A Cebu film artist was arrested last Sunday for allegedly spreading false information on social media despite the post being satirical in nature.
Maria Victoria Beltran, a film writer and owner of a bar in Cebu, was arrested for her post where she said:
“9,000+ new cases (All from Zapatera) of COVID-19 in Cebu City in one day. We are now the epicenter in the whole Solar System.”
This was posted the day before her arrest but has since been deleted.
Cebu Mayor Edgardo Labella managed to take a screenshot of Beltran’s post before its deletion and shared it on his page. He denounced this as a form of “fake news,” which he said is considered a crime under a new law.
FAKE NEWS ni and this is a criminal act. Hulat lang Ms Beltran hapit na ka madapan sa PNP Cybercrime Unit. Magtingkagol gyud ka sa prisohan.
Posted by Edgar Labella on Friday, April 17, 2020
Beltran’s camp later explained that her post was a satire and does not intend to spread or cause panic among Filipinos online.
The accused argued that the provision on the Bayanihan To Heal as One Act against fake news purveyors is therefore not applicable.
Under the Section 6 of Bayanihan Act, the act of spreading false information on COVID-19 crisis on social media or other platforms with the clear intention “to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion” is considered punishable by law.
“There was no intent to spread confusion and fear by the posting of the said post. We hold that prosecution of any person under Sec. 6(f) of Republic Act No. 11469 can only occur when the post is ‘clearly geared to promote chaos, anarchy, fear, or confusion,’” Beltran’s camp said on Facebook.
“Even an ordinary person without the benefit of being exposed to the finer qualities of literature would understand Ms. Beltran’s post as satirical, designed to show wit instead of spreading chaos, anarchy, fear, or confusion,” it added.
Reports said that Beltran was arrested at around 12:30 a.m. last Sunday and may face cybercrimecharges.
Actress Chai Fonacier, who also hails from Cebu, then disclosed through a series of videos and tweets that Beltran was not informed of her charges when the local police “invited” her to the station. Fonacier also claimed that the authorities failed to present any warrant of arrest when they apprehended Beltran.
She is also calling for the release of Beltran online through the use of hashtag #FreeBambi.
#FreeBambi. In the next two tweets are updates from Atty. Ben Militar who visited Bambi Beltran at PRO 7 in Cebu https://t.co/RGX8ymchhg
— Chai Fonacier (@bansheerabidcat) April 19, 2020
‘Satire is not a crime ‘
The Concerned Artist of the Philippines criticized the motives for the arrest, pointing out that satire is a form of speech often employed as means of criticism. In this case, Beltran addressed her satirical post to Cebu city government’s COVID-19 response.
On April 17, Labella placed Barangay Luz under lockdown due to the rising number of confirmed cases in Sitio Zapatera, the locality Beltran mentioned in her post.
The lockdown bans residents from going out. Food packs and other essential goods will reportedly be distributed by the local barangay.
“We condemn Mayor Edgardo Labella’s specific targeting of Beltran’s post as a criminal act and precluding the incident today with the threat of arrest by the PNP Cybercrime Unit. These instances of citizens voicing out opinions on social media should not be suppressed in any functioning democracy by the state,” the group said.
SATIRE IS NOT A CRIME Statement on the arrest of Maria Victoria Beltran We strongly condemn the arrest of multimedia…
Posted by Concerned Artists of the Philippines on Sunday, April 19, 2020
Dakila Philippines, the civic organization Beltran is a member of, and the Movement Against Tyranny-Cebu, a human rights group critical of the Duterte administration, likewise denounced the city government’s actions as an attack against freedom of speech and expression.
In the 2015 case between the Diocese of Bacolod and the Commission of Elections, the Supreme Court defined satire as “a literary form that employs such devices as sarcasm, irony and ridicule to deride prevailing vices or follies,” therefore not a criminal act.
Satire as political expression which had been used by ancient Greeks as means to “expose hypocrisy and flaws among elites and within policies and institutions.”
Labella claimed in an interview with ANC that Beltran caused panic among residents, thus justifying her arrest.
He also said that this was not “personal.”
“There were so many who texted me, went to my office. Because of the very nature of the entry on the page, the police acted on it. I’m sure the police just did their job,” he said.
As of writing, Beltran remains under the custody of the. Police Regional Office in Central Visayas
In view of this, Fonacier also called for legal aid from human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, who earlier offered tips on what to do if one receives a subpoena from the National Bureau of Investigation.
The Philippine National Police and the NBI are cracking down on fake news online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.