Cebu Artist Arrested for Posting ‘Satire’ About COVID-19

A Cebu-based film writer was arrested the early morning of Sunday, April 19, for publishing a Facebook post about the local novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in Sitio Zapatera, Barangay Luz in Cebu City.

In the post, Maria Victoria Beltran shared that over 9,000 residents had been confirmed to have COVID-19, making it the area with the most COVID-19 cases in the city.

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“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,” she wrote.

This post was then slammed by Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella who threatened to jail Beltran for spreading false information. “This is FAKE NEWS and this is a criminal act. Just wait Ms Beltran, you’ll soon be caught by the PNP Cybercrime Unit. You’ll really be thrown in prison,” he said in his own post in Cebuano.

mayor labella maria victoria beltran

The arrest happened hours after Mayor Labella posted his response. According to the police department, Beltran will be charged with violating Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Law.

Beltran’s lawyer, Vincent Isles, told reporters that they will also be filing administrative and criminal charges against those responsible for her arrest as it is a violation of her rights.

Isles also clarified that Beltran’s post was not to be taken seriously in the first place.

“Her post should not be not taken literally. I don’t know why Mayor Labella took it literally. Clearly, the post was not a violation of our laws. I do not understand why Mayor Labella would like to focus on a petty concern instead of focusing on the more important issue. That’s a very dangerous trend,” Isles told Inquirer.

“As a fellow lawyer who knows the laws, [Mayor Labella] should take a second look at the Facebook post. No matter how you look at the post, there was no intention of creating confusion and chaos. Instead of using his time to go after those who have something to say about the pandemic, Mayor Labella should use his time and resources to focus on how to help the poor and make them survive this crisis.”

Artist group Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) also spoke out against Beltran’s arrest.

“This targetting and arrest is a vicious attack on freedom of expression amidst the continuing failure of the national and local governments to ensure expanded and systematic mass testing and a comprehensive public information drive on the pandemic,” the said in a statement.

“Mayor Labella should not be policing cyberspace and threatening citizens. Instead, we challenge the mayor to focus on his mandate and local response to containing local transmission of COVID-19 especially in marginalized and vulnerable communities under his jurisdiction because lives are at stake. This is what commentary and satire is driving at.”

(ALSO READ: Here’s a clever way of social distancing in markets done in Cebu)

Beltran’s comment came after the announcement made by the Cebu City Health Department and Department of Health that the whole of Sitio Zapatera, with a population of over 9,000, will now be considered “contaminated” with 136 people out of the 163 confirmed cases in Cebu City testing positive for the virus.

As of writing, she is still detained in Camp Sergio Osmeña.

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