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Detained Filipino journalist goes back to work, vows to be voice of ‘unheard’ in society

Detained journalist Lady Ann Salem said a journalist should not only chronicle events but serve as the voice of the unheard in society

Her plan to take a few days off, oversleep for several nights, and spend some time with her family after spending time in detention for almost three months was never realized.

Filipino journalist Lady Ann Salem had to go back to work two days after her release when nine activists were killed and four others were arrested in a police raid on March 7.

“We must continue what we do best,” she said.

“We don’t just publish stories, we also seek truth and justice in each and every story,” said Salem, one of the seven persons who were arrested on Human Rights Day last year for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Salem said the details of the story of her arrest “are the same as the narratives of the arrests of other activists that we have been reporting.”

Salem is editor of Manila Today, an independent news site that reports on the human rights situation in the country.

The journalist believes that state security forces “targeted” her because of the stories her news outfit publishes.

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“It is because we dig deep into the stories of people who are not being heard, for instance, the political prisoners,” she said.

The police raid on Salem’s house was “similar to the chronology of events in the stories of arrested activists,” she said.

Salem said when the police entered her condominium unit “I knew what was going to happen.”

“I already read and wrote a lot about how [the police] serve warrants … It was like a deja vu for me,” she said.

Filipino journalist Lady Ann Salem spends time with friends and relatives after her release from detention. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

When Salem was arrested with trade union organizer Rodrigo Esparago, they were ordered to face the wall kneeling while their hands were tied behind their backs.

The police presented a search warrant only after an hour.

Authorities later claimed they found a hand grenade in the journalist’s bag along with her makeup kit and lipstick.

With her laptop, mobile phones, sunglasses, and notebook, was a handgun, said the police.

“The bag was not a good hiding place for deadly weapons, but it would do for a planted evidence,” Salem said, adding that because of their haste, the police “did a terrible job.”

“They put a grenade and a pistol under one of only two pillows in the entire bedroom,” she said.

“Who would hide an explosive and a loaded gun under his or her pillow while sleeping?” Salem said.

On February 5, a judge ruled that the search warrant issued against Salem was “null and void” because of its vagueness.

Philippine laws require search warrants to be specific to protect the rights of people against illegal searches and seizures.

The court ruling made the firearms and explosives, which were allegedly taken from Salem’s possession during the raid, “inadmissible evidence” in court.

The judge also found “inconsistencies” in the affidavits and testimonies of police witnesses.

Filipino journalist Lady Ann Salem says prison “is a microcosm of the entire Philippine society, where social divide and social injustice are very evident.” (Photo by Mark Saludes)

In the nearly three months of detention, Salem spent about six weeks in isolation because of the health protocols during the pandemic.

When authorities finally allowed her to join the jail’s “general population,” Salem started documenting life inside the facility.

She said prison “is a microcosm of the entire Philippine society, where social divide and social injustice are very evident.”

A person deprived of liberty who is poor and has no money to spend will find it hard to survive inside a detention facility because he or she needs to buy food if he or she wants to eat a proper and decent meal.

The government allots a little more than US$1 for each detainee for three meals per day.

Salem said the situation of people in jail “is the same as the situation of people in poor communities.”

On March 3, Salem celebrated her 36th birthday in detention. Several organizations, including faith-based groups, sent food packs to the city jail to celebrate her birthday.

Salem said her time in detention made her realize that “we are all prisoners … because of social injustices and inequality.”

“When the poor demand food, demand justice, and equality, they are accused of being rebels or communists,” she said.

She said what she saw inside and outside the prison walls “validate my profession as a journalist who does not only chronicle events but serve as the voice of those unheard.”

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