Journalist Freed from Jail in Philippines

Luis Liwanag, Nonoy Espina and Jojo Rinoza
Manila and Bacolod, Philippines
2021-03-05
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Journalist Freed from Jail in Philippines Lady Ann Salem, editor-in-chief of Manila Today, waves to reporters as she leaves the jail in Mandaluyong, Metropolitan Manila, upon her release from custody, March 5, 2021.
Handout photo/Manila Today

A Filipina journalist walked out of jail Friday after a judge threw out charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives last month, following her December arrest that drew loud protests from Philippine human rights groups and free-press advocates.

Lady Ann Salem, who was released from the Mandaluyong jail in Metropolitan Manila, is editor-in-chief of the online news outfit Manila Today, which has criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies including his administration’s brutal war on drugs.

“I have been in jail since Dec. 10, but other political prisoners have been in jail for years,” Salem, 36, told reporters as she emerged from the jail and walked toward an awaiting car. “That’s why we hope that others would also be released soon.”

Also freed was trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago, who was arrested and charged alongside Salem three months ago. 

The two were among seven people seized in a police dragnet as the country marked International Human Rights Day. Except for Salem, the “Human Rights 7” – as rights groups here have dubbed them – were trade union organizers.  

Police originally described them as members of a “gun-running gang” but later claimed that the seven were ranking officers of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines.

Manila Today is one of several small, independent news organizations known collectively as the “alternative press.” They mostly cover social issues, including those that fuel the country’s 52-year communist insurgency, the longest-running one in Asia.

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A bicyclist participates in a protest at the University of the Philippines in Metropolitan Manila calling for press freedom and the release from custody of the editor-in-chief of Manila Today, Feb. 7, 2021. [Luis Liwanag/BenarNews]

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, of which Salem is a member, welcomed her release.

“We continue to denounce those who sought to prolong her detention and call on all members of the Philippine community of independent journalists to strengthen our ranks and resist any and all efforts to stop us from serving the people's right to know,” the NUJP said.

The media organization called for “all those complicit in this regime’s attack on the media [to be made] accountable for their shameless subversion of democracy.”

In February, Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio of the Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court dismissed the charges against Salem and Esparago when she ruled that the search warrant issued by another court was invalid. The judge said authorities had presented witnesses with contradicting testimonies.

Despite the dismissal, the two remained behind bars as police and state prosecutors sought to challenge the ruling. On Friday, the court ordered Salem and Esparago freed immediately because “evidence on record clearly fails to establish probable cause.”

Salem’s lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center called Quisumbing-Ignacio’s order “a breather in the midst of continuing attacks against journalists and lawyers.”

The journalist was the third to be arrested by state security forces and slapped with criminal charges over alleged involvement in the communist rebel movement. 

The first, Anne Krueger of Paghimutad Negros, was caught during the mass arrest of more than 50 activists in Bacolod City on Oct. 31, 2019. Facing firearms possession charges, she is out on bail.

The second one, Frenchie Mae Cumpio of Eastern Vista in Leyte province, remains incarcerated more than a year after her arrest in February 2020, as she faces trial on firearms and explosives possession charges.

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