Arrest, inciting to sedition charges vs teacher sets dangerous pretext for crackdown on dissent amid COVID-19

The warrantless arrest of 55-year old public school teacher Juliet Espinosa in General Santos City over charges of inciting to sedition sets a dangerous pretext for a crackdown on dissent, human rights group Karapatan warned, amid the government’s continuing militarist response to the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The lack or inadequacy of socio-economic measures in the imposition of quarantine measures in the country is driving people to unbearable degrees of mass hunger. Yet, true to the Duterte government’s militarist framework, instead of responding to the people’s legitimate demands, the government moved quickly to squash dissent,” Karapatan Secretary General said.

Espinosa, who used a different name on social media, allegedly published on Facebook a post urging people without food to proceed to Lagao Gym. Her son was arrested along with her for allegedly resisting his mother’s arrest and is being charged with disobedience to authority.

“The people have all the right to criticize the government’s incompetence and demand services. Teacher Julie is not alone in her sentiments: the poor, street vendors, tricycle and jeepney drivers, the homeless, workers, and farmers are grumbling at this regime’s callousness to the people’s suffering while displaying its fascist ruthlessness to anyone who dares to speak up against its idiotic policies. It is becoming desperately paranoid of a revolt of its own doing,” Palabay averred.

The Karapatan officer stated further that “charging and arresting a 55-year-old teacher with inciting to sedition for simply airing her legitimate grievances on social media is an overkill. We are seriously alarmed that, following the appointment of militarist hawks in the government’s ‘National Action Plan’ supposedly against the COVID-19 pandemic, the government is now testing the waters in going after online dissent, especially with the State’s emergency power to arbitrarily define and penalize ‘fake news.’ It has happened in Cebu and in General Santos City — it won’t be long before arresting critics for online posts becomes a national policy that could throw us back to the dark days of Marcosian martial rule.”

“However, if the government thinks that arresting the hungry and the poor will squash dissent, it is gravely mistaken. By continuing its militarist policy that neglects the people’s concerns and meeting them with violence and repression, the regime only exacerbates unrest,” she concluded.