POSTSCRIPT / May 17, 2020 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Is his crime libel, or baring state secrets?

TODAY being a day of rest, and since we’re somewhat stressed like most cooped-up creatures, we beg to be allowed to take it easy just picking prickly items from social media.

We came upon this report on Twitter of the police arresting a 41-year-old salesman in Butuan City for a Facebook post where he allegedly called President Duterte an “asshole” and “crazy.”

Marveling at his audacity, we jumped to ask what his crime was: “He was arrested/jailed on what charge? Divulging a STATE SECRET?”

*Boom Buencamino @BoomBuencamino threw in his own question: “Ano ang offense, lèse-majesté?” (FDP: Wikipedia says that’s French for “a crime of violating majesty, an offense against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state.” Wow!)

*maris hidalgo @marishidalgo1: “For stating the obvious”

*Chel Diokno @ChelDiokno sought to place the conversation in proper context: “Pano aarestuhin ng PNP itong salesman na minura ang Pangulo kung Pangulo nga mismo e minura ang senador, Santo Papa, ang Simbahan, at napakarami pang iba? Hindi trabaho ng PNP protektahan ang Pangulo sa opinyon ng taumbayan. Ang trabaho nyo e protektahan ang taumbayan.”

The Caraga police said they arrested Orcullo for cyberlibel, for violating Section 4(c)(4) of the Cybercrime Law. Human rights lawyers asked who the complainant was and which court issued the arrest warrant based on the complaint, if any. As we write this, no answers yet.

Orcullo wrote on his Facebook page in Bisaya (and translated by Rappler to English): “The pattern is clear. Bong Go will make a show of it, as if he’s asking a favor from the crazy President, Digong is an asshole. Digong is crazy.

Police Brig. Gen. Joselito Esquivel Jr., Caraga police chief, said the arrest should remind netizens that they should be “responsible” in their posts even if they enjoy the “blessings of democracy.”

The general’s reminder conjured up images of shadowy cyber patrols sweeping the internet for “offensive” socmed posts, like they do in communist China. Shades of the New Normal dawning on these darkened islands?

What’s happening to us Filipinos in this time of the coronavirus? What moved public school teacher Ronnel Mas of Zambales to post on Twitter an offer of P50 million, like they do in the Wild Wild West, for anyone who can kill President Duterte!

On Monday, agents of the National Bureau of Investigation grabbed the cowering small teacher, his COVID face mask hardly hiding his anguish. Lawyers from all sides joined the ensuing legal debate.

Again, we wondered what the proper charge would be: disturbing the peace, overpricing in a time of crisis, inciting to sedition, unexplained wealth (how can a school teacher have P50 million?), masterminding a murder, or Boom’s lèse-majesté.

The NBI filed a complaint for inciting to sedition. Lawyers helping Mas said his arrest was illegal since it was not covered by a court warrant. State lawyers said no warrant was needed, the crime being a continuing act since the offending post was still circulating in cyberspace.

The investigating prosecutor ruled that the warrantless arrest was illegal since inciting to sedition is not a continuous crime. The other side countered that that defect had been cured by the repentant suspect’s admitting to the media his having posted the reward offer.

What, media coverage has become part of due process? Before we get implicated too, we better step aside and just await what happens next. Keep a safe distance.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, meanwhile, said that vendors selling such street food as taho, balut, and kwek-kwek may now go out to peddle their specialties as long as they observe quarantine rules, particularly on physical distancing.

He announced this gustatory detail Friday as the country transitioned to general community quarantine (GCQ) — except for Metro Manila, Laguna, and Cebu City which are under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from May 16 to 31.

We assume everybody knows by now what GCQ and MECQ mean. If only Malacañang would cooperate by not changing too often and without prior notice the quarantine areas’ geographical coverage and corresponding restrictions.

It was thoughtful of the Palace to exempt street-food vendors, but we still asked on Twitter: “Selling food is now OK basta sa sidewalk? Why does Malacañang issue guidelines piecemeal? We have to check now and then what new rules are in effect where we are.”

Aside from the Likes and Retweets, here are sample reactions to our tweet:

*Fratello @papalbadass: “Piecemeal kasi mag-isip.”

*Dre @iapi44: “bec they dont know what to do?”

*delroy renault justis @principled_fox: “akala ko b pinagbabawal na ang mga vendors sa sidewalk? ano ung naging purpose ng mga clearing ops?”

*Betty O’hara @heartofemmaus: “Alam nyo ang ginawa ng pangulo tong umiwas sa pagpapakain sa taong bayan, kaya inilagay ang GCQ di pa namn tayo handa dyan, para kung titingnan mo itinapon tayo ng presidenteng to, bahala daw tayo sa buhay natin.”

In an interview over GMA-7, Roque explained that street food vendors may now go out since everyone was already allowed to go out and even exercise outdoors under the MECQ. He said:

Kung pinapayagan na yung paglabas ng bahay para mag-exercise, tumakbo, magbisikleta, so sa tingin ko, pupwede na [ang street for vendors] basta ‘wag lang sila kukumpol-kumpol. ‘Yan po ang iniiwasan natin.” (If exercising outdoors is allowed, I think street food vendors are allowed as long as they will not crowd there).

Overall, it might help if President Duterte and his coterie keep quiet for a while, gather their thoughts first, rein in their martial law-like impulses, and draw up that long-awaited anti-COVID Master Plan – instead of improvising from one false start to another.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 17, 2020)

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