Cebu artist Bambi Beltran’s third arrest highlights dangers to free expression

John Sitchon

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Cebu artist Bambi Beltran’s third arrest highlights dangers to free expression

RELEASE DAY. Bambi Beltran sits with her lawyer, Amando Virgil Ligutan, moments before her official release on Saturday, May 27.

John Sitchon

Subpoenas allow individuals accused of offenses to explain themselves during the preliminary investigation but in two of three arrests, Bambi Beltran did not receive any

CEBU, Philippines – A pale-faced woman in a red jacket sat in front of a police station office on a cold Friday evening. May 26 was Maria Victoria Burdeos Beltran’s third brush with detention since 2020.

The numbness in her feet and the growing pain in her back warned that any more could bring physical harm. 

Beltran’s friends call the 61-year-old writer, artist, and free expression advocate “Bambi”.

In Central Visayas’ biggest city, she is known as the owner of the Kukuk’s Nest, a restaurant and cafe with a distinctly bohemian vibe along Gorordo Avenue, just a few blocks away from the University of the Philippines Cebu Campus.

Students and artists see Beltran’s place as a refuge, a place where they can bond and drink their problems away or celebrate milestones in life. To them, she is like a mother.

To Cebu’s art community, Beltran is a legend—an award-winning writer, actor, and poetess, and recipient of the 2020 Deutsche Welle (DW) Freedom of Speech Award.

The award, of course, is a reminder of what she has been through. 

ARTISTS’ HAVEN. Kukuk’s Nest, Bambi Beltran’s bar and restaurant in Cebu City, is a refuge for artists, with walls that burst with creative expressions. Inday Espina-Varona
‘Here we go again’

On April 19, 2020, Cebu City police arrested Beltran without a warrant and detained her for 60 hours because her satirical Facebook post on the COVID-19 situation in Sitio Zapatera had enraged the late Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella.

Her second arrest came on August 12, 2020, on a cyber-libel case filed by an April Dequito.

The third strike occurred on May 26, 2023 when police from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Cebu Provincial Field Unit (CIDG-PFU) appeared at Beltran’s doorstep around 4 pm.

They told her an arrest warrant issued by Presiding Judge Merlo Bagano of the Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 14 had appeared on the Philippine National Police (PNP) E-Warrant website.

By that time, Beltran had enough first-hand knowledge to ask cops to bring her to a specific station, to ensure access to her smartphone.

In her first arrest, she was brought to the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) in Camp Sergio Osmeña, Cebu City. There, she was handcuffed to a plastic chair with no access to her phone.

“My first concern was to process the bail immediately,” Beltran told Rappler.

Bagano had set the bail amount at P36,000. 

The police took her to Camp General Arcadio Maxilom in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City. She spent the night on a hard wooden bench outside the CIDG-PFU’s office. 

Beltran told Rappler in an exclusive interview in the late evening of May 26 that she was worried about her health.

“My feet are always numb that’s why I cannot lie down on this bench for so long because my herniated, bulging disk may worsen,” the artist said.


Beltran didn’t receive a subpoena prior to getting arrested on May 26. It was a repeat of what happened during her second arrest.

Individuals accused of an offense usually receive subpoenas that allow them to explain themselves during the preliminary investigation phase. 

Beltran’s lawyer, Amando Virgil Ligutan said they were “in the dark” about the charges filed against the artist and the identity of the complainant until they posted bail on Saturday, May 27.

Beltran posted bail and got her release order just minutes before the court’s closing hours.

In a statement sent to Rappler, she expressed hope that her recent arrest was not another form of harassment to silent individuals exercising their freedom of speech.

“After all, the right to speak, without facing punishment from the government, is one of the marks of a true democracy” 

Same post, different offense

“Apparently, there was more than one case that was filed on the basis of the same post made by Miss Beltran way back in [April] 2020,” Ligutan said on Monday, May 29.

In the April 2020 case, Beltran was charged with cyber libel, violating Republic Act No. 11469 (Bayanihan to Heal as One Act), and Republic Act No. 11332 (Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act).

The Cebu Municipal Trial Court Branch 3 dismissed the cyber libel charge in August 2020 due to lack of jurisdiction. By September 2020, it dismissed the two remaining charges.

This time, Beltran was arrested for allegedly violating Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code (Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances), in relation to the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

“This is another charge on the same post but this time, the case is filed with the Regional Trial Court [Branch 14],” Ligutan said.

Documents retrieved from the Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC) show that Senior Assistant City Prosecutor of Cebu City, Aurora Peñaflor filed the formal accusation before the RTC Branch 14 on July 28, 2021.

Delayed warrant

Ligutan traced the delay in issuing the arrest warrant to the pandemic, which caused a shortage of personnel in courts.

“We have encountered so many instances with operations of the court being limited because of the imposition, for example, of a skeletal workforce,” Ligutan said.

Rappler went to the RTC Branch 14 located inside the Qimonda IT Center Complex building in Cebu City to get a clarification on the delay.

Judge Bagano has yet to give a comment on the matter.

No double jeopardy

Double jeopardy would not apply in Beltran’s case, Ligutan said.

Double jeopardy means that a person may not be charged for the same or similar offense after the person has already been convicted or acquitted.

Tn Beltran’s circumstance, the act of using Facebook to publish her satirical post can render her liable for more than one offense, said Ligutan.

“Like in the issuance of a check, you may be both liable for the violation of Batas Pambasa 22 and Estafa at the same time,” he noted.

No date has been given for the start of the court hearing.


Human rights advocacy groups and activists released statements in support of Beltran and reiterated calls to defend freedom of expression and to “#StopTheAttacks”.

“[Bambi’s] detention is clearly another form of judicial harassment against a highly-viewed artist whose works have been awarded for speaking truth to power,” Karapatan – Central Visayas said in their statement.

Kabataan Partylist UP Cebu also slammed the arrest of Beltran.

In her earlier arrest, the international organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), and even the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged the Cebu City government to drop charges against her.


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