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 the Journalists of the Philippines, a local press freedom group.
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 journalists’ union, 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 Rhea Padilla, national coordinator of the AlterMidya network of independent media groups which 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.
A first hearing in her trial was held on June 23, 2020, at Tacloban Regional Trial Court Branch 45, at which 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.
If convicted of illegally possessing firearms, Cumpio 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 news reports.
Cumpio recently faced harassment and intimidation from people she believed to be security agents, according to the national union statement.
As of late 2020, Cumpio was being detained at the Tacloban City jail while her trial continued, according to Padilla.
CPJ emailed the Presidential Task Force on Media Security and the Philippine National Police for comment on Cumpio’s status and health in late 2020, but did not receive any replies.