CHR probing arrest of Cebu film writer over social media post on COVID-19

By: Gabriel Pabico Lalu - INQUIRER.net April 22,2020 - 07:10 PM

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is now investigating the arrest of a poet and scriptwriter in Cebu after posting about the COVID-19 outbreak in Sitio Zapatera.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said on Wednesday that the commission is concerned about the alleged warrantless arrest of Maria Victoria Beltran last April 19, after allegedly spreading ‘fake news’ about high coronavirus infection rates in the said sitio.

De Guia insisted the consideration of human rights should be suspended even with the declaration of a public health emergency.

“We stress that human rights cannot be suspended even during public emergencies. Restrictions to freedoms are also bound by the parameters set by human rights law and should never lead to their abrogation,” she noted.

“In this regard, CHR Region VII is already investigating this case in the interest of knowing the truth and in defense of freedoms and human dignity,” she said.

READ: Cebu artist jailed for allegedly spreading ‘fake news’ on COVID-19

According to De Guia, Beltran — who is now facing cybercrime-related charges for posting on Facebook that there are 9,000 cases in Zapatera — has clarified that it was a satirical response to the rising cases in the area.

“Beltran was also said to have taken down the post after Cebu Mayor Edgar Labella threatened her with an arrest,” she explained.

Labella initially warned that Beltran’s post was fake and that cybercrime units were tracking her after she made the post.  Hours later, Beltran was arrested.

READ: Cebu City to go after accounts spreading fake news

The scriptwriter’s detention has drawn condemnation from various sectors for supposedly suppressing freedom of expression.  CHR said that a democratic society should allow “reasonable exercise of free speech” in public matters.

READ: Rights group slams arrest of activists during COVID-19 relief operations

“Arrests should never be made as a default response to dissent. Governments, especially in localities, should be able to engage in a healthy dialogue to enlighten its citizens instead of triggering fear,” De Guia explained.

“In this regard, we hope that we can channel our collective energies and efforts to curbing the transmission of Covid-19 and addressing the socio-economic needs on the ground brought about by the loss of livelihood due to enhanced quarantine, which is equally pressing human rights concerns,” she added.

Recently, CHR has reminded government offices and agencies to continuously uphold human rights, amid the various allegations of abuse while enforcing the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ECQ over Luzon and other areas are still in effect as COVID-19 cases are still on the rise.  As of Monday, the Department of Health said that there were 6,710 patients infected with the coronavirus, of which 446 have died and 693 have recovered.

Worldwide, over 2.57 million individuals have been infected, while 177,256 have died from the disease and 680,330 have recovered from it.

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TAGS: Bambi Beltran, CHR, COVID-19, human rights, Investigation, Public Health Emergency, Sitio Zapatera

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