Judge dismisses raps vs artist arrested, accused of spreading false info on COVID-19 in Cebu City
CEBU CITY –– An artist and scriptwriter, who was arrested after the mayor accused her of spreading false information on the surge of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases here, can heave a sigh of relief.
A trial court judge has dismissed the two charges filed against Maria Victoria Beltran for lack of probable cause.
In her ruling dated September 15, Judge Yvonne Cabaron Artiaga of the Municipal Trial Court Branch 3 in Cebu City said there was no sufficient basis to hold Beltran liable for violating Republic Act 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, and Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
“The court orders the dismissal of these cases there being no cause nor ground to hold the accused for trial. There is also no evidence to establish probable cause that such statement was posted by the accused as intentional misinformation or that it is false information geared towards creating chaos or panic about the pandemic,” she said.
“This court, instead, finds the public Facebook post as a satire. The phrase ‘epicenter of the whole solar system’ is a dead giveaway. In many instances, our Supreme Court has held time and again that satire is constitutionally protected speech,” she added.
Beltran was arrested by the police past 2 a.m. of April 19, inside her restaurant, Kukuk’s Nest, in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City.
The arrest, which was done without a warrant, happened just a few hours after Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella threatened to send her to jail for allegedly spreading lies.
Beltran posted on Facebook that more than 9,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Sitio Zapatera, Barangay Luz in Cebu City.
“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 Facebook post read.
Labella, in his post on Facebook, dismissed Beltran’s claims as fake news.
The mayor then vowed to go after Beltran and put her in jail.
Beltran was subsequently arrested and spent three days in jail.
She was released on April 21 after posting a total of P42,000 in bail.
Her lawyer Vincent Isles was elated that the court took into consideration their claim that the accused did not have the intent to spread confusion and fear as it was the Department of Health which announced that everyone in Sitio Zapatera, which has over 9,000 residents, was “presumed contaminated” with the COVID-19 and that there was no need to test other residents.
“The courts have shown me that indeed, they are the last bastion of freedom in this country founded on the rule of law and a limited state. Let us continue to fight for our rights,” Isles said in a post on Facebook.
Since the charges filed against her client were covered by the Rules on Summary Procedure, he said a motion for reconsideration is not allowed.
“The only remedy is a petition for certiorari before the Regional Trial Court, which requires grave abuse of discretion to hold. Thus the dismissal is good as final,” Isles said.
Last May, Beltran was named one of the 17 recipients of the 2020 Deutsche Welle (DW) Freedom of Speech Award for her commitment to free speech.
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