Cebu City court dismisses charges against Bambi Beltran
CEBU CITY, Philippines — A Cebu City court has dismissed all charges against Cebuana artist and businesswoman, Maria Victoria Beltran, four months after she was arrested for writing a satirical post regarding the city’s coronavirus situation on May 9, 2020.
In her promulgation, Judge Yvonne Cabaron Artiaga of the Municipal Trial Court in Cebu City Branch 3, the charges against Beltran lacks probable cause and that the arrest violated her Constitutional Rights.
In Beltran’s original post she said, “9,000+ new cases (All from Zapatera) of COVID-19 in Cebu City in one day. We are now the epicenter of the whole solar center.”
She was charged criminal offenses by the police for violating the Bayanihan Heal As one Act Section 9 (b) and Section 6 (f), which pertains to tampering of records or intentionally providing misinformation and for spreading false information on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in social media and other platforms, respectively.
Artiaga ruled that Beltran’s satirical statement posted on Facebook on April 18, 2020, was a reaction to local news reports that mass testing was being stopped in Sitio Zapatera, Barrio Luz. She noted that these reports quoted the Cebu City Health Department saying the entire population of Sitio Zapatera was then considered positive of the COVID-19.
“The questionned FB post, therefore, cannot be considered false information or misinformation as it was only based on official pronouncement…Further, there is also no evidence to establish probable cause that such statement was posted by Beltran as intentional misinformation under Section 9 (b) of R.A. 11331 or that it is false information geared towards creating chaos or panic about the pandemic under Section 6 (f) of the Bayanihan Law,” ruled the judge.
The court finds the public FB post as a satire, a form of speech that is protected under the constitution, stating jurisprudence in similar cases such as Diocese of Bacolod v. Comelec (2015), Chavez v. Gonzales and NTC (2008), and Reyes v. Bagatsing (1983), where the Supreme Court has ruled that free speech must be accorded with utmost deference and respect.
“It is the liberty to discuss any matter of public concern without restraint or punishment, except when its restraint is justified to avoid a danger grave and imminent to public safety,” Artiaga quoted the Supreme Court.
Therefore, the judge promulgated that the charges against Beltran lacks probable cause and should be dismissed.
Freedom of Speech and for Constitutional Rights
Furthermore, the judge said that the arrest of Beltran on the late night of April 18, 2020, violated her rights against unreasonable arrest, search and seizure, because at the time of arrest, Beltran was not actively committing a crime, there was no hot pursuit, nor was she an escapee from prison.
“Any court conscious of its mandate to uphold the Constitution should and must wield it as a shield against any means to silence political and social criticism,” said the judge.
Beltran welcomed the dismissal of the charges as a victory for Freedom of Speech and for Constitutional Rights.
“This is a victory that is not mine alone, but of Freedom of Speech and all of us, that are socially aware and are moved to say something about the policies of this administration. I thank the court that upheld the Constitution in protecting an ordinary citizen’s rights,” said Beltran in a text message to CDN Digital.
The police have yet to comment on the dismissal of the charges filed against Beltran.
Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, who ordered an investigation on Beltran’s post and claimed that she was spreading misinformation, said that the city government will respect the decision of the court.
“We have to respect the decision of the court. Considering it is a criminal case, jeopardy sets in already. There is a review mechanism, they can file a motion for reconsideration. But I would rather dili nalang ko magfile (that I won’t file),” said the mayor. /bmjo
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