A 21-year-old journalist who has long complained of harassment by the government was among five people arrested and detained by security forces in pre-dawn raids Friday in the central Philippine province of Leyte, a media group and police said.
Frenchiemae Cumpio, executive director of the alternative publication Eastern Vista, was arrested days after she reported to the nonprofit foundation Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility that masked men had been tailing the staff of her community newspaper.
“They are reportedly being charged with illegal possession of firearms,” AlterMidya, the parent network of Eastern Vista, said in a statement, referring to Cumpio and the four others who are locally known human rights advocates.
A police report said that the five were in possession of firearms and communist paraphernalia at the time of their arrests.
Cumpio is also the anchor of a local radio program that specializes in reporting on local rights abuses by military and police authorities in the city of Tacloban, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement.
Eastern Vista is a member of the AlterMidya Network, a small group of independent publishers across the country that report mainly on social issues such as human rights, poverty and the insurgency, the NUJP said.
But members of the network, including Eastern Vista, have long been openly accused by the government of being fronts for the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). Network officials have denied the allegations.
Cumpio is the second community journalist arrested since October, when Anne Krueger of Paghimud-os, another alternative media company, was among more than 50 persons rounded up in simultaneous raids launched by security forces against suspected communist “fronts” in Bacolod city. Krueger later posted bail.
The NUJP said that Cumpio's arrest was “clearly part of government’s crackdown against not only these supposed communist fronts but the critical media, mainstream and alternative.”
“Before her arrest, Cumpio had been the subject of continued harassment and intimidation by men and at least one woman believed to be state security agents who had been tailing her around since September last year,” the NUJP said.
The arrests of Cumpio and Krueger came amid the government’s legal moves and attempts to shut down news website Rappler and ABS-CBN, a television network.
President Rodrigo Duterte has lashed out at the media numerous times since he took power in 2016, saying journalists were distorting news coverage of his anti-narcotics campaign that has killed thousands.
“These are all part of this government’s efforts to silence the free exchange of ideas and coopt media into mouthing only what it allows,” the NUJP said.