Judge junks 2 criminal charges v. Cebuana artist, entrepreneur

THE Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 3 dismissed for lack of evidence the two remaining criminal cases the Philippine National Police filed against Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran over her social media post regarding the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) situation in Cebu City in April.

Beltran’s Facebook post landed her three charges: cyber libel and violating Republic Act (RA) 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, and RA 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.

Her cyber libel case was junked last month for lack of jurisdiction.

“The court pursuant to Sections 12 and 13 of the 1991 Revised Rule on Summary Procedure hereby orders the dismissal of these cases, there being no cause nor ground to hold Maria Victoria Burdeos Beltran for trial,” Presiding Judge Yvonne Artiaga wrote in her five-page decision issued on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Artiaga also canceled Beltran’s arraignment, which was scheduled on Sept. 21.

Mayor Edgardo Labella, when sought for comment, said he will abide by the court’s decision, adding that the City Legal Office, which assisted the police in the filing of cases against Beltran, will not file a motion for reconsideration.

“Any court conscious of its decision to uphold the Constitution should and must wield it as a shield against any means to silence political and social criticisms, a practice eerily reminiscent of the official excesses during the ‘Dark Ages’ of our very own history not so long ago,” Artiaga said in her decision.

The judge said she found Beltran’s post to be satirical and that “satire is constitutionally protected speech.”

Last April 18, Beltran posted on Facebook that Cebu City had become the “(Covid-19) epicenter of the whole solar system” after “9,000+new cases (all from Zapatera” were reported in the city in one day.

However, the court said Beltran’s post could not be considered false information under Section 6(f) and misinformation under Section 9(b) since a local daily published the statement of the city health officer that they considered the 9,000 residents of Sitio Zapatera in Barangay Luz already infected.

The court said Beltran based her post on the official pronouncement of the government.

Looking back at her ordeal, Beltran said she had no idea her Facebook post would land her in a windowless conference room with no fan or air-conditioning, handcuffed to a chair.

She had been taken into custody without an arrest warrant, without the police reading her Miranda Rights, she said.

Twice they interviewed me to make me admit that I posted fake news, but I would not yield to them, she said.

Beltran said she is grateful to her friends and family who worked tirelessly to get her released.

“Fast forward today and my faith in the Philippine judicial system is somewhat restored. I hope this is true in all courts all over the country!” Beltran told SunStar Cebu. (PAC / PJB)


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