Less than a month after her release, Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem was elected one of the 15 directors of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) at its recently concluded 11th Congress.


With the theme, “Braving the Storm, Emerging Stronger,” the Union’s Congress held last March 20-21 in blended platforms gathered more than a hundred members from 34 chapters in the country and from the Middle East and Europe.


“The inclusion of Icy in the national directorate is the Union’s strong assertion that journalism is never a crime,” Jonathan de Santos, NUJP newly-elected chairperson, said.


“Her release is a breath of fresh air amid the continuing attacks on press freedom. It is also a vindication of our role as truth-tellers. Just as the attack on Icy was an attack on all of us, her victory is also our victory.”


Salem, along with labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago, was arrested during simultaneous raids on Dec. 10, 2020 and was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. A local court in Mandaluyong rendered invalid the search warrant used for the arrests, and consequently ordered her release.


Speaking to NUJP members, Salem thanked the Union for standing by her.


“I have just read the NUJP statements about my case. Thank you. Because of you, I was not treated like a criminal [while in detention],” she said in Filipino.


The 11th Congress also adopted resolutions, including one which aims to intensify the campaign against red-tagging of journalists.


“The case of Icy proves how dangerous red-tagging can be for journalists just as it is for human rights defenders,” de Santos said.


The NUJP also vowed to continue pushing for the release of another journalist, Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who remains in detention over charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.


Cumpio was also labeled as a “propagandist for the communists” for telling the stories of the marginalized communities in the Eastern Visayas region.


Salem and Esparago were released after a court found irregularities in their arrest and in the warrant against them. Cumpio, who had previously been red-tagged and harassed, was arrested on a questionable warrant and disputed evidence.

NUJP as an organization has been listed as one of the so-called communist fronts by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.


Its members from different parts of the country also reported being labeled as part of the underground communist movement, and some have been subjected to physical surveillance, threats and harassment.


“We will hold to account those responsible for endangering the lives of our members,” de Santos said.


Aside from red-tagging, NUJP has tallied 19 journalist killings, 42 reports of intimidation and harassment of journalists, 24 reports of online harassment, and 27 cases of libel and cyberlibel filed against journalists since 2016.


While journalists in the Philippines have always been at risk, the incidents highlight threats not only to journalists but to the people’s right to know.


Millennial board

NUJP’s recent Congress also elected its youngest Board yet, with most members in their 30s, marking a new chapter in the Union’s history.

Rappler reporter Jairo Bolledo is the youngest at 23, while nine directors are from online news outlets.

“The composition of the new directorate is a testament to the NUJP’s strong ability to adapt in a fast-changing media landscape and empower new leaders who will fight for press freedom and journalists’ safety and welfare,” de Santos said.


“We have big shoes to fill but the previous board left a strong foundation for the fight to defend press freedom and we are ready to continue the work started and sustained by generations of Filipino journalists.”



National Directorate