Image: Bambi Beltran / Courtesy of the artist, photo by Marlon Hofer
15 September: The Municipal Trial Court in Cebu City Branch 3 dismissed all charges against Cebu artist, Bambi Beltran (real name Maria Victoria Beltran) after she was arrested on 19 April 2020 for writing a satirical post regarding the city’s coronavirus situation, reported Rappler.
According to Cebu Daily News, Beltran has been arrested for violating the Bayanihan Heal As one Act Section 9 (b) and Section 6 (f), which relates to spreading false information about the COVID-19 crisis in social media and other platforms.
She was released on bail, and, according to Cebu Daily News, the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.
The charges relate to the post published on Beltran’s Facebook account. The satirical post was written in response to vague news reporting on the local pandemic situation.
According to Cebu Daily News, Judge Yvonne Cabaron Artiaga of the Municipal Trial Court in Cebu City Branch 3 said in the ruling that “It is the liberty to discuss any matter of public concern without restraint or punishment, except when its restraint is justified to avoid a danger grave and imminent to public safety.”
“[…] when I posted that the whole population, which is over 9,000, is Covid-19 infected, and that the city just became the epicentre of Covid-19, the local authorities, which has been trying to look like they’re on top of the situation when they’re not, were very much upset,” Bambi Beltran told Freemuse, “they arrested me to make me an example for others who might criticise their handling of the pandemic.”
She was additionally charged with Cyber-libel charge and arrested in August, but the artist posted bail the next day. The charge was based on the complaint filed by a person who had an argument on social media with Beltran about same-sex marriage.
According to Rappler, the charge was dropped on 17 August because of lack of jurisdiction.
“The Philippines is largely a Catholic country, so it is frowned upon when you are critical of religion. Violence is okay, but sex is taboo here. The present administration has largely ignored art in the Philippines. There is very little support, especially funding,” Beltran commented on the state of artistic freedom in the Philippines.
Bambi Beltran is literary, visual and film artist. She is a published writer for her short stories, poems and history. In 2007 and 2008, she won the Gawad Komisyon KWF Prize for Cebuano fiction, sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and Arts, with her short stories Balay Daplin sa Baybayon / House By the Sea and Bulak sa Bukid Mayapay / Flower in Mt. Mayapay. In 2009, Beltran’s short story Damgo ni Eleuteria / Dream of Eleuteria was produced into a film that won 11 awards in the Philippines and abroad.