Journalist, 4 activists charged with illegal possession of firearms, explosives

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Tacloban City (CNN Philippines, February 11)A community journalist from an alternative media outfit and four human rights members from left-leaning groups were formally accused with illegal possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives.

This, after the Tacloban City Prosecutors Office on Monday found probable cause to charge Frenchie Mae Cumpio, Altermidya correspondent; Marielle Domequil, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Eastern Visayas finance officer; Mira Legion, Bayan-Eastern Visayas staff; Marissa Cabaljao, People Surge Network spokesperson; and Alexander Abinguna of Katungod Sinirangan Bisayas – Karapatan, who on February 7, were arrested by Leyte police and military in simultaneous raids based on the search warrant issued by Judge Eligio Petilla from the Regional Trial Court Branch 44, renewing fears of a crackdown on dissenters of the current administration.  Cabaljao was caught with her one-year-old baby.

Legion and Cabaljao were allowed to post bail amounting to ₱120,000 each while no bail was granted to Cumpio, Domequil and Abinguna. Aside from facing complaints over supposedly violating the law on firearms and ammunition, Cumpio, Domequil and Abinguna were also charged for allegedly violating Section 3 of Presidential Decree 1866 or the “Unlawful Manufacture, Sales, Acquisition, Disposition, Importation or Possession of an Explosive or Incendiary Device."

Aside from the five individuals, now called the Tacloban 5, Rogelio Berino of the Samahan han Gugti nga mga Parag-uma was included as respondent in the case filed by the police’s criminal investigation and detection group. Berino was not around during the early morning raid, but was included by government authorities in their complaint.

Tacloban 5 is currently detained at the municipal police station in Palo town.

Organizations have condemned the activists’ detainment and called for the immediate release of the five individuals, with the National Union of People's Lawyers saying the arrest order “suited a premeditated planting of firearms and explosives.”

International rights group World Organisation Against Torture noted that since President Duterte became the country's chief, "human rights defenders have faced relentless vilification and red-tagging, and have been repeatedly subjected to trumped-up charges and lengthy pre-trial arbitrary detention, with the aim to discredit their legitimate work and to silence all critical voices."

Left-leaning groups have been routinely tagged by government officials as fronts for communist rebels — a charge that they have vehemently denied.

CNN Philippines' Catherine Modesto and Wilmark Ali contributed to this report.