STATEMENT | On USec. Paul Gutierrez’s Red-tagging of Journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio

January 17, 2024

Altermidya takes strong exception to Undersecretary Paul Gutierrez’s accusation and red-tagging of our member, Ms. Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

In his January 4 “Paul’s Alarm” column on JournalnewsOnline, the Presidential Task Force On Media Security (PTFOMS) executive director 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.”

This is exactly what we mean by red-tagging: a senior government official 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 innocent until proven in a court of law.”

Ironically, Mr. Gutierrez’s column was about the arrival of Ms. Khan who is set to visit the country in an official visit starting next week. Much of the highlight of our submissions to the UNSR office contains precisely this kind of wanton and mindless vilification, harassment and intimidation of journalists. It is exactly this kind of information that we wish Ms. Khan would closely look into in her investigation into the Philippine situation.

In his column, Mr. Gutierrez declared that he is ready for the challenge of Ms. Khan’s visit. We think not. If he bothered to carefully prepare for the visit, he would have surely found out that Frenchie Mae was an active broadcaster with MBC’s Aksyon Radyo in Leyte at the time of her arrest with several other human rights defenders on February 2020. She is the executive editor of alternative media outfit Eastern Vista and a former editor of the University of the Philippines-Tacloban Vista student publication. She was also manager-in-training of the 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.

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.

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