Philippine journalist Frenchiemae Cumpio has been held in detention since February 7, 2020, on “illegal firearms possession” charges, according to news reports and a statement by the National Union of the Journalists of the Philippines, a local press freedom group.
Police arrested Cumpio, executive director of the Eastern Vista news website and a radio news anchor at Aksyon Radyo-Tacloban DYVL 819, where she frequently covered alleged police and military abuses, in the early morning of February 7 along with four human rights activists in a series of police raids in Tacloban City, Leyte province, according to those news reports.
Cumpio is being detained at the Tacloban City jail, according to Rhea Padilla, national coordinator of the AlterMidya network of independent media groups, which includes Eastern Vista, who communicated with CPJ via email.
On March 9, Cumpio’s lawyer requested a Tacloban City court drop the charges against her, but the request was denied, according to Nonoy Espina, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, who communicated with CPJ via email. A second court date was scheduled for March 24 but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Cumpio has denied the charges, according to Padilla, who is in communication with Cumpio’s lawyers. “[Her] lawyers believe that the arrest order suited a premeditated planting of firearms and explosives,” she told CPJ. “It is a false accusation meant to justify her illegal arrest.”
If convicted of illegally possessing firearms, she could face 6 to 12 years in prison, according to the Philippine law governing firearms and ammunition.
Authorities have accused Eastern Vista reporters of being associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army wing, politicized accusations often leveled at journalists known as “red-tagging,” according to those news reports.
Cumpio recently faced harassment and intimidation from people she believed to be security agents, according to the national union statement.
CPJ’s emailed Eastern Vista and Aksyon Radyo-Tacloban DYVL for comment, but did not immediately receive any responses.
Joel Egco, head of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, a state body tasked with monitoring and remedying abuses of the media, did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
[Editors’ Note: This article has been updated in its third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs to include more up-to-date information on Cumpio’s case.]