Media groups and rights defenders condemned the government’s top media security official, calling his allegation that a jailed journalist is active in terrorist groups a classic example of red-tagging.
Altermidya and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) executive director Paulino Gutierrez’s attack against journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio also proves the absurdity of his agency’s continued existence.
In his January 4 “Paul’s Alarm” column on JournalnewsOnline, Gutierrez wrote, “Nais din niyang (United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan) malaman ang sitwasyon ni Franchie (sic) Mae Cumpio, na kasalukuyang naka-detine sa Palo Provincial Jail sa Leyte dahil sa aktibo nitong papel sa lokal na teroristang grupo ng mga komunista.” (She also wants to know about Franchie (sic) Mae Cumpio’s situation, who is currently detained at the Palo Provincial Jail in Leyte because of her active role in the local terrorist group of communists.)
Altermidya said the official’s allegation is exactly what they mean about red-tagging: government officials linking civilians to alleged communist groups without proof.
“May we remind Mr. Gutierrez that Ms. Cumpio is contesting the charges filed against her in court and has yet to be convicted. There is absolutely no point for anyone, more so a high government official, to forget that ‘everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,’” Altermidya said in a statement.
In a separate statement, the NUJP said Gutierrez’s accusation highlights precisely how red-tagging has become institutionalized in the Philippines and has become an undeclared policy.
“It also shows the absurdity of having a body created for media security in a government task force that actively puts journalists’ security at risk by accusing them of being enemies of the state,” NUJP said.
The group added that Gutierrez’s allegation violates not just the constitutional presumption of innocence but also the Journalist’s Code of Ethics.
Human rights group Karapatan also slammed Gutierrez, saying the official’s red-tagging of Cumpio is hypocritical.
“Here is a big example of the government’s so-called ‘promotion of human rights,’ and yet, the Philippine government is already vilifying human rights defenders and press freedom defenders because they have tagged them as enemies of the state,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
Braggadocio gone wrong
Ironically, Gutierrez wrote about Khan’s official 10-day visit to the Philippines starting next week in his column, disclosing he is ready to meet with the UN expert on press freedom and freedom of expression.
Gutierrez added it is a significant personal honor for him to lead the country’s preparations for Khan’s visit as chief of the only government agency in the world dedicated to media worker’s rights.
Altermidya however said Gutierrez’s attack against Cumpio is emblematic of their complaints to the UN expert.
“It is exactly this kind of information that we wish Ms. Khan would closely look into in her investigation into the Philippine situation,” Altermidya said.
“The statement of USec Guiterrez highlights the urgency of our appeal to Ms Khan to conduct a thorough investigation on the continued vilification of journalists, affecting the exercise of press freedom and the people’s right to know,” Altermidya said.
Karapatan said that government agencies involved in the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur are the same agencies engaged in red-tagging, terrorist-labelling, filing of trumped-up charges, and other forms of violations.
Special jail visit to Frenchie Mae
In his column, Gutierrez revealed that Khan wishes to visit Cumpio in jail.
The youngest journalist in prison in the world today, Cumpio was arrested in February 2020 when she was 20 years old.
A former editor of the student publication University of the Philippines Vista in Tacloban, Cumpio was a broadcaster with Manila Broadcasting Company’s Aksiyon Radyo station in Leyte at the time of her arrest.
She was also the executive director of alternative media outfit Eastern Vista and manager-in-training of Radyo Taclobanon, a women-led disaster resiliency community radio station project in Supertyphoon Yolanda-hit Eastern Visayas.
“Indeed, she is the very Frenchie Mae Cumpio mentioned in laureate Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize speech,” Altermidya said.