Posts

2020 saw most brazen abuses vs journalism—NUJP

The year 2020 had been particularly bad for journalism in the Philippines that saw more media workers killed, arrested, jailed and lose their jobs, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) reported.

The media group said four journalists have been killed in the Philippines, including Cornelio Pepino in Negros Oriental last May 5; Jobert Bercasio in Sorsogon last September 14; Virgilio Maganes in Pangasinan last November 10; and Ronnie Villamor in Masbate last November 14.

Villamor was shot dead by the Philippine Army that claimed the journalist was a communist supporter and killed in an encounter.

Maganes, who survived the first slay attempt against him in 2016 by playing dead, was killed inside their family compound in Villasis, Pangasinan.

“Their deaths have brought the total of media killings under Duterte to 19, and to 191 since 1986,” the NUJP said.

The International Federation of Journalists lists the Philippines as among the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world in 2020.

Their killing of four Filipino media workers figured in the list of 60 journalists killed worldwide in 2020 by the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The IFJ list made the Philippines the fourth most dangerous country for journalists in the world in 2020, along with Syria and after India (8 killed), Pakistan (7), Afghanistan (7).

The list made the country the most dangerous in Southeast Asia as well.

Twenty-seven journalists were killed in the Asia-Pacific, the most dangerous region for journalists in 2020.

Arrests and detention

Seven journalists have also been arrested, at least two of whom remain detention, both women and executives of alternative media outfits.

Those arrested in 2020 include Glenn Jester Hitgano in Jan. 21 (arbitrarily arrested during coverage); Frenchiemae Cumpio in Feb. 7 (illegal firearms possession); Ramil Traya Bagues in Aug. 18 (cyber-libel); Rommel Ibasco Fenix in Sept. 15 (libel and violation of Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009);  Virgilio Avila Jr.  in Nov. 10 (cyber-libel); Mia Concordia in Nov. 10 (cyber-libel); and Lady Ann Salem in Dec. 10 (illegal possession of firearms and explosives).

Cumpio, executive director of alternative media outfit Eastern Vista, was sleeping at a church group’s dormitory when arrested in the dead of night.

Her case was among those cited by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights report in June last year as a clear case of human rights violation.

Partial Committee to Protect Journalists list of jailed media workers where Frenchie Mae Cumpio appears.

Cumpio’s imprisonment also made it to the list of 274 journalists jailed in 2020 globally by the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The CPJ said the number was “a new high…as governments cracked down on coverage of COVID-19 or tried to suppress reporting on political unrest.”

Salem, editor of alternative news outfit Manila Today was arrested, of all days, on International Human Rights Day.

The NUJP has reported Salem’s case to the CPJ but the latter’s list has yet to include her name.

Salem is currently is in a Covid-19 isolation protocol at the Mandaluyong City Jail after her transfer from the Philippine National Police’s jail facility at Camp Crame.

CPJ infographic on countries where journalists have been jailed in 2020.

The rest of the arrested Filipino journalists were able to post bail, except Bagues whose current status the NUJP is trying to find out.

Red-tagging and charges

The NUJP said that the Philippine government had been especially vicious against the press the past year as compared to the first three years of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“[B]ad as the first three years were, 2020 trumped them all as Duterte and his minions ramped up their attacks on the free press even as the COVID-19 pandemic began to make its deadly grip felt,” the NUJP said.

The media group said the Duterte government displayed a “most brazen abuse of state power” by red-tagging journalists and media institutions.

Aside from Cumpio and Salem, various government agencies and officials red-tagged alternative media outfits Kodao Productions, Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, Northern Dispatch, Panay Today, Manila Today, Radyo Natin-Guimba as well as dominant media organizations ABS-CBN, Rappler, CNN-Philippines, among many others.

Veteran journalist and NUJP director and former chairperson Nestor Burgos Jr. had also been red-tagged.

Editors and staff of Baguio City-based Northern Dispatch faced various police-instigated charges in court throughout last year.

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr. were judged guilty in June last year of libelling a businessman with links to Duterte.

Maria Ressa in a press briefing after her conviction of libel last June 15. (Photo by R. Villanueva)

ABS-CBN closure

The NUJP said the pandemic gave Duterte convenient cover to make good his repeated threats to shut down ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ biggest media conglomerate.

As threats of arrest forced the growing crowds that had rallied to the beleaguered network since late last year to stand down, the House of Representatives allowed ABS-CBN’s franchise to lapse, forcing the network to stop broadcasting on May 5.

On May 5, the network stopped broadcasting and, two months later, in June, the majority of the House committee on congressional franchises sealed its fate, voting to deny it a new franchise to operate.

Duterte thus become the second president after Ferdinand Marcos to force ABS-CBN off the air, the NUJP said.

The closure left thousands jobless and the loss of ABS-CBN regional stations also left many areas without their major source of news and entertainment.

The full extent of this would become clear during typhoons Rolly and Ulysses that caught millions of victims previously dependent on ABS-CBN news and alerts unaware of the hazards of the disasters, the NUJP said.

We strongly condemn the NTF-ELCAC’s callous, dangerous, and evidence-less red-tagging of the Altermidya network,” media organizations including the Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University, the University of the Philippines Department of Journalism, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, the Foundation for Media Alternatives, MindaNews, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Philippine Press Institute as well as media outfits Rappler and VERA Files said.

Bright spots

All was not gloomy in 2020, however, as there had been bright spots in the local media community’s defense of press freedom, the NUJP said.

“Not least of this was the successful push to have UNESCO revert the status of the Ampatuan massacre to ‘unresolved’ after it was pointed out that the legal process is not finished and 76 suspects are still at large and will need to be tried should they be arrested, the media group said.

The NUJP also cited other notable victories such as the case of GMA workers who sued the network over unfair labor practices

In February, the Court of Appeals decided to reinstate, with no loss of seniority and with full back wages, 51 employees who had been illegally terminated while the Supreme Court in September ruled to reinstate 30 cameramen and assistant cameramen illegally dismissed by GMA in 2013.

The NUJP also said that despite “continuing efforts of the enemies of truth to spread disinformation, the media community has, by and large, successfully fended them off, including the paid influencers and trolls of government.”

“As we thankfully bid goodbye to 2020, we are also aware of what could be even greater challenges and threats to freedom of the press and of expression in 2021 and beyond…And so we look forward to 2021 resolved to continue defending and pushing the boundaries for press freedom in our land,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Int’l and local media groups call for Tacloban journalist’s freedom amid COVID

Media organizations worldwide are calling for the release of Tacloban-based reporter Frenchie Mae Cumpio and other jailed journalists throughout Asia amid the sweeping coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter dated April 27, 74 organizations called on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung Sun Suu Kyi, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong to release imprisoned journalists in response to calls from various quarters to decongest and prevent coronavirus contagion in jails.

The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) began a campaign on March 30 called #FreeThePress, launching a petition and publishing an open letter to world leaders urging the immediate release of all journalists imprisoned for their work.

“Given that a staggering number of these imprisoned journalists are held in jails across the Asian continent, we are reiterating that call to your respective countries at this time of grave public health concern,” the letter reads.

The media and rights organizations said the release of the jailed journalists is in line with the protection of free press and the free flow of information at the current crucial times.

“For journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care,” it adds.

According to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census conducted last December 1, there were at least 63 journalists in prisons in Asia, including 48 in China, 12 in Vietnam, two in India, and one in Myanmar.

As of March 31, at least five journalists have been released, four in China and one in Vietnam, according to CPJ research.

However, at least five more journalists have been arrested since December 1, including Cumpio in the Philippines, Sovann Rithy in Cambodia, Chen Jiaping in China, Gautam Navlakha in India, and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in Pakistan.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michael Forst supports the call for the release of Frenchie Mae Cumpio (Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva/Kodao)

Cumpio, reporter and executive director of the community media group Eastern Vista and a radio host at Aksyon Radyo in Palo, Leyte was arrested in a pre-dawn raid by the police at a Church-owned property on allegations of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Cumpio’s colleagues and supporters said the police charges are not only trumped-up but ridiculous.

The letter, sent electronically to the said heads of state, was signed by 74 media, press freedom and human rights organizations, including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

“Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression without interference and the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” the letter notes.

It further cites the World Health Organization: “People deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity, are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

AMARC condemns the arrest of broadcaster Frenchie Mae Cumpio of the Philippines

February 19, 2020, Kathmandu, Nepal.

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC Asia-Pacific) joins its members, human rights defenders and advocates of free media in the Philippines in condemning the illegal arrest of Frenchie Mae Cumpio, 21, a community broadcaster and journalist associated with the Aksyon Radyo – Tacloban DYVL 819 kHz. Frenchie Mae is also the Executive Director of the independent media outfit Eastern Vista, correspondent of Altermidya in Tacloban City and an active member of the Philippine chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television. According to statements, she and four other human rights defenders were arrested in Tacloban City early Friday morning, February 7, 2020.

According to human rights groups in the Philippines, the arrest of Frenchie Mae and the others is part of the government’s work to silence those media personalities that are critical to the policies and principles of the state. Frenchie Mae was under surveillance by the state forces since 2018. The last one was this year, January 31 where a suspected element of the Armed Forces of the Philippines visited her office in Tacloban City carrying a bouquet of flower with Frenchie’s photo inserted on it. Even though it was meant to be a death threat to her Frenchie Mae continued her work until her arrest.

AMARC and its global family of community radios and advocates of freedom of expression stand in solidarity with our members and colleagues in the Philippines in protesting against the attacks by the Duterte administration against human rights defenders and free media,” said Ram Bhat, President of AMARC Asia-Pacific. #

(The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) gathers more than 5,000 community radios, federations and community media stakeholders in approximately 115 countries.)

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)