CEBU

Bzzzzz: Mitra, USC editor who criticized Gwen, is a Cebu City Hall commissioner

PEOPLE talk about...

[1] WHETHER COUNCILOR NINA MABITAD COMMITTED A CRIME in posting about "suspected" and "unconfirmed" Covid-19 patients. Police were reported to be readying the charges.

[2] MAKATI MEDICAL CENTER'S BLAST AGAINST SENATOR KIKO PIMENTEL for his allegedly "irresponsible and reckless action" by violating his home quarantine protocol and entering the premises of the MMC delivery room, "thus unduly exposing health-care workers to possible infection." Pimentel announced 11:46 a.m. Wednesday, March 25, that he was positive for Covid-19. Later, at 6 p.m. the hospital issued the statement.

'Carolinian' statement

Berns Mitra is editor-in-chief of "Carolinian Today," official student publication of the University of San Carlos, who in a March 24 post on Facebook, under the paper's official logo, published a statement titled "A governor is not above the Constitution."

The four-paragraph statement "condemns the attempts" by Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia to "intimidate the Cebuano people and muffle criticism of the government's response" to the coronavirus crisis.

What threats? The statement said the include the creation of a "unit" to track down people who "vocalize their online dissent." They "run contrary to our foundation as a democracy and the freedom of speech protected by our Constitution."

The post was "in bad taste," the TC statement said, and promoted violation of the curfew but it was not "justifiable impetus" to curtail freedoms. It "reminded" the governor that "defamation laws particularly exclude criticism of public figures..."

Invitation to Capitol

The governor invited Mitra to her Capitol office 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, to discuss the issue, so he "can further elucidate on what you must believe is your 'erudite' opinion" about her actions and decisions. CEGP or College Editors Guild of the Philippines criticized the governor's reply. The school paper "Today's Carolinian" is a member of CEGP, which Mitra calls "highly progressive."

It was not known if Mitra showed up (he probably did not). The day before, March 24, another Facebook user showed up and apologized to the governor over his post that ridiculed and cursed ("Pakyou") the curfew. The confrontation between the netizen critic and Gwen was live-streamed from the Capitol. Conveniently though, his face was covered with a face mask and watchers couldn't see his face.

Mitra is a commissioner at the Cebu City Anti-Discrimination Commission. It would be more interesting if he were tangling with Mayor Edgardo Labella over the city's general community quarantine.

Anti-Discrimination Commission, created under City Ordinance #2339 of 2012, was constituted in 2016, authored by then councilor Margot Osmena, which prohibits discrimination in Cebu City on the basis of disability, age, health status, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or religion.

It was the first such ordinance by a local government in the country, considered "a valued gift" of the city to the LGBT community.

Was it TC's official stand?

Casting a possible sidelight to the controversy is the question whether Mitra was authorized by the editorial board to issue the statement under the official logo of the publication.

His answer? In a FB comment ("the kid feels he knew everything; he shouldn't have claimed it was his paper's official statement") under Karlon Rama's post, Mitra said "they are very much free to impeach me, as it takes only a simple majority vote to impeach any member of the editorial board."

Mitra said he has spent much of his time, since he was still managing editor and in the early months of his term as E-in-C, "restructuring and revising policies to decentralize authority from the editor-in-chief, as I felt the role was much too loaded." He said he has received "tremendous support and assurance from my fellow editors and staff after the governor's rambled response."

So, did Mitra get prior authorization from the editorial board to comment and criticize the governor's actions?

Mitra would make a good politician or a politician's publicist.

***

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