Walden Bello says cyber libel must be decriminalized

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2022 11:20 AM | Updated as of Aug 10 2022 05:12 PM

Former vice-presidential aspirant Walden Bello gives a statement as workers’ rights advocates hold a protest rally near the Mendiola bridge in Manila, in commemoration of Bonifacio Day on Nov. 30, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
Former vice-presidential aspirant Walden Bello gives a statement as workers’ rights advocates hold a protest rally near the Mendiola bridge in Manila, in commemoration of Bonifacio Day on Nov. 30, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — Activist and former vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello on Wednesday called for the decriminalization of cyber libel, which he said was anti-democratic and could be used by "opportunistic politicians." 

Bello on Monday was arrested for libel and cyber libel charges filed by a former public information officer of Vice President Sara Duterte. He was released on bail the next day. 

"I feel that it's a good thing that my case is now in the public view and that it will take the legal process because what we intend to show is not only my innocence but the fact that this law is a grave nature to democracy," Bello told ANC's "Headstart". 

"Therefore, libel must be decriminalized. We can’t afford to have laws that abridge freedom of speech in this country, to be used by opportunistic politicians like the Vice President."

Bello claimed that the cyber libel charge against him was a response to questions he raised about the performance of the then-Davao City mayor, who was seeking higher office at that time. 

"Let's face it, we're not born yesterday. We know that the mayor running for Vice President at that point was in fact the moving force behind this allegation of cyber libel," he said. 

The libel and cyber libel cases against Bello were filed by former Davao City information officer Jefry Tupas. 

Bello in Facebook posts had claimed that Tupas was a drug dealer. He also claimed in a Zoom meeting that she was involved in a drug raid. Tupas denied both allegations. 

Bello said his online posts against Tupas were made by his social media team in the course of a political campaign questioning Duterte's ability. 

In the lead-up to the May elections, Bello challenged Duterte to attend debates and explain her former aide's alleged involvement in a drug raid. 

This, after Tupas was fired from her post on the same day she supposedly attended a party in Mabini, Davao de Oro in November 2021, wherein anti-narcotics agents confiscated P1.5 million worth of illegal drugs.

"Instead of meeting us in a democratic debate and discussion as the whole country was urging at that point asking questions about her record, the camp of the mayor instead responded with a number of very intimidating actions like this cyber libel suit, the city council of Davao declaring me persona non grata and Sara Duterte's camp labeling me a narco politician," he said.
 
He added that Tupas would not have the courage to file cases against him "unless she was backed by big political force".

'STOP OBSESSING OVER ME'

Duterte's camp declined to comment on Bello's allegation. Instead, they referred ABS-CBN News to the Vice President's earlier statement.

Duterte said Tuesday she was not involved in Bello's arrest.

She also stressed that the right to freedom of speech and expression "does not protect anyone from defiling the name and reputation of others."

"Instead of deflecting blame, playing the victim of an imaginary case of political persecution, and dragging me into his legal woes, I suggest that Mr. Bello be reminded of the fact that a civilized and democratic society does not respect hubris," the Vice President said.

She later added, "Mr. Bello should focus on salvaging what remains of his dignity and self-respect, I am asking him to stop obsessing over me — and stop blaming me for his fall from grace."

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