Groups renew call for Tacloban journalist’s release as terrorist financing trial begins

Groups renew call for Tacloban journalist�s release as terrorist financing trial begins
This April 16, 2020 composite photo is from an AlterMidya campaign calling for Cumpio's release.
AlterMidya - People's Alternative Media Network facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — Media groups on Monday called for the release of community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio as trial begins at the Tacloban City Regional Trial Court on a terrorist financing case over money that she said was meant to fund a local radio show.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council has accused Cumpio and church worker Marielle Domequil of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines of planning to use P557,360 seized in a raid on their boarding house in February 2020 to finance operations of the New People's Army.

The cash was supposed to be used to fund Cumpio’s radio program and her “Stand with Samar” humanitarian project, she said.

"The money seized underwent a civil forfeiture case at the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 18 and was granted in favor of the government in December last year, without prompt notice to Frenchie, Mariel, or their legal counsel," Altermidya Network said in a statement on Monday as their lawyers appealed the decision in court.

In a separate statement related to the appeal, the International Association of Women in Radio and Television - Philippines (IAWRT Philippines) said Cumpio had been denied "the right to present evidence and prove the utter falsehoods against her. " 

It said that the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers had filed a petition in December saying Cumpio had difficulty in getting counsel because she had been red-tagged upon her arrest. A 2021 letter from the Philippine National Police asking the Calbayog City Hall of Justic for a list of lawyers representing political prisoners also made colleagues hesitant to take her case, NUPL said in its pleading.

RELATED: SC: Calbayog court confirms receipt of PNP request on list of lawyers for 'communist terrorist groups'

IAWRT-Philippines added that the money was not covered by the search warrants being enforced at the time and that the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army have not been proscribed as terrorist groups.

The Anti-Terrorism Council has designated the CPP and NPA as terrorist groups but the petition to prescribe them was junked by a Manila court last September.

"As Cumpio's lawyers are set to appeal the court decision today, we are urging the court to allow Frenchie Mae to present her evidence. We stand with her that there are meritorious and humanitarian reasons why she was not able to join the proceedings. We call on the Manila court to give Frenchie Mae the due process she rightfully deserves," the group said.

The journalist for Eastern Vista had been red-tagged and had documented incidents of harrassment and surveillance prior to her arrest, Altermidya Network said as it stressed that she was recognized in the community as a legitimate journalist.

"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," it also said.

Cumpio has been detained for almost three years now and is marking her 24th birthday on Monday. Along with four other activists, she is facing terrorism charges that Altermidya Network said are trumped up and based on inconsistent testimonies made by unreliable witnesses.

FROM INTERAKSYON: Youth of ‘Tacloban 5’ are Mocha Uson’s latest target in another red-tagging spree

"We at Altermidya Network call on the courts both in Manila and Tacloban to see the light of truth and give justice to the case of Frenchie, Mariel, and the rest of the ‘Tacloban 5,'" they said in a statement. 

"Within the span of three years, similar cases have already been scrapped. It is our hope that despite the continued fear-mongering of armed state forces, our justice system stands firmly and with integrity."

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