#FreeBambi: Artists call for release of Cebu film writer, actor Bambi Beltran
CEBU CITY, Philippines – Artists groups are calling for the release of Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran, who was was arrested in Cebu City on Sunday, April 20, for a post she made on Sitio Zapatera in Barangay Luz, sarcastically calling it the covid “epicenter of the universe.” READ: Cebu film writer arrested over Facebook post about coronavirus in Sitio Zapatera)
Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) said in a statement: “We strongly condemn the arrest of multimedia artist and writer Maria Victoria Beltran today by the Cebu City police over a satirical Facebook post on rising COVID-19 cases in Sitio Zapatera, Cebu.”
There are 134 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the sitio after the city began mass testing residents in the area. Majorty of those tested were asymptomatic. (READ: At least 9,000 residents in Cebu City barangay under total lockdown)
The post was reacting to news over the city saying it would end its mass testing and consider the entire area “contaminated” in the words of the Department of Health or “infected.”
This left a question among many residents if this means that the 9,000 in the sitio would be considered “positive” if they would already deem the area contaminated.
While Labella called the post “fake,” artists defended it as sarcasm or satire. (READ: Labella on arrest of Cebu artist Bambi Beltran: 'It's nothing personal)
Artist collective Dakila condemned Beltran’s arrest.
“This is a flagrant attack on our freedom of expression and a shocking display of misplaced government priorities in the face of the urgent need for comprehensive health interventions and basic social services to address the COVID-19 crisis,” Dakila said in a statement.
Free Expression, #FreeBAMBI Statement on the arrest of DAKILA member, Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran DAKILA strongly...Posted by DAKILA on Sunday, April 19, 2020
Beltran, a screenwriter, poet and actor, is also a member of Dakila. She owns a bar and café in Cebu frequented by the art community in Cebu called Kukuks Nest.
Fellow poet and screenwriter Jerry Gracio tweeted his support for Beltran.“The Cebu City Mayor threw Maria Victoria Beltran in in jail, the writer of “Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria” because of a sarcastic post on FB. Sarcasm is a crime now,” he said.
Ipinakulong ng mayor ng Cebu City si Maria Victoria Beltran, writer ng "Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria" dahil sa isang sarcastic post sa FB. Krimen na ang sarcasm ngayon.— Jerry B. Grácio (@JerryGracio) April 19, 2020
Ang Damgo Ni Eleuteria is a short story by Beltran and was the basis for a screenplay by Remton Zuasola that won 4 Gawad Urian awards in 2011.
She is also an actor who has appeared in many local Visayan films, as well as independent productions in Manila.
In 2014, she was cast in internationally acclaimed Lav Diaz film Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon.
Spoken word artist and writer Alfonso Manalastas said in his tweet that if the basis of the warrantless arrest was the Bayanihan law no “public disorder” was caused by the post.
“The mayor of Cebu is power-tripping,” he added, using the #FreeBambi.
Bambi’s lawyer confirmed that the arrest was warrantless. Also, she was merely echoing existing reports in her Facebook post. Even if the basis of the arrest was the Bayanihan Law, no “public disorder” was caused by the post. The mayor of Cebu is power-tripping. #FreeBambi https://t.co/uH4WcY7bGZ— Alfonso Manalastas (@not_alfonso) April 19, 2020
Beltran was arrested at around 12:30 am on Sunday, April 19, and only charged on Monday afternoon with violating the Cybercrime Law, the “fake news” provisions of the Bayanihan Heal As One Law, and violating a law related to patient privacy. She was booked earlier at the Police Regional Office Central Visayas with bail is set at P42,000.
She is expected to be allowed to post bail on Tuesday, April 21.
TV actor Mela Habijan said in a tweet that “citizens who speak against the government are being arrested.”
Actor Chai Fonacier, who is a friend of Beltran’s, criticized Labella in a tweet “If you can move fast to arrest someone without a warrant, if you have the resourecs, if you can spend time going to the precinct yourself, then I expect you should be able to fulfill your damn jobs in terms of governance, providing service and help to those who need it, no?”
If u can move that fast to arrest someone w/o a warrant, if u have the resources, if u can spend time going to the precinct urself, then I EXPECT you should be able to fulfill your damn jobs in terms of governance, providing service and help to those who need it, noh? #FreeBambi— Chai Fonacier (@bansheerabidcat) April 19, 2020
Film director Mario Cornejo tweeted, "Arrested for lack of a sarcasm font? Or petty revenge for pointing out the unconstitutionalty of denying freedom of movement to 9,000 poor people."
Arrested for lack of a sarcasm font? Or petty revenge for pointing out the unconstitutionality of denying freedom of movement to 9000 poor people https://t.co/5E64ISAiWa— Mario Cornejo (@mariocornejo) April 19, 2020
Shortly after Beltran’s arrest, a Facebook page whose owner is unknown popped up called “Movement Against Fake News” and “Cebuanos Condemn Fake Information.”
While it purports to be a new page to fight disinformation, only Bambi’s picture is on the page, saying “fake news destroys lives.” The page contains no fact checks, nor the names of anyone who posts the content on that page.
Dakila urged the Cebu City government in its statement to focus on lowering the number of COVID-19 infections in the city.
“It is appalling that the local government appears to be more concerned about policing public discourse rather than giving their full attention to the plight of Cebuanos, at risk of succumbing to the virus, who lack tests, facilities, and PPEs to fight on the frontlines, or basic needs to sustain themselves amid community lockdown," Dakila said in its sttement.
Cebu City, which currently has over 160 cases of coronavirus, is on lockdown until April 30, while the province is locked down until executive order is rescinded by Governor Gwendolyn Garcia.
Dakila called on the Cebu City government and police to free Beltran in their statement: "We call on our government to consistently uphold human rights as they protect their constituents from the dangers of the ongoing pandemic. We call on fellow Filipinos to condemn attacks on their freedom of expression and continue to use their voices to demand for a transparent, rights-based, and science-backed response to the COVID-19 crisis." – Rappler.com