Fears of unfair trial for "Tacloban 5"

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Community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, Mariel Domequil from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, People Surge Network Spokesperson Marissa Cabaljao, Mira Legion from Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Eastern Visayas, and Karapatan National Council member Alexander Philip Abinguna were arrested on 7 February 2020 in simultaneous raids in Tacloban City.  

Legion and Cabaljao are facing bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and are now out on bail. Cumpio, Domequil and Abinguna are facing non-bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and are detained at a jail facility of Palo town police station. 

Domequil and Cumpio were arraigned (informed of the charges against them) on 18 February 2020. Cabaljao, Legion and Abinguna were arraigned on 2 June 2020. On 23 June 2020, the Tacloban City regional trial court denied the activists’ motion to quash what they described as a “defective” search warrant used during the raid, as well as to quash the information filed against them, reject evidence seized during the raid, and return seized items that were not included in the search warrant. The hearings continue. 

Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, human rights defenders and political activists have been increasingly subjected to repeated harassment, threats and attacks, including killings. Many of these defenders and activists belong to organizations that the government or unknown individuals have “red-tagged” or accused of being fronts for communist groups without credible evidence, an accusation that they have repeatedly denied. 

Amid the worsening human rights record of the country, the UN Human Rights Council released its report on the Philippines on 4 June 2020, stating that “human rights defenders have been subject to verbal and physical attacks, threats and legal harassment for nearly 20 years.” It also noted the phenomenon of “red-tagging” that has “posed a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression.”

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