People love ranting about their government on Facebook but in the Philippines, the “social media capital” of the world, doing so can now land you in jail. On Wednesday, May 13, police arrested a man for calling President Rodrigo Duterte “crazy” on Facebook – the latest in a string of similar arrests in recent weeks.
Reynaldo Orcullo, a 41-year-old salesman from Butuan City was arrested for allegedly committing “cyberlibel,” and violating the Cybercrime Law. He had accused Senator Bong Go of controlling Duterte and called the president stupid.
Despite ordinary Filipinos and human rights groups calling such an arrest a violation of freedom of expression, the national police force backed up the cops who arrested Orcullo.
"There could have been other statements that became the reason for the police to take this person into custody," Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson Brigadier General Bernard Banac told CNN Philippines on Friday, May 15.
"I’m sure the police acted on a good reason why they took this person into custody. This person would have to face charges.”
This is just the latest arrest linked to negative social media posts about Duterte. As most Filipinos enter their second month under coronavirus lockdown and spend more time online, authorities have been cracking down on people criticising the government’s coronavirus management.
Under Duterte’s special powers during the pandemic, anyone who posts “fake news” about COVID-19 could face jail time and up to a PHP 1 million (US$19,700) fine. Because the act does not define what fake news is, it has been used to arrest anyone critical of the government.
In April, a writer in Cebu City was arrested over a sarcastic post. “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," writer Maria Victoria Beltran said.
The Investigation Bureau also summoned over a dozen people for their posts about the coronavirus in the same month.
Just this week, at least three people in different parts of the country were arrested for allegedly calling for Duterte’s death in their accounts.
Without a warrant, authorities arrested 25-year-old teacher Ronnel Mas in Zambales on Monday, May 11, for an outlandish tweet. He said: “I will give PHP50 million (US$985,000) reward to anyone who can kill Duterte.”
Motorcycle driver Ronald Quiboyen, 40, was later arrested in Boracay Island for reacting to Mas’ post and saying that he would double the reward to PHP100 million (US$1.9 million). The next day, authorities nabbed 26-year-old Maria Catherine Ceron and charged her with inciting to sedition for a similar post on Facebook. Ceron defended herself, saying that her account was hacked.
Filipinos in other countries are not safe from the social media clamp down either.
In April, a Philippine government official called on the Taiwan government to deport caregiver Elanel Ordidor over a Facebook post where she said, “Filipinos might die, not because of the virus, but because of hunger.” Taiwanese netizens and government officials came to Ordidor’s defense, highlighting freedom of expression, but many of her fellow Filipinos in Taiwan remained loyal to Duterte. Taiwan has refused to deport Ordidor.
The irony is not lost on many Filipinos, who questioned why the president – who has often cursed at critics, foreign dignitaries, and women himself – can criticise others, while common folks are arrested.
The arrests coincide with other threats to the country’s democracy, including the closure of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ largest news network. In response to the coronavirus, Congress has granted Duterte special powers that allow him to reshuffle the government’s funds, among other things. The government has also deployed police and military all over the country, some of whom have acted aggressively against those who violate quarantine policies.
Cover: Duterte during a press conference on November 19, 2019. Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP.