 9:30 in the evening at the Sampaguita Residence Hall.

When confronted by Collegian staff members, Manapat reportedly said he was there to “do an inspection as part of surveillance.”

Two of Manapat’s companions stood outside the building, the Collegian said.

The Collegian staff immediately called up UP-Diliman chancellor Michael Tan who apparently ordered the dispatch of campus police officers to arrest the trespasser.

Manapat was subsequently brought to the UP-Diliman police station and, when pressed, claimed he was merely looking for his colleagues. 

“In light of the recent attacks against the press, we stand with the Philippine Collegian and denounce this blatant intimidation against student publications,” UJP UP-Diliman, an association of mass communications students, said in a statement.

“This is a clear attempt of state oppressors to unnerve media entities that maintain a line of reportage reflective of the real social-political situation of the public,” the group added.

Altermidya for its part said it views the incident as a brazen attack on Philippine Collegian and the campus press.

The incident came a day after Interior and Local Government secretary Eduardo Año warned that the National Youth Camp being held in UP might be used by “communist front groups” to agitate and recruit students.

“We warn Secretary Año, who himself is implicated in the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos, against further labeling student organizations as communist fronts and therefore treated as targets by state security forces. Red-tagging always precedes grave human rights violations as we have seen in the recent raids and arrests of activists,” Altermidya said.

Altermidya pointed out that the Saturday’s incident was not the first time this year that members of the campus press have been red-tagged and subjected to surveillance and harassment by state security forces.

In August 2019, police visited the office of The Pillar of University of Eastern Philippines and interrogated its editor-in-chief.

In Bicol, police officers also red-tagged campus journalists from Ateneo de Naga University and Baao Community College, who were also officers of the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines. 

“We stand in solidarity with the campus press, and call on our colleagues in the media and concerned citizens to denounce the State’s attempts to silence critics,” Altermidya said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

End Impunity, Free Expression!

Imagine a world without impunity, where everyone is free to exercise their right to freedom of expression and information and able to access, generate and share ideas and information in any way they choose, without fear. We do. 

By: Annie Game

On this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, it’s important to recognize the essential link between the right to freedom of expression and the right to information. Journalists are too often the direct targets when either right is under attack, and ultimately — we are all victims. 

Two weeks ago, the UN General Assembly voted to declare 28 September the International Day for Universal Access to Information. A significant victory, following a decade of sustained advocacy by numerous civil society groups, including many African members of the IFEX network. 

Some people — but probably no one involved in the struggle to promote and defend freedom of expression — might have greeted this news of a new UN Day with a shrug.  But they should think again, for our right to information is inseparable from our right to expression, and both are increasingly under attack.

Threats to information are coming in many forms — from attacks on journalists, to deliberate disinformation, to the obstruction of newspapers — and the impacts are far-reaching: keeping people from the information they need to engage with the issues they care about, exacerbating political polarisation, and undermining democracy.

Let’s take a recent high-profile example of the power of expression, and its reliance on access to information. 

Last month, an estimated 6 million people took to the streets in response to the climate change crisis. The creativity of their protests inspired many as they marched; expression in action, emboldened by facts.  

Swedish climate activist Greta Thurnberg implored us to “listen to the scientists” — but what if the voices we need to listen to are silenced, directly or indirectly? 

Voices can be silenced through censorship, or drowned out in a sea of disinformation. But in a growing number of instances, the silencing tactic used is murder. Murder without consequences. Murder with impunity.

A comprehensive study released in August 2019 revealed that killings of environmental activists have doubled over the past 15 years. In 90% of those cases no one has been convicted — a shocking level of impunity, matched by those of murdered journalists.

As we mark another International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, this deadly form of censorship is never far from our thoughts.

UNESCO’s list of journalists who have been killed around the world — over a thousand since 2006 — is a sobering reminder. The proportion of women among fatalities has also risen, with women journalists facing increased gender-specific attacks.

Of the 207 journalists killed between January 2017 and June 2019, more than half were reporting on organized crime, local politics and corruption. 

Their right to expression was ended, forever, to stop them from sharing information. 

Every time such a crime goes unpunished, it emboldens others. Those who would share information in the public interest rightfully ask themselves – is this worth my life?  Is it worth putting my family at risk? And if they decide that it is not, who can blame them? The ripple effects of impunity are endless.

That is why, for over eight years, the IFEX network has campaigned to end impunity for crimes against journalists and all those exercising their right to freedom of expression.

It’s not work that lends itself to quick successes. As the expression goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The work does not end with finding the perpetrators; states must be held accountable for allowing or encouraging a climate of impunity in which such crimes flourish. 

We embrace every win, large and small. The good news is that at IFEX we are seeing creative, collaborative, and powerful new strategies, and tangible progress. 

In the past 12 months, we’ve seen the truth finally coming to light in The Gambia about the 2004 killing of journalist Deyda Hydara; a landmark ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that found the government of Colombia culpable in the 1998 murder of Nelson Carvajal Carvajal, and the historic decision by the Inter-American Commission to take to the Court the case of the brutal attack in May 2000 that nearly took the life of investigative journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima. 

Just two weeks ago, we welcomed the decision by Kyrgyzstan to re-open the 12-year old case of the murder of journalist Alisher Saipov, following sustained pressure by IFEX and its local members the Media Policy Institute and Public Association Journalists. 

Imagine, these cases represent a combined 66 years of impunity.

So let those responsible for — or contemplating — violence against journalists, hear this loud and clear: long after the world’s attention may have moved on, you may think you have gotten away with murder. No. Those of us committed to fighting impunity are persistent. We do not give up. So you can never rest easy.For us, the culture of impunity surrounding attacks on journalists represents one of the single greatest threats to freedom of expression worldwide. The progress we have made toward ending impunity would never have been possible without the resilience, persistence, and tenacity of those who fight it.

We must use our freedom of expression, to defend it. We must use it to call out crimes against journalists, and end impunity. #

——-
The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists is one day, but this important work goes on year-round. I invite you to watch this short video and be inspired by the growing number of ways people around the world are working to end impunity and make it safer to be a journalist. Annie Game is the Executive Director of IFEX, the global network promoting and defending freedom of expression and information.

(This piece is a pooled editorial between IFEX and the People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya) on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. Kodao is an Altermidya member.)

On the defense of press freedom and truth telling

“The defense of press freedom and truth telling has never been as vital as in the age of ‘ fake news.’ The journalists who daily risk their lives in reporting and interpreting such issues as human rights, impunity and social justice are through their practice defending press freedom. It is in their behalf that I am accepting the 2019 Titus Brandsma Award.”–Luis V. Teodoro, 2019 Titus Brandsma Freedom of the Press Awardee

Journalist seriously wounded in gun attack

(Updated: 10:00 pm, August 6)

A journalist and human rights defender is seriously wounded after being shot by unidentified gunmen in front of his house in Lagawe, Ifugao at six o’clock tonight, Tuesday, August 6.

Brandon Lee, Ifugao correspondent of Baguio City-based media outfit Northern Dispatch and paralegal volunteer of both the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM), was immediately taken to a local hospital for treatment.

He was later transferred to a bigger hospital in the neighboring province of Nueva Vizcaya, a source informed Kodao.

In a statement, the CHRA said the 54th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army frequented Lee’s residence as well as the offices of both the IPM and the Justice and Peace Advocates of Ifugao, of which he is also a member, for weeks prior to tonight’s shooting.

The soldiers gathered data by interrogating and intimidating the organizations’ members and staff, the CHRA reported.

The Philippine Army team was headed by a certain 1Lt Karol Jay R. Mendoza while its Civil-Military Operations head is a certain Lt.Col. Narciso B. Nabulneg, Jr. who both invoked President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 70 in their interrogations, the group added.

Duterte’s EO 70 issued last December created a task force to combat insurgency that human rights organizations blame for the killing of activists across the country.

In the task force’s launch in Camp Bado Dangwa in La Trinidad, Benguet last May 24, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police jointly identified Ifugao Province as a “priority target in the anti-insurgency campaign.”

Brandon Lee (Photo from his Facebook account)

In 2015, Lee was among the IPM members and staff accused of being New People’s Army members.

Lee’s media outfit, Northern Dispatch, had also been a victim of red-tagging by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

Lee first became Northern Dispatch’s correspondent in 2010.

Other sources told Kodao that Lee’s IPM colleagues are currently under surveillance from unidentified men, preventing them from visiting Lee at the hospital. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Freedom of expression in the time of Duterte

Over three years ago, the nation has been promised: change is coming. And change did come, but things took a turn for the worse.

As the nation marks President Rodrigo Duterte’s third year in power, we look back in sheer dismay over the unprecedented attacks perpetrated primarily by the state, with the apparent goal of shrinking the space for free expression in the country.

Once Duterte assumed the presidency in June 2016, the dome of impunity has widened and enveloped practically the whole of the archipelago. What was once considered rare and infrequent news on police-instigated killings, massacres, and haranguing of communities speedily became frequent staples in the news. Aside from the drug war, dozens of massacres, killings, and arbitrary arrests have been committed at a rate only comparable to the dark years of the Marcos era. With the rampant human rights violations, wittingly or unwittingly, the victims have become mere statistics, losing their names and identities to the dark powers-that-be.

Even freedom of expression is in peril. Merely voicing out concern and reporting on the aggravating human rights situation in the country puts one at risk. The attacks were sustained and targeted all fronts: from the red-tagging of activists and organizations, to the harassment and even killing of journalists. The string of cases against Rappler, for instance, shows how this administration wields its entire machinery to hide the truth in its bloody “war on drugs.” Based on the report released by the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network, from June 30, 2016 to April 30, 2019, a total of 128 cases of threats and attacks against the media have been documented, 60 of which were directly perpetrated by state agents. These incidents range from intimidation, including red-tagging, visits by police teams to the offices of media agencies, to the association of independent media organizations to supposed ouster plots.

No one was spared – from incarcerating vocal critic Sen. Leila de Lima, to attacking the church and even international organizations, Duterte stopped at nothing to make his perceived enemies fall, mincing no words, except in certain instances, like in issues concerning China. Remember how the state practically booted out Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian nun who have worked for decades among the poor and the marginalized just for voicing out her concerns and joining a fact-finding mission? And what about the perjury charges filed by the military against human rights defenders from Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela?

Remember how, just recently, veteran journalist Margarita Valle has been nabbed for unknown reasons, only to be released eventually, with the state saying it was just a case of mistaken identity?

Even artists are being criminalized. Two artists — Alvin Fortaliza of Bohol, and Clydie Sabate of Negros Occidental, have been arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. And who could not forget the military’s red tagging of filmmakers who produced socially relevant works?

The attacks were unrelenting. From the “Red October” plot to the egregious “Oust Duterte matrix,” clearly the administration is not on a “wait and see” mode but rather on an active frenzy. Recently, the police filed sedition, cyber libel and other criminal charges against Vice President Leni Robredo and 35 other individuals, including lawyers and Church people, over the Bikoy narcotics video series. Their goal: mass intimidation. They are deploying all weapons in their arsenal to police even the opinions of the public: from the employment of a massive “troll army” and other forms of astroturfing or the attempt to bloat supposed public support for policies, resulting in an era where genuine reports and fake news are difficult to tell apart; the ramped-up surveillance of perceived critics of the administration; to imposing martial law in Mindanao, and similar thinly-veiled military efforts in provinces in Visayas and Luzon.

Even the Internet is no longer a safe space. Remember how easy it was for state agents to relentlessly conduct “distributed denial of service” or DDoS attacks against the alternative media, shutting down their websites at critical moments when reports on attacks against the marginalized and underrepresented were published. International observers dub these attacks as one of the worst cyber-attacks they have seen across the globe in recent history.

The Duterte administration has even tapped draconian laws such as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 to file cases such as cyberlibel against its critics. With Duterte allies now controlling both houses of Congress, soon, the reviled Human Security Act is also set to be amended to give stronger powers to state agents to tag practically anyone and everyone as terrorists, with little to no effort.

Most of these schemes and turn of events aimed at mass intimidation employ the same tactic: preemptive vilification – discrediting those who dare critique policies, pronouncements, and actions of the government even before these critics open their mouths or type their statements. In a nutshell, the last three years drastically shrunk the space for free expression.

Just as state agents are not sparing any moment to practically trample on any and every form of dissent, we must also not wait as our basic civil liberties are being pressed for space. At this juncture, we must realize the importance of the freedom of expression: losing this right opens the floodgates to the violation of other civil, political, and economic rights. Freedom of expression serves as a safeguard for the people to enjoy other freedoms. Without free expression, we can lose all our other important rights in an instant.

It is easy to allow fear to set in and shut our lips and eyes to the worsening state of our nation. But once we do that, will it alleviate the situation? No, it will only continue festering.

To allow the state and its agents to pillage on the right to free expression is tantamount to surrendering hard-earned victories of our people in the past decades. We cannot simply allow the looming shadow of dictatorship to easily slip back. We must decisively unite and fight back.

We need to reclaim the real meaning of change, of how that potent word opens a world of possibilities. Despite the relentless attacks on our basic civil liberties, we need to remember that real change is a force that makes us question everything. Change is what we aspire when we innovate, when we invent, when we create. Change sparks genius, and ignites the fire that seeks to melt and recast the status quo.

To change is to reaffirm the value of militancy, of seeing the potency of collective action. Genuine change requires united action. From artists to journalists to the common people, we need all the force we can muster to fight back. There is no moment to spare. We need to reclaim every inch of space for our civil rights. We need to fight back now. #

Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI)

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

Concerned Artists of the Philippines

Altermidya