MANILA - An artist and businesswoman in Cebu City has been arrested for supposedly posting misinformation on social media about the spread of COVID-19 in one of its villages, its mayor said Monday.
Maria Victoria Beltran, in a Facebook post Saturday, said there were "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."
Beltran was referring to Sitio Zapatera in Barangay Luz, Cebu City, which has 135 COVID-19 patients.
The artist, in a statement before her arrest Sunday, said her now-deleted post was "satirical, designed to show wit instead of spreading chaos, anarchy, fear, or confusion."
Mayor Edgardo Labella, however, said Beltran's post caused "quite a panic" among residents.
"If I recall sometime last Saturday, there was this item on her page and of course this caused alarm, quite a panic among residents because I think there was a mention of about 9,000 infected individuals but of course it’s not true," he told ANC.
"There were so many who texted me, went to my office. Because of the very nature of the entry on the page, the police acted on it. I’m sure the police just did their job."
Labella said Beltran's arrest was "nothing personal."
"As I’ve told the police, provide her with the necessary rudiments of due process. Let her be defended by lawyers," he said.
Concerned Artists of the Philippines condemned Beltran's arrest and urged Labella to instead "focus on his mandate and local response to containing local transmission of COVID-19."
"This targeting and arrest is a vicious attack on freedom of expression amidst the continuing failure of the national and local governments to ensure expanded and systematic mass testing and a comprehensive public information drive on the pandemic," it said in a statement.
Movement Against Tyranny-Cebu, meantime, said Beltran's post was referring to the local government and the health department's "vague proclamations."
"The City Government and the DOH (Department of Health) failed to provide the public with clear and reliable information. It only posed fear upon the Cebuano citizens most especially those who are in Barangay Luz," it said.
As of Sunday afternoon, Beltran was detained at the Police Regional Office 7 in Cebu City, according to one of her counsels Vincent Isles.
"The fake news provision under Section 6(f) of the Bayanihan Act should be used by our law enforcers and local chief executives to prosecute those who clearly has the intent to sow fear and confusion, not to those who had a witty remark on the government's response to this crisis," he said in a Facebook post.
ANC, Cebu City, Edgardo Labella, Maria Victoria Beltran, fake news, Sitio Zapatera, freedom of expression, COVID-19, coronavirus