Teacher invokes freedom of expression, denies child abuse claim
MANILA — For posting a video on Facebook about a police officer stopping traffic along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to allow a VIP to pass by, a private school teacher is now facing sharing of fake news and child abuse complaints before the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office.
Janus Munar, who teaches contemporary issues and Philippine politics and governance in a school in Laguna, posted the video on his Facebook page on October 4.
In the video, Police Executive Master Sergeant Verdo Pantollano could be seen mentioning “VP” as the VIP who will allegedly use the road, in response to the query of the unidentified person who took the video.
He would later retract his statement after Vice President Sara Duterte complained to the Quezon City Police District.
But Pantollano, on October 13, filed complaints against Munar for allegedly violating Art. 154 of the Revised Penal Code on unlawful means of publications and Republic Act 7610 on child abuse, both in relation to the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (RA 10175).
The police officer alleged that the posting of the video caused his family and his 13-year-old daughter “overwhelming trauma, psychological and emotional stress,” inducing fear and shame in going out of the house.
Munar responded to the allegations by filing his counter-affidavit Tuesday, expressing surprise at the complaints.
“Nagulat po kami kasi akala namin, yung station commander nila yung magfa-file. Pero itong si Police Pantollano ang nag-file. Sabi ko bakit? Eh siya mismo ‘yung nagsabi na, ‘Oo, dadaan si VP’ and then siya pa yung nagreklamo,” he told the media.
“At nagulat din po ako with the filing of the child abuse law, parang andali-dali manira ng pangalan, kasi I built up my reputation for 18 years already as a teacher, ni wala akong inabusong bata. Pero ngayon sinasampahan ako ng child abuse kaya nagulat ako,” he added.
In his counter-affidavit, Munar called the child abuse allegation “ridiculous and completely unfounded.”
“The act of uploading or sharing a video showing a public officer in the performance of his official duties in a public place cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered as treating a child cruelly or violently. At the time I allegedly uploaded the video, moreover, I did not even know that complainant had a daughter and that she was a minor,” he said.
Instead, he pointed out, that it was the immediate rebuke and relief of Pantollano by his superiors that elicited the reaction from his daughter, not the act of uploading the video.
“Siguro, I feel kung totoo man yun. I feel the reaction ng bata. Pero parang anlayo kasi hindi ko siniraan, wala akong ginawang paninira doon sa police noong pinost…nung shinare ko yung video sa Facebook,” Munar explained to the media.
Speaking in defense of his client, Free Legal Assistance Group national chairperson Dean Chel Diokno said there was nothing illegal in what Munar did.
“Sa tingin namin, talagang unfounded yung charge na yun dahil ang ginawa lang naman ng kliyente ko ay tulad ng ginagawa ng mga milyon na mga Pilipino na shinare nya yung video ng isang public official performing public function sa isang public place. Dahil ang nasa video naman, si Sgt. Pantollano na nagta-traffic sa Commonwealth Avenue. Sa tingin namin, wala namang masama at illegal sa ginawa niya,” he said.
Diokno also defended his client against sharing of false news allegations, saying the complaint against his client did not clearly state how his client allegedly violated Art. 154 of the Revised Penal Code.
“Wala namang false doon sa na-share na video dahil yun ay talagang, pati si Pantollano, sinabi naman niya na yun din ang talagang binanggit niya noong ininterview siya ng di na kilalang videographer,” he said.
In his post, Munar sought to draw attention to the confidential funds issue which was then hounding Duterte.
“Oh yeah! Tatawid daw si VP Sarah, the Confidential Queen! Bigyan daan yan!,” the post read.
In his counter-affidavit, he insisted, there was nothing false in his post, nor in describing Duterte as the “Confidential Queen.”
“I did not share any false news. The video is not a fake. It was not tampered or altered and there is no evidence that it was changed in any way,” his counter-affidavit said.
Munar said he was merely exercising his freedom of expression.
“Well, I am only following kasi yung issue noon yung confidential issue with regard to the Vice President. Kasi nga yung paggasta. Excessive nga naman yung 11 days nagastos mo lahat yung budget na yun. And I really want my students to see na ito, parang abuse of power na yung ginagawa kaya ako, with all those contemporary issues, nagbibigay talaga ako ng comment,” he said, referring to Duterte’s P125 million confidential funds which were allegedly spent in a span of 11 days.
Diokno warned of the repercussions in filing this kind of complaints, when laws are supposedly used against critics of the government.
“Well, following the logic ng complaint laban kay Janus, ang ibig sabihin nun ay kahit sino ay pwede ring kasuhan kung sila ay nagshare. At doon din kami nababahala dahil mukhang may chilling effect ang paggamit ng ganitong batas,” he said.
“Nakita natin na kahit noong pandemya na kapag merong nagpo-post na hindi nagugustuhan ng mga nasa pwesto, ay nakakasuhan. Minsan inciting to sedition pa ang fina-file na binabasura naman pagdating sa court. Kaya nakakatakot yung chilling effect na yan,” he added.
Aside from refuting the child abuse and sharing of fake news allegations in his counter-affidavit, Munar also pointed out a glaring mistake in the complaint-affidavit: Pantollano claimed the traffic incident happened on October 10 but attached screenshots of Munar's Facebook post dated October 4 or 6 days before the incident allegedly took place.
“This is both factually and legally impossible,” he said.