Cebu artist Bambi Beltran to sue Labella for violating her rights
CEBU CITY, Philippines – The legal team of Cebu artist Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran said they would countersue Mayor Edgar Labella for allegedly violating her rights when she was arrested on Sunday, April 19.
“The mayor, who is the accuser, talked to Ms Beltran while Ms Beltran was inside police station,” lawyer Amando Virgil Ligutan, a member of Beltran’s legal team, told ANC in an interview on Tuesday, April 21. The rights of the accused are protected under Republic Act 7438, or the custodial investigation law.
“Ms. Beltran's lawyer was not allowed to enter because of the presence of the mayor,” Ligutan added. He said this was a violation of Beltran's rights, who was without legal representation for more than 15 hours after her arrest.
Beltran was arrested without a warrant at 12:30 am Sunday, April 19, at her bar and café, where she also lived. (READ: #FreeBambi: Artists call for release of Cebu film writer, actor Bambi Beltran)
She was booked for violating the cybercrime law, the fake 'news' provision of the Bayanihan Heal As One Law, and the law on mandatory reporting of certain diseases.
Her staff only realized she was missing when they woke up the next morning. (READ: Cebu film writer arrested over Facebook post about coronavirus in Sitio Zapatera)
According to Ligutan, Beltran’s rights were specifically violated when the accuser, Mayor Labella, was allowed to see Beltran without her lawyer present.
Another co-counsel, Ben Militar, was told to wait outside while Labella was speaking to Beltran in the police headquarters' holding area.
According to section 2 of RA 7438, “any person arrested detained or under custodial investigation shall at all times be assisted by counsel.”
"No one should stop a detained person from seeing their lawyer, that right is sacred," Ligutan told Rappler in a separate text message.
Labella told the same channel the previous day that he instructed the police to ensure the “necessary rudiments of due process.”
He also said that the charges were “nothing personal.”
Beltran is being charged over a post she made on Friday, April 17, saying, "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."
Her sarcastic comment was a reaction to news reports that Sitio Zapatera, an area with the highest number of coronavirus infections in Cebu, was considered “contaminated” and mass testing stopped afterwards. (READ: Entire Cebu City sitio 'presumed contaminated' with coronavirus)
To this, Labella replied in Cebuano on Facebook: "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."
FAKE NEWS ni and this is a criminal act. Hulat lang Ms Beltran hapit na ka madapan sa PNP Cybercrime Unit. Magtingkagol gyud ka sa prisohan.Posted by Edgar Labella on Friday, April 17, 2020
Ligutan, however, insists that Beltran’s comment was not “news.”
“Ms Beltran is a classic example of lawfare, the government weaponizing the law to run after free speech,” Ligutan said.
He emphasized that her comment was not even dissent, but her take on a widely-covered news event.
“Logic tells us that no one should be arrested what one reads in the news,” he added.
Labella said previously that he was taking a rigid view of the fake news provisions of the Bayanihan Heal As One Act and simply implementing it, and that Beltran was free to challenge its constitutionality.
Brigadier General Albert Ferro, the director of the Police Regional Office-7 (Central Visayas), defended the warrantless arrest and how it conducted Beltran's booking procedures.
“There are several requirements if we want to conduct a warrantless arrest. One is if he committed a crime, is committing, has committed. For this instance he has committed a crime of making false information. Fake news. Very obvious naman. Even she admitted that they have that kind of posting at the website,” Ferro told reporters on Monday, April 20.
The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) slammed the police's handling of the arrest and filing of charges.
“The recent wave of warrantless arrests for allegedly spreading ‘fake news’ is deplorable because it tramples on one of our most cherished freedoms – the freedom to speak freely,” FLAG said in its statement.
“The arrests are also dangerous because they are the product of the unbridled discretion of the police, unchecked by the cold neutrality of an impartial judge," they said.
The legal assistance group pointed out that there are only 3 circumstances where a warrantless arrest is valid:
- When the person has committed, is actually committing or is attempting to commit an offense in the presence of the arresting officer;
- When an offense has just been committed and the arresting officer has probable cause to believe, based on personal knowledge of facts and circumstances, that the person to be arrested has committed it; and
- When the person to be arrested is an escaped prisoner.
They said Beltran “did not commit and was not actually committing or attempting to commit any crime in the presence of officers who arrested her.”
They added, “No crime ‘had just been committed’ when she was arrested.”
They anticipated that the PNP would interpret the post as a "continuing crime" for being online, but called this interpretation "preposterous and pernicious."
"A continuing crime is a crime that consists of a series of acts arising from a single criminal intent," the legal group said.
They argued that Beltran’s Facebook post does not fall under what is defined as a “continuing crime” that can take place in different jurisdictions like kidnapping.
Beltran’s post had 4 shares before the screengrab was reshared by Labella on Saturday, April 18. The post got over 2,000 shares from the mayor's official page.
The National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) reminded the ex-Ombudsman Visayas chief to be more tolerant of posts with tones he may not like.
"Public officers like Mayor Labella ought to be reminded that freedom of expression belongs as well, if not more, to those who question and who differ," they said in their statement. "For this right to be meaningful, it should allow the articulation even of unorthodox and hostile views, or those that provoke others to anger."
Rappler reached out to Labella for his commen t on the contersuit, but has not responded as of posting time. – Rappler.com