UN rapporteur visits 3 red-tagged political prisoners in Tacloban

James Relativo - Philstar.com
UN rapporteur visits 3 red-tagged political prisoners in Tacloban
Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, waves during a visit at the Department of Justice in Manila on January 24, 2024.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights group Karapatan lauded the United Nations (UN) expert on freedom of expression for visiting a progressive journalist and two activists currently behind bars at the Tacloban City Jail on Saturday.

According to Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, among those who were visited by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan were journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, KARAPATAN human rights worker Alexander Philip Abinguna, and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines staff Marielle Domequil.

It could be remembered that Cumpio, Abinguna and Domequil were arrested on Feb. 7, 2020 after the signing of the much assailed Executive Order 70, a directive which led to the formation of the National Task Fore National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). 

"Their unjust arrest and detention, since February 2020, is one of most glaring cases of how far the policy and practice of red-tagging, filing of trumped up charges, and political imprisonment and persecution is used against frontliners for freedom of expression and opinion in the country," said Palabay.

"The Philippine government is trying so hard to turn the tables on Cumpio, Abinguna and Domequil, along with other victims of trumped up charges and unjust arrest, by demonizing them and treating them as criminals, making every possible move to deny them of their rights and freedoms, prolonging their detention, and preventing local and international observers to visit them in jail or monitor their court hearings. We hope that with Ms. Khan’s visit, their voices will continue to be heard."

Cumpio, executive director of Eastern Vista, was charged with illegal possession of firearms. Government officials, on the other hand, said the arrest was based on alleged affiliations with the Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army (CPP-NPA).

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and NTF-ELCAC earlier branded Cumpio and Domequil as secretary of the "Regional White Area Committee" and "CPP-NPA finance officers." Cumpio earlier denied the accusations against her. The rights group reiterated the call for the release of Cumpio, Abinguna and Domequil. 

"Despite the government's continued red-tagging against Cumpio, Abinguna and Domequil at the same time claiming that freedom of expression is alive in the Philippines, glaring are the cases of how this government makes a mockery of its signed human rights conventions and agreements that are supposed to guarantee the rights of the people," Palabay said.

"But, as with the Marcos Jr. administration, they have exposed themselves as responsible for the sorry state of human rights in the country."

PTFoMS on red-tagging Cumpio

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) earlier engaged Khan at the Department of Justice in an "honest and open dialogue," said the Presidential Communications Office (PCO).

"The meeting also delved into the issue of 'red-tagging' and the case of Frenchie Mae Cumpio," said the PCO in a Friday release.

"The details of Cumpio's arrest, based on alleged terrorist affiliations due to her supposed membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), were discussed. Undersecretary Paul M. Gutierrez noted that Cumpio's detention, now spanning approximately four years, is beyond the Executive branch's control as the case is in the Judiciary's hands."



Media group Altermidya earlier lambasted Gutierrez for his accusation and red-taggging of their member Cumpio.

This allegedly arose from Gutierrez's column on JournalnewsOnline, where he was quoted as saying that Cumpio was detained due to her "active role in the local terrorist group of communists."

'Help us get Frenchie Mae, Marielle home'

Rexly Cumpio, mother of Frenchie Mae, on Saturday sent a letter to Khan, stating the need for her immediate release from prison.

"We want her to continue her studies to pursue her dreams to become a lawyer," said Cumpio's mother.

"We want her to be with us everyday, [e]specially the special occassions like birthdays, Christmas and New Year and to make happy memories with me, singlings, nanay and tatay."

Marielle's mother also penned a separate letter, saying that her daughter is a staunch human rights defender of human rights. 

According to her, Marielle being an activist isn't wrong because she was "only fighting for what is right."

"My daughter is selfless and kind. It hurts when people see and label her as terrorist. As her mother, I know that my daughter is not capable of what the government is accusing her of. I know that she did nothing wrong," she said.

"Ma’am Khan, I humbly request for your intervention through your good office on this matter since the issues thrown to Frenchie, Marielle and Alexander, or Tacloban 5, in general are trumped up and are truly false. Each and every family of the detainees are hoping that as early as possible, justice will be served so that they can pursue their dreams together with their families. Our demand is clear: free Tacloban 5, free all political prisoners."

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