FIRING LINE: Righteous or wrongful arrests?

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

The issue on the arrests of three netizens, who issued threats (jokingly or not) against the President Duterte’s life, has turned viral on social media, but not close enough to rival the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Still, to this day, it continues to draw mixed reactions and elicit debates in online communities, questioning if the arrests are legal or righteous or a case of abuse of police power.

Last May 11, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) took custody of Ronnel Mas, a high school teacher in Pangasinan who tweeted his offer of P50 million to whoever can assassinate the President.

Ronald Quiboyen, a motorcycle-for-hire (habal-habal) driver on Boracay Island, doubled the “bounty” in his social media post. The police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) arrested him the following day.

On May 13, Cebu police apprehended Maria Catherine Ceron for offering in her online post a P75-million reward to anyone who will kill Duterte.

All three were charged separately with inciting to sedition.

Several netizens questioned why the police took the posts seriously when, obviously, a high school teacher and a habal-habal driver could afford to raise that kind of money.

I agree with Major Roland Tolosa, deputy chief of the CIDG in Central Visayas when he told reporters: “This is not a joke. Fair warning to all citizens to avoid such posts.”

While the three netizens were either joking or simply venting their frustrations against the government, issuing death threats against the President of the Republic is outright irresponsible.

It is similar to making bomb jokes on a plane or in an airport. It may just be a joke, but it is no laughing matter. The government takes this type of threat seriously.

Meanwhile, eyes are now on the judges handling their cases. It is up to them to render rulings that will balance the government’s interest in protecting the President with the people’s right to free speech.


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But the warrantless arrest on Wednesday last week of Reynaldo Orcullo, a salesman from Agusan del Norte, smells abuse of power.

Unlike the three netizens, he never threatened the President’s life. In his Facebook post, he called Duterte crazy and claimed that his administration’s actions are scripted to make it appear that Senator Bong Go is a hero.

Many believe it was wrong to arrest Orcullo, who was merely expressing a critical opinion.

To Brig. Gen. Joselito Esquivel Jr., Caraga police director, who ordered Orcullo’s arrest: Sir, don’t you think arresting a person for cyber-libel without a formal complaint is both illegal and unconstitutional?

The general seems to reek of the martial law era. He is no different from other officials both here and abroad who suck up to the President like a damn leech.

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