Former Vice Presidential Candidate Walden Bello Arrested

QUEZON CITY — Prominent academic and activist Walden Bello was arrested on August 8 at his home in Quezon City. Bello was released on bail on cyber libel and defamation charges after being in custody for approximately 24 hours. His bail was set at 96,000 pesos (US$1,732) for him on both charges.

In May of this year, Bello clashed with incumbent Vice President Sarah Duterte, the daughter of former President Rodrigo Duterte. Bello partnered with presidential candidate Leodi de Guzmán in the Laban Massa (Battle of the Masses), while Duterte ran alongside Ferdinand “Bonbon” Marcos Jr. to win.

Sarah Duterte’s former aide, Jeffrey Tupas, filed a defamation lawsuit against Bello last March. I’m here.

Duterte, then mayor of Davao, dodged all the election debates. In response, Bello criticized Duterte’s absence. But the real content of Bello’s criticism was that Duterte had avoided confrontation over a political scandal that exposed the Duterte family’s hypocrisy in waging its infamous war on drugs. He alluded to a case in which Tupas was allegedly released by government agents during a drug investigation after learning he was working with the presidential family. While making his case, Bello called Tupas a “drug dealer.”

Photo credit: AP/TPG Images

Ferdinand “BonBon” Marcos Jr. (center left) and Vice Presidential Candidate Sara Duterte (center right) wave the Philippine flag at a proclamation rally promoting their presidential candidacy in the 2022 national elections. Manila, Philippines, February 8, 2022.

Davao City is the political base of the Duterte dynasty, and its reputation for punishing drug-related crimes is one of the reasons for its popularity. After the incident went public, Tupas was fired from her post in an act of political damage control, after which Duterte’s campaign refused to address the alleged incident. It was in this context that he was accused of avoiding debate.

“If Davao City wins so many awards, why is the mayor [Sara] President Duterte’s press information officer, Jeffrey Tupas, was arrested at a beach party where she and her friends smoked drugs worth P1.5 million (US$27,066),” Bello said in March. urged Tupas to indict.

Bello believes that Sarah Duterte is the “mastermind” behind this politically motivated lawsuit, with Tupas acting as a mere “minion” in all of it.

Arrest pulls flak

While there are few opposition officials under Marcos’ new government, civil society groups and progressive lawmakers have spoken out.

Former congressman and attorney Teddy Bagirat has pledged to join Bello’s legal team after his release. He told reporters, “Walden is internationally recognized and admired. I can attest to that. It is groundless and the first significant attempt to intimidate the opposition, less than two months into the new government’s rule.”


Photo credit: Michael Beltran

Walden Bello (middle) at a press conference organized by the Laban ng Masa (Battle of the Masses) coalition on August 10, 2022. Bello ran as the party’s vice-presidential candidate in this year’s election.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, one of the few opposition lawmakers in the Philippine Senate, asked: Have you expedited the bills that are waiting for them?

Neri Colmenares, who challenged “cyber-defamation” in a Philippine court, echoes this sentiment. He sees the recent arrests as an alarming sign of further human rights abuses to come, stating that “the tyranny unleashed by the Duterte regime will not only grow, but may get worse under the Marcos 2.0 regime.” said.

French MP Castro has repeatedly opposed the use of defamation lawsuits by senior officials to pursue dissidents. In July, she reintroduced a bill to decriminalize all forms of slander.

Cyber ​​defamation sparks new debate

Bello’s leading attorney, Luke Espiritu, has linked his client’s case to widespread political repression in the country. news lens“This is not an individual case involving Walden. must be thrown away.”

Bello’s camp aims to dismiss the defamation allegations as soon as possible. Espiritu also revealed that it petitioned the Department of Justice on July 29, 2022 to dismiss the defamation lawsuit. “Slander is a weapon used by those in the public eye. It fosters a culture of no one criticizing the government.”

Espiritu, meanwhile, called on the public to be vigilant in defending human rights. Fighting criminal defamation laws is also “protecting ourselves. We are also under threat. They say that if we criticize those in power, they will do the same to us.” I am saying.”

Duterte hit back at former election opponents, calling on Bello to “stop obsessing over me and blaming me for his downfall.” “The right to free speech and expression does not protect anyone from tarnishing the name and reputation of others,” Duterte continued.

Bello is just the latest in a series of cyber-defamation cases undermining free speech. In 2019, then-Vice President Reni Robredo, who opposed the Rodrigo Duterte administration’s many human rights violations, was slapped in a cyber-defamation lawsuit filed by the Philippine National Police. We upheld the cyber-defamation conviction of Maria Ressa, a Nobel Prize-winning journalist and founder of Rappler.

In 2014, the Supreme Court declared the Cyber ​​Crime Prevention Act, which includes cyber defamation as a crime, constitutional. The decision was strongly protested as a means of expanding the sphere in which officials could suppress free speech.

According to the tallies made Since 2014, 3,770 cyber defamation lawsuits have been filed, of which only a third have been dismissed.

Read the following: ‘Haunted by our continuing pain’: Martial law survivors react to Marcos’ recovery

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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