Activist, ex-VP bet Walden Bello posts bail for cyber libel

Activist, ex-VP bet Walden Bello posts bail for cyber libel
Philstar.com screenshot of Walden Bello during the CNN Philippines vice-presidential debate held February.

MANILA, Philippines — Longtime activist and former vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello posted P96,000 in bail for two counts of cyber libel filed by a former Davao City employee now working with the office of Vice President Sara Duterte.

Bail was set at P48,000 for each count of cyber libel, which stemmed from Bello’s statements calling former Davao City information officer Jefry Tupas a “drug dealer.”

Tupas was then working for Davao City Mayor Duterte — elected vice president in May — when she was relieved from her post at the local government. She was found attending a party in Davao de Oro in November last year, where P1.5-million worth of illegal drugs were later seized in the raid.

Tupas said she had already left the party when the arrests happened.

She has quietly returned to Duterte's fold and is now working as the OVP’s head of media and public relations.

Speaking to reporters present during his arrest, Bello said he is “innocent of the charge.”

Bello, a former Akbayan party-list representative, filed a counter affidavit in April and called the charges "politically motivated, frivolous, and inconsistent with facts." Duterte on Tuesday denied that she is behind cases filed against her former VP rival.

Press freedom and freedom of expression advocates have long called for the decriminalization of libel, which is often used to harass and silence journalists and dissenters.

“Those in power weaponize the law (e.g. cyber libel) to attack Bello, a staunch critic of the tyrannical rule of Dutertes, Marcoses,” Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan party-list) said in a statement shortly after Bello’s arrest. “He and all political prisoners in [the Philippines] must be out of jail!”

Sen. Risa Hontiveros — a member of Bello's former party Akbayan — on Tuesday expressed “deep concern” over the arrest of the former party-list congressman, whom she called "a longtime comrade and friend."

"Critical voices like his are essential to any democracy," Hontiveros said in a statement. "Now, more than ever, we need more people like him, whose genuine commitment to freedom and democracy is beyond question." — Xave Gregorio with a report from Kaycee Valmonte

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