Teacher, son arrested without warrant in GenSan over Facebook post


GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – A teacher and her son of legal age were arrested without warrants here on Friday night, March 27, over what local officials  tagged as a "provoking" Facebook post, and face charges of inciting to sedition and disobedience to authority, respectively.

As General Santos City was under enhanced community quarantine to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a Facebook user vented that people were going hungry and encouraged people to raid a local gym where food meant for them were supposedly stocked.

A Facebook account using the name Yet Rodriguez Enosencio posted: "Maraming mamamatay sa gutom if hindi tayo magtutulong-tulong na magreport sa Pangulo na inutil ang ating Mayor.... Panawagan sa walang makain, sugurin 'nyo na nang sabay-sabay ang Lagao Gym. Nakatambak doon ang pagkaing para sa inyo."

(Many people will die if we don't report to the President that our mayor is incompetent. I call on those who have nothing to eat to raid the Lagao Gym. The food packs meant for you are piled up there.)

'Continuing crime'

Upon the complaint of the City Government's Legal Office, the Philippine National Police (PNP) Region 12 Cybercrime Unit hunted down the Facebook user and arrested the person behind it, Juliet Espinosa, a 55-year-old public school teacher.

Cops arrested Espinosa even without a warrant, saying that because the post was still live on Facebook, it will count as a continuing crime. This follows an earlier ruling by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that upheld as valid the warrantless arrest of web administrator Rodel Jayme for helping upload the Bikoy "Ang Totoong Narcolist" videos.

Like Jayme, Espinosa faces charges of violation of Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code or Inciting to Sedition.

“Dahil diyan, inaresto namin siya kasi this a continuing crime – patuloy siya na nangyayari – kasi during that time pumunta si Atty Clarin sa office namin, it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, present pa 'yung post na 'to, hindi pa 'to deleted” said Police Major Leo Dofelis, Assistant Chief of the regional cybercrime unit.

(We arrested her because this is a continuing crime – it's still happening – because when Atty Clarin went to our office at about 4 pm this afternoon, the post is still there, it's not been deleted.)

Dofelis was referring to Arman Clarin, General Santos City's Legal Officer.

Inciting to sedition is defined as "seditious words or speeches, write, publish, or circulate scurrilous libels against the Republic of the Philippines or any of the duly constituted authorities thereof, or which tend to disturb or obstruct any lawful officer in executing the functions of his office, or which tend to instigate others to cabal and meet together for unlawful purposes, or which suggest or incite people against the lawful authorities or to disturb the peace of the community, the safety and order of the Government, or who shall knowingly conceal such evil practices."

Son arrested too

Espinosa's son, of legal age, was also arrested for trying to stop the cops from taking his mother.

The son will  face charges of violation of Article 151 or resistance or disobedience to a person of authority.

"Later on we might press an additional charge of obstruction of justice against him," Dofelis said in Filipino.

The mother and son were in jail, and would undergo inquest proceedings on Monday, March 30.

Courts and prosecutors' offices are physically closed nationwide, but judges and officers will go to work for an urgent matter like bail.

Both inciting to sedition and disobedience to authority are bailable.

Liability of those who shared

"Her case is also in relation to RA 10175 or the cybercrime law," Dofelis said in Filipino.

Dofelis said they will study the criminal liability of those who shared Espinosa's post.

The Supreme Court has already declared as unconstitutional the provision of the Cybercrime Prevention Act that punishes "aiding and abetting" in a case of cyber libel.

The newly-passed Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, which gives special powers to President Rodrigo Duterte, penalizes "individuals or groups creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms."

"Isang post mo lang na mali especially sa COVID-19 issue, baka maka-cause ng panic o baka ma-misinterpret ng iba at mag-encourage pa na gumawa nang hindi maganda," said Dofelis.

(One wrong post you make especially on the COVID-10 issue may cause panic, or may be misinterpreted and may encourage others to break the law.)

The DOJ had earlier said that warrantless arrest can be implemented against lockdown violators who will be caught in the act, no matter if they resist arrest or not.

PNP task force

At the Laging Handa briefing on Saturday, March 28, PNP Deputy Dhief for Operations Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar said that they have created a task force, in coordination with the Department of Information, to look for individuals who may be violating the Bayanihan law.

Under Section 6(6) of the Bayanihan law individuals or groups who "create, perpetuate, or spread false information" regarding the pandemic will be punished by imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less P10,000 up to P1 million. 

So far, Eleazar said that the police have arrested 4 people. 

"Gusto natin ipaaalala dito sa ating mga kasama na walang magawa, na instead makatulong, ngayon pa man din mayroon pong batas na magbibigay sa 'yo ng kaparusahan under Article 154 for unlawful use of means of publication," Eleazar said.

(We want to remind those who have nothing to do, that instead of helping, we have a law that punishes you under Article 154 for unlawful use of means of publication.)

"But just the same, pinatindi ito ng Bayanihan to Heal as One law sa mahilig magpakalat ng fake news (this was strengthened by the Bayanihan to Heal as One law for those who like spreading fake news)," he added.

Eleazar also warned that they would look for offenses that individuals or groups may be punished for. 

"Maghahanap pa kami ng ibang offense para sa inyo. Tandaan 'nyo 'yan (We will look for other offenses. Remember that)," he said.– With a report from Aika Rey/Rappler.com