Frenchie Mae Cumpio

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Philippine journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio was arrested in the early morning of February 7, 2020, along with four human rights activists in a series of police raids in Tacloban City, Leyte province. She is being held in pretrial detention on charges of illegal firearms possession and terrorism financing.

Cumpio, executive director of the Eastern Vista news website and a radio news anchor at Aksyon Radyo Tacloban DYVL 819, frequently covers alleged police and military abuses, according to news reports and a statement by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, a local press freedom group. Before her arrest, Cumpio faced harassment and intimidation from people she believed to be security agents, the statement said.

Cumpio has denied the charges, according to Rhea Padilla, national coordinator of the AlterMidya network of independent media groups that includes Eastern Vista, who is in communication with Cumpio’s lawyers. In an email to CPJ, Padilla said the firearms charge was “a false accusation meant to justify her illegal arrest,” and said that Cumpio’s lawyers alleged that authorities had planted the weapons.

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 news reports.

During the first hearing in her trial on June 23, 2020, at Tacloban Regional Trial Court Branch 45, presiding Judge Georgina Perez denied a motion from the defense to quash the search warrant used in Cumpio’s arrest on the grounds it was conducted in the middle of the night and without witnesses, the Philippine Star reported.

In July 2021, state prosecutors filed a new terrorism financing case against her with the Department of Justice, and the result of an initial investigation was released in September 2021, showing that funds were found at Cumpio’s house at the time of her arrest, Padilla told CPJ via email.

In the first quarter of 2022, the case was moved from Catbalogan, Samar province to Tacloban City. According to Padilla, Cumpio stands accused of “facilitating the distribution of funds and other logistical supplies, such as ammunitions, to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army armed wing.”  

Later in 2022, Anti-Money Laundering Council authorities in Manila initiated a “civil forfeiture” case related to the terrorism financing charges against Cumpio, Padilla said.

If convicted of illegally possessing firearms, Cumpio could face six to 12 years in prison, according to the Philippine law governing firearms and ammunition. If convicted under Section 8 and other provisions related to terrorism financing of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, she faces a maximum of 40 years in prison as defined by “reclusion perpetua” penalties.

On April 17, 2023, CPJ monitored a hearing in her illegal arms trial in Tacloban City. Her lawyer, Ruben Palomino, told CPJ that her trial was “pure harassment” and that there was “no legal basis” for the case against her. Hearings were ongoing in late 2023, according to Padilla, who communicated with CPJ by email. 

As of late 2023, Cumpio was being detained at the Tacloban City Jail, Padilla said.

CPJ emailed the Presidential Task Force on Media Security and the Philippine National Police for comment on Cumpio’s court trials and her health and treatment in prison in October 2023, but did not receive any replies.