By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA — Detained Tacloban-based community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio celebrated her 24th birthday today with two court hearings – one in Tacloban over the trumped-up illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and another in Manila over the forfeiture case of the cash that authorities reportedly got in her possession when she was arrested nearly three years ago.
In Tacloban, she faced the first-ever hearing of the trumped-up charges against her and four other co-accused, supposedly stemming from the firearms and ammunition that were purportedly found in their possession during the simultaneous raids in Tacloban, Leyte on February 7, 2020.
Human rights groups said these were planted and were meant to silence Cumpio and four other human rights defenders in the region.
“As a community journalist and radio anchor, Frenchie covered and gave critical analysis to the stories of the struggling people of Eastern Visayas. For that, she was targeted,” said AlterMidya – People’s Alternative Media Network in a statement.
Prior to Cumpio’s arrest, she was subjected to relentless red-tagging and harassment.
“Too many cases of evidence-planting and forced surrenderees perpetrated by state forces have been exposed by different groups,” the group added.
Meanwhile in Manila, Cumpio and church worker Mariel Domequil asked a Manila court to reconsider its earlier decision to not allow her to present evidence against the terror financing charge filed against them.
In a decision dated December 7, 2022, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 18 ruled in favor of the Petition for Civil Forfeiture filed against Cumpio and Domequil. According to the court, the money — although not among those subjected to the search warrant — was seized along with the firearms and explosives.
Authorities claimed they found the money in a black box located inside the apartment and had immediately requested the Anti-Money Laundering Council for an investigation.
In the statement released by the Regional Task Force ELCAC VI, CIDG Director PBGen Ronaldo Lee described the court decision as a “huge step” in their purported campaign to “neutralize any forms of terrorism financing.”
But Cumpio, in an earlier motion filed before the Manila court, said the money was intended for her current collaborative humanitarian project called, “Stand with Samar.”
As her arrest coincided with the pandemic and the persistent red-tagging of those arrested, Cumpio earlier told the Manila court that they had difficulties getting a lawyer and gathering the evidence they needed.
Cumpio’s lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers filed a motion for reconsideration, saying that the testimonies presented by AMLC were “incredibly perjurious and lack probative weight.”
The International Association of Women in Radio and Television Philippines (IAWRT Philippines) expressed its concern over the Manila court’s decision and stated that it had denied Cumpio’s right to “present evidence and prove the utter falsehoods against her.”
“As Cumpio’s lawyers appeal the court decision, we are urging the court to allow Frenchie Mae to present her evidence,” said IAWRT Philippines, adding that “there are meritorious and humanitarian reasons why she was not able to join the proceedings.”
AlterMidya, for its part, said, “today, we continue to call—and wish for Frenchie’s birthday—that the charges against her will finally be dropped.” (JJE, RVO)