KARAPATAN lauds UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan for visiting political prisoners in Tacloban City Jail

January 27, 2024

“We are grateful that UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan was able to visit three political prisoners – campus journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, KARAPATAN human rights worker Alexander Philip Abinguna, and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines staff Marielle Domequil – in Tacloban City Jail today. 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,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said on Saturday.

The rights group reiterated the call for the release of Cumpio, Abinguna and Domequil, who were arrested and detained at the height of the crackdown against activists after the signing of Executive Order 70, which led to the formation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“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,” said Palabay.

Trumped up charges using counter-terror legislation were later filed against Cumpio and Domequil by the NTF-ELCAC. The Anti-Money Laundering Council issued Resolution No. TF-27 on May 28, 2020 in relation to the cash amount of PhP557,360.00 which was seized by elements of the Philippine National Police – Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) while they were planting firearms and explosives in Cumpio and Domequil’s office in Tacloban City on February 7, 2020.

The Department of Justice, on September 30, 2021, issued a resolution finding probable cause to indict Cumpio and Domequil for violation of Section 8 of Republic Act No. 10168 or “Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act.” In the complaint by the AMLC Financial Crimes Investigation Group, Cumpio and Domequil were falsely accused of “facilitating the distribution of funds and other logistical supplies, such as ammunition, to members of the CPP-NPA,” in a mountainous area in San Andres, Catbalogan City, Samar sometime in March 2019.

The three activists were arrested in simultaneous pre-dawn raids on February 7, 2020. Notably, however, this criminal complaint on RA 10168 seems to have been filed as a retaliatory measure after Cumpio and Domequil demanded the return of the money which was inside a safety deposit box in the raided office. The money, which was intended for distribution to the beneficiaries of a humanitarian project, was not included in the inventory of items seized, and neither was it specified as among the items to be seized in the search warrant. Cumpio and Domequil had no record of any suspicious transactions that would have triggered an investigation under RA10168.

The AFP and the NTF-ELCAC later branded Cumpio and Domequil as secretary of the “Regional White Area Committee” and “CPP-NPA finance officers” in a press briefing and in social media posts. Functionaries of the NTF-ELCAC have also reportedly staged some activities near the facility where the three are detained, while Khan was visiting them.

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