“You know what’s sad is growing old in jail and people forgetting you. I almost cried when I read the first line of one of the transformation stories written by a former person deprived of liberty. No, it wasn’t an ‘almost’. I did cry,” written by journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio dated May 7 last year.
It has been three years since Cumpio and four other human rights defenders were arrested via pre-dawn raid crackdown. A similar pattern of law enforcement operations against activists, progressives, and critics of the government.
Since her arrest, Cumpio would recall the many days she had to wait for a letter from a friend, or the unresponded notes and simple hellos.
According to her, it hurts a lot to think that she would hear less and less from the people close to her heart to almost nothing. But as most people say, never forget. Although not forgetting is not really the same as remembering, she added.
Still, she had waited for a response. She fought back.
And for the rest of her fellow journalists, human rights defenders, they were never silent nor would they forget to share Cumpio and the rest of political prisoners’ stories as to why they had been arrested for truth-telling and critical analysis in the country’s current status-quo.
A night to remember
Friends, media colleagues, and human rights advocates joined in a solidarity night to remember and ultimately call for the immediate release of Cumpio along with the rest of Tacloban 5. Various cultural workers also showcased their artworks and talents in solidarity with the campaign for Cumpio’s freedom.
According to her supporters, Cumpio’s arrest is indifferent to such a pattern among law enforcement procedures especially when police conduct raids towards progressives.
As a matter of fact, she along with church worker Marielle Domequil of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines were arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Later on, they would then be maliciously tagged to Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed-wing New People’s Army.
Given that, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) accused them of terrorism financing after seizing P557,360 in their boarding house.
Such an accusation that, according to fellow journalists and human rights defenders, were trumped-up and clearly a direct assault to press freedom.
Cumpio argued that the cash was supposed to fund their local radio program and her ‘Stand with Samar’ humanitarian project.
“Frenchie Mae has exposed human rights violations and highlighted the stories and aspirations of the marginalized communities in Eastern Visayas. These stories and the pursuit of truth should not be a reason to silence journalists like Frenchie Mae,” the statement from AlterMidya said.
A progressive journalist
As a journalist, Cumpio wrote stories with critical analysis of the struggles of the people of Eastern Visayas.
Neil Eco of Altermidya shared that he once worked with Cumpio in UP Tacloban. At that time, Cumpio worked for Eastern Vista but would give educational discussions like Tools for Analysis and Karl Marx’ Dialectical Materialism. These discussions Cumpio have put premium to uphold an interpretive, integrative, and solutions-based journalism for even as young, independent campus journalists like Eco could apply in practice.
“Ang first impression ko talaga sa kanya (Frenchie), small but terrible. Ang personality ay mas malaki kaysa sa physicality. Later on, habang namumulat ako. Mas nakilala ko siya bilang student publication member na nag-aaral ng Communication Arts,” Eco added.
Eco recalled he would always talk to Frenchie over the weekend. And just a week before her arrest, they were planning for a series of workshops and discussions for student publications. These activities were partnered to media organizations like the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) of which Cumpio is a member alongside Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem who had also been arrested in December 2020 in a similar fashion.
Salem is included in the Human Rights Day 7. She was released three months after the arrest.
“Iyon din siguro ang nakapagsolidify kung gaano katotoo at kalala ang sitwasyon sa ating lipunan,” Eco emphasized.
House Resolution No. 752
Earlier in the morning before the solidarity night, the Makabayan coalition, in collaboration with Altermidya, filed House Resolution No. 752 to drop all charges against ‘Tacloban 5’ and call to end the weaponization of the law to hinder press freedom.
“Various laws have been weaponized in an apparent attempt to keep Cumpio and her co-accused in prison,” the resolution said.
“While the decision is under appeal, we stand in solidarity in her plea to present evidence in court and wield her only weapon that is the truth,” Altermidya said in a joint statement.