Philippine journalist Frenciemae 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.
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. Cumpio had recently faced harassment and intimidation from people she believed to be security agents, according to the national union statement.
On March 9, 2020, Cumpio’s lawyer requested that a Tacloban City court drop the charges against her, but the request was denied, according to Nonoy Espina, then-chairperson of the journalists’ union, who communicated with CPJ via email. A second court date was scheduled for March 24, 2020, but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he 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.
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 August 2021, state prosecutors filed a new terrorism financing case against her with the Department of Justice, Padilla told CPJ via email. The charge was filed because funds were found at Cumpio’s house at the time of her arrest, Padilla said.
The trial was delayed throughout 2021 due to prosecution requests to reschedule hearings and due to travel and movement restrictions imposed to contain COVID-19, Padilla said. The prosecution planned to present 18 witnesses, mostly police officers involved in the raid, she said.
As of late 2021, Cumpio was being detained at the Tacloban City jail while she waited for her trial to resume, according to Padilla. No trial dates had been set for the case as of late 2021, she said. Cumpio was vaccinated against COVID-19 on October 8, 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.
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.
CPJ emailed the Presidential Task Force on Media Security and the Philippine National Police for comment on Cumpio’s status and health in late 2021, but did not receive any replies.