Police officers are seen in Navotas, suburban Manila, the Philippines, on July 16, 2020. Police recently arrested journalist Lady Ann Salem for alleged weapons possession. (AFP/Ted Aljibe)

Philippine police arrest journalist Lady Ann Salem for alleged weapons possession

Bangkok, December 14, 2020 – Philippine authorities should immediately release journalist Lady Ann Salem without charge, and open an investigation into police officers’ alleged planting of weapons during her arrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At about 9 a.m. on December 10, police arrested Salem, an editor at the Manila Today English-language news website and a member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, a trade guild and professional advocacy body, at her home in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, according to news reports

Salem also serves as a communications officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, a network of advocacy groups aimed at enhancing women’s role in media, according to those reports.

The Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group said that Salem and six other trade unionists were arrested as part of a crackdown on firearms and criminal gangs, the reports said. Police claimed to have confiscated four pistols, four grenades, and magazines and ammunition in the raids on Salem and the other unionists’ residences, according to news reports.

Manila Today said in a statement that Salem was denied legal counsel during her arrest and was forced to turn her back during the police raid, which allegedly allowed authorities to “plant fake evidence such as firearms, ammunition and grenades.”

“Authorities should immediately release journalist Lady Ann Salem, drop any pending charges in her case, and stop harassing journalists for bogus weapons violations,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s government must cease and desist treating journalists as criminals.”

CPJ could not immediately determine whether authorities had filed formal criminal charges in Salem’s case. If charged and convicted of possessing illegal firearms and ammunition, she could face six to twelve years in prison, according to the Philippine penal code.

Salem is being held at the Camp Bagong Diwa police headquarters in Taguig City, according to National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chairperson Nonoy Espina, who communicated with CPJ by email.

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group said its officers acted on a search warrant issued by Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert of Quezon City’s Regional Trial Court Branch 89, reports said. The Philippine National Police did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on Salem’s arrest and detention.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines released a statement calling Salem’s arrest “proof that this administration is bent on silencing the independent and critical Philippine media so it can manipulate the flow of information to the detriment of our people and of our democracy.”

The union has previously issued statements expressing concern about so-called “red-tagging,” wherein authorities accuse journalists and other perceived political opponents of ties to militant communist groups.

During a Senate hearing on December 1, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict alleged that Manila Today was connected to communist rebels, according to reports.

In February, authorities accused the Eastern Vista news website of similar connections to communist groups, and arrested its executive director Frenchiemae Cumpio on illegal firearms possession charges, as CPJ documented at the time.