CEBU CITY, Philippines – Mayor Edgar Labella said on Monday, April 20, he was just doing his job when he had film writer and businesswoman Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran arrested over a Facebook post on the coronavirus outbreak in Cebu City.
“What is I told her there is nothing personal, we are implementing the law,” Labella said on the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC).
Beltran was arrested over a Facebook post, where she said Cebu had “9,000+ positive cases” in Sitio Zapatera, an area in Barangay Luz with the most number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 135 total, making the city the "epicenter in the whole Solar System." She said later it was a sarcastic comment.
She was arrested at 12:30 am on Sunday, April 19. She underwent inquest on Monday afternoon and was charged with violating Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Law; Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan Heal As One Law; and Republic Act 1132 or the violation of mandatory reporting of certain diseases.
Her bail totaled P42,000 for all charges, but she was unable to post due to limited court hours because of the skeleton workforce under the enhanced community quarantine.
When Rappler reached out the the Police Regional Office-7 on Sunday to ask what Beltran was being charged with, they only mentioned the cybercrime law.
Labella mentioned during his interview in ANC that he “had” to implement the provision of the Bayanihan Heal As One Law. He said the post caused “quite an alarm to many residents.” (READ: Duterte's special powers bill punishes fake news by jail time, up to P1-M fine)
Beltran's post only had 4 shares until Mayor Labella took a screenshot of it and posted it, causing it to become viral.
“There was so many that texted me, because of the very nature of the post on the page, the police acted on it. I'm sure the police just did their job,” Labella said.
When asked why he did not call Beltran first before filing charges, Labella responded: “The matter is now in the hands of the police and let the judicial authorities evaluate. If there was no violation, let it be.”
When probed again on why he could not call Beltran first before moving forward with criminal charges, Labella said: “I’ve known her. She has been a friend. What I told her is there is nothing personal, we are implementing the law. If they believe there is no violation, they are free to challenge it.”
Both share a history of being a part of the city's film heritage.
Beltran is a well-known fiction and screen writer, poet, and actor in Visayan films. Her original story story Ang Damgo Ni Eleuteria was adapted into a screenplay by Remton Zuasola that won 4 Gawad Urian awards in 2011.
She also owns a bar and café called Kukuks Nest that is frequented by members of the arts community.
Labella’s father was a famous director of Visayan films and his mother was a theater actress. He appointed Beltran to the Cebuano Cinema Development Council in October 2019.
When asked if pushing through with Beltran’s charges would cause a chilling effect on free speech locally in Cebu, he said: “The law is very clear. If it is something that will cause panic, it will cause fear to our citizenry. It is not true there are 9,000 positive; 134 are asymptomatic.”
While the emergeny law (Bayanihan Heal As One) punished fake "news," former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te previously told Rappler that a subparagraph on the punishment of fake news "would be void."
There is no law that punishes fake "news" nor does any law exist that defines it.
"Since there is no law that criminizalizes or defines fake news as a crime, and the special powers law does not also define what fake news is, it cannot be criminalized. That would be void," said Te.
Labella said that it is up to Beltran if her lawyers would want to challenge the constitutionality of the law and said he instructed the police to ensure Beltran’s right to due process.
“I instructed them to ensure the necessary rudiments of due process. And follow proper procedure in accordance with the law,” he said.
In a statement on Monday, April 20, College Editors Guild of the Philippines’ Visayas vice president Claire Obejas called the arrest a “crackdown” on free speech.
“If the government were genuinely concerned in containing the pandemic, these draconian measures will only fill up already-cramped prisons, putting more people at risk of contracting the virus,” Obejas said. “At the height of vulnerability, what we need are compassionate and humane policies.”
Beltran is expected to be able to post bail by Tuesday, April 21. – with a report from Lian Buan/Rappler.com