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.

On March 9, 2020, Cumpio’s lawyer requested that a Tacloban City court drop the illegal arms charges against her, but the request was denied, according to Nonoy Espina, then-chairperson of the journalists’ union, who communicated with CPJ via email.

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.

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, where it will be heard, Padilla said. She stands accused of “facilitating the distribution of funds and other logistical suppliers, such as ammunitions, to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army armed wing,” Padilla said.

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.

As of late 2022, Cumpio was being detained at the Tacloban City Jail while her trials were ongoing, Padilla said. Cumpio was “being treated well by jail management” and “respected by both jail officials and inmates,” Padilla said after visiting Cumpio in prison in August.

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.

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.

The International Association of Women in Radio & Television and the Coalition for Women in Journalism condemned Cumpio’s detention in statements calling for her release.

CPJ emailed the Presidential Task Force on Media Security and the Philippine National Police for comment on Cumpio’s status and health in September 2022, but did not receive any replies.