Belmonte files cyber libel raps vs Defensor over 'libelous, malicious' social media posts

Belmonte files cyber libel raps vs Defensor over 'libelous, malicious' social media posts
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte as seen in a Nov. 7, 2021 photo.
QC Government / Released

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:35 p.m.) — Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte has filed cyber libel complaints against Rep. Michael Defensor (Anakalusuguan party-list) over social media posts that she said are "libelous, malicious, false and fraudulent."

Re-electionist Belmonte is suing Defensor, who is running against her as mayor of the city, over two social media posts.

"One of the posts claimed that Belmonte organized a ‘Baklas army’ that removed Defensor’s campaign materials. In the same post, he labeled the lady mayor as ‘mapanghati, mapanira, kasuka-suka, at kapit-tuko sa kapangyarihan’ (divisive, slanderous, sickening and power hungry," the statement from the Quezon City Public Affairs Office read.

In a separate post, Defensor claimed that a Quezon City Hall employee was set to file plunder raps against Belmonte before the Office of the Ombudsman over an alleged “overpriced ayuda” — a remark that they said was also repeated offline.

Belmonte said: "Sometime in early February, however, I was informed by a concerned citizen that his [Defensor’s] posts were already libelous. When I finally read them, I confirmed that these were no longer acceptable nor tolerable, and legal lines were crossed."

The QC mayor said she is aware that public officials must be open to criticism but she asserted that she has to stand for her rights, "if I am to stand for the rights of our people."

More raps eyed

Lawyer Niño Casimiro, QC legal officer, was also quoted in the same statement as saying that all elements of cyber libel are present in the case.

"While being disrespectful and ungentlemanly is not necessarily a crime, a sitting Congressman should know that there is a law punishing such behavior when it goes too far," Casimiro added.

He also said they also found a "host" of other Facebook pages under one group that has links to Defensor and his co-respondents in the case, May Guia Padilla, Paulo Bayarcal and Oliver Macatangay.

"So far, we have identified 102 posts which may be counted as unique and individual cases, and we are not stopping there," Casimiro added.

Defensor: We cannot be overly sensitive

Defensor however dismissed the cyber libel complaint filed by Belmonte and branded it a "cheap publicity gimmick."

The lawmaker pointed out that, like him, Belmonte is an elected official and not a private citizen. "We both cannot run away from harsh public scrutiny and disapproval," Defensor added.

The party-list lawmaker has been criticized for his role in denying the franchise application of broadcaster ABS-CBN, a move that cost thousands of media workers their jobs and affected revenues in neighborhoods around the network's compound. He has also been criticized for moves to promote anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin against COVID-19 despite warning from scientists and doctors.

"The Supreme Court has time and again stressed that elected officials should not be onion-skinned or overly sensitive when it comes to public criticism," Defensor also said.

Defensor called on Belmonte to "stop her antics" and instead respond to a supposed plunder complaint against her over overpriced food packs. Belmonte's camp has already refuted the allegations. — Kristine Joy Patag

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