TACLOBAN CITY – Various groups and fellow journalists based in this city have intensified their demands for the release of community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and two of her companions who have been detained at the detention facility here since their arrest on February 7, 2020.

The plight of Cumpio, 24, and her colleagues, Mariel Domequil and Alexander Philip Abingua, were brought into focus during the visit of United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion, Irene Khan, on January 27, 2024.

“We appreciate Special Rapporteur Khan’s dedication to amplifying the voices of local journalists and civil society organizations on the global stage,” Jazmin Bonifacio, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in Leyte, said.
Bonifacio expressed optimism and resilience following Khan’s assessment of press freedom and free expression in the country during her 10-day visit, particularly in Manila, Cebu, Baguio, and Tacloban.

Following her personal interview with Cumpio, Khan took to social media on January 28, lamenting, “We are the only international visitors so far allowed by the #Philippines government to visit them! Arrested in Feb 2020, trial still dragging on. How long must they wait to be free?!”

“I implore the government authorities to review the case and either dismiss the charges or expedite the trial. Leaving young individuals to languish in jail sends a detrimental message to the youth of this country,” she added.

Cumpio served as the executive editor of Eastern Vista, an alternative news network in Eastern Visayas.

She previously held the position of editor-in-chief of UP Vista, the student publication of the University of the Philippines Tacloban College, and served as chapter coordinator of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Eastern Visayas Chapter.

Alongside four other companions, Cumpio was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives after military and police operatives allegedly discovered firearms in the staff house where they resided in Tacloban.

Additionally, they faced charges related to terrorism financing after a sum of money was recovered during the raid.

Rights groups have denounced these charges as “trumped-up charges.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has acknowledged recent calls for the dismissal of the criminal case involving Cumpio and her companions.

“We appreciate the concerns expressed by your organization and the public regarding this matter. It is essential to emphasize that DOJ prosecutors are expected to maintain objectivity in their assessment and evaluation of the evidence at hand,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said in a statement on February 8.

“We are committed to ensuring that the principles of due process and fair treatment are upheld in all legal proceedings. The decision-making process within the DOJ is guided by a thorough review of the facts, evidence, and applicable laws, with the ultimate goal of promoting justice and the rule of law,” Remulla added. (RONALD O. REYES)