Warrantless arrest of Cebuano artist over satirical post is illegal, FLAG says
Cebuano film writer and entrepreneur Maria Victoria Beltran was arrested over her post that read: “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.”
Warrantless arrest of Cebuano artist over satirical post is illegal, FLAG says
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - April 21, 2020 - 5:17pm

MANILA, Philippines — The warrantless arrest of Cebuano film writer Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran over a satirical Facebook post is illegal, said the Free Legal Assistance Group.

Beltran’s Facebook post that read “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” landed her in jail.

The FREEMAN reported that Beltran was arrested without a warrant on Sunday for allegedly peddling “fake information” about COVID-19, which is punishable under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

But circumstances of Beltran’s supposed violation do not fall under the scenarios where a warrantless arrest may be conducted as stated on the Rules of Criminal Procedure, FLAG said.

The Rules provide that a warrantless arrest may only be done if the person has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense; if a crime has just been committed; or if the person is an escaped prisoner.

 “Her warrantless arrest, therefore, was patently illegal,” they said.

FLAG said that the police “will probably argue” that the arrest was legal because Beltran committed a “continuing crime.”

But the lawyers’ group said this defense is “preposterous and pernicious,” and does not apply on Beltran’s supposed offense.

They explained that the Supreme Court provides that the term “continuing” is intended for determining proper venue or jurisdiction of a crime such as kidnapping. Beltran’s offense—the posting on Facebook—only happened in one place, in Cebu City.

‘Satire is protected speech’

FLAG also stressed that Beltran’s post is not "fake news"—a term that has come to mean misinformation or disinformation as propaganda—but is satire, which the SC holds as protected speech.

The SC in Diocese of Bacolod v Comelec cited a 1989 law journal entry from Yale and defined satire as “a literary form that employs such devices as sarcasm, irony and ridicule to deride prevailing vices or follies.”

RELATED: It's protected speech, MMDA's Pialago told as satire account gets serious

Beltran in her post referred to Cebu City as “epicenter in the whole Solar System,” which may be a play on a Sun Star Cebu story saying Cebu City “has become the epicenter of the coronavirus disease outbreak in Central Visayas.” This was echoed too by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia’s remarks that she considers “Cebu City as epicenter of the virus in the Province [of Cebu],” FLAG noted.

The film writer’s post is “obviously an exaggeration and was not meant to be taken literally,” FLAG said.

FLAG then called upon the police to “follow the process for securing warrants of arrest from the courts, instead of taking the law into their own hands by arresting citizens without warrants for their posts on social media and other platforms.

Crackdown on 'fake news'

The Philippine National Police and National Bureau of Investigation are conducting a crackdown on false news posts on social media in this time of pandemic.

A Facebook user commenting on the use of P2-billion for private jet landed him in legal trouble with the NBI. FLAG Chairperson Chel Diokno represents him in the fact-finding investigation.

The NBI also said it sent more than a dozen summonses for similar probes into "fake news" posts.

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