[Statement] Free Expression, #FreeBAMBI -DAKILA

Free Expression, #FreeBAMBI
Statement on the arrest of DAKILA member, Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran

DAKILA strongly condemns the warrantless arrest of artist and writer Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran by the Cebu City police over her Facebook post responding to the rising COVID-19 cases in the city. 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.

Recently, Beltran, a DAKILA member, active cultural worker, and vocal advocate, posted on Facebook a satirical response to the rising positive cases of COVID-19 in Sitio Zapatera in Barangay Luz, which said, “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.” This statement echoed reports from local news that health officials from DOH Central Visayas considered the whole sitio, with a population of 9,000, as infected or presumed contaminated.

Mayor Edgardo Labella of Cebu City – who had previously appointed Beltran to the city’s cinema development council – appeared to respond to Beltran through his official Facebook page, which accused her of spreading fake news and committing a criminal act, warning that she would be arrested by the PNP Cybercrime Unit. Beltran took down her post and issued a public statement through her legal counsel, stating that her satirical post “does not spread chaos, anarchy, fear, or confusion.”

What has in fact sparked fear and confusion is the report that at 12:30 AM on the 19th of April, a Sunday, Beltran was arrested without warrant along Gorordo Avenue, Barangay Kamputhaw by the local police. Central Visayas police director Brigadier General Albert Ferro, through a Rappler article, stated that Beltran was arrested for violating RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Law. Meanwhile, Beltran’s lawyer Atty. Benjamin Militar said that they were told Beltran was charged for violating Sec 6(f) of the Bayanihan Act.

Beltran was ambushed with a warrantless arrest under cover of midnight with vague charges on a day when she could not post bail. Her alleged crime? Voicing concern about an escalating health crisis. 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.

We call on Mayor Labella and the Cebu City Police to #FreeBambi. 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.

#FreeBambi #IStandWithBambi #UpholdFreedomOfExpression #DefendFreeSpeechInCebu #UpholdHumanRights #ProtectThePeople #COVID19PH

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