cyber libel in the Philippines

Walden Bello’s lawyers ask DOJ to act on cyber libel case review petition

Cong Corrales

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Walden Bello’s lawyers ask DOJ to act on cyber libel case review petition
(1st UPDATE) Lawyers of the 2022 vice presidential candidate say they are ready for the pre-trial of the cyber libel case filed by Vice President Sara Duterte's former information officer

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Lawyers representing 2022 vice presidential candidate Walden Bello said on Monday, July 3, that they were still awaiting a response from the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding their petition to review the cyber libel case filed against the activist by the former information office chief of Vice President Sara Duterte.

Bello’s legal team, however, expressed readiness for the pre-trial of the cyber libel case next month, while they await the justice department’s review of the case based on its merits.

During an online press conference, lawyer Danny Balucos announced that the pre-trial had been scheduled for August 24. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly used the surname Guyco in reference to lawyer Danny Balucos. This has been corrected. – Editor)

The lawyers representing Bello lauded Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla for issuing DOJ Circular 1008, which raised the department’s standards for making resolutions from “probable cause” to “reasonable certainty.”

Remulla issued the circular in February, instructing prosecutors to only pursue criminal cases when there is a reasonable probability of conviction, particularly those supported by prima facie evidence. This move aimed to address the backlog and congestion in courts.

The circular applies to cases falling under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Trial Courts (MTCs), Municipal Trial Courts in Cities (MTCCs), and Metropolitan Trial Courts (MeTCs).

“This shows that Remulla is serious about decongesting the courts. But we have yet to receive (the department’s response) on our petition with the DOJ secretary,” said Balucos.

Balucos said they continue to pursue the petition to review with the justice department, not because they have no other legal recourse, but to insist on the proper judicial process. He said they hoped the DOJ would “correct this error.”

Estrella Elamparo, another member of Bello’s legal team and a former state prosecutor, acknowledged the necessity of filtering out cases that the prosecution does not believe will succeed in court.

“It’s a waste of government resources,” the lawyer said.

She also said the court imposed an “impossible” requirement on Bello to submit a motion to defer arraignment when no arrest warrant had been issued at that time.

“Even if the submission of the appeal was timely, there was no action taken yet on the appeal to the DOJ within 60 days. This is an impossible requirement,” Elamparo said.

Nevertheless, she expressed confidence in Bello’s legal team’s preparedness for the upcoming pre-trial next month.

“The burden of proof lies with the prosecution,” said Elamparo, adding that the complaint was “flimsy.” 

In response, Bello declared his willingness to go to jail in the fight against the suppression of freedom of speech.

Bello, who recently received the Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender award from Nobel laureate Amnesty International during its Ignite Awards for Human Rights, Season 3, argued that the cyber libel case filed against him by Jefry Tupas was an attempt to silence his right to free speech.

“There are far more people in worse situations than me. People who have been (extra-judicially killed) and those who have been red-tagged. I feel their solidarity with me. This gives me more strength to battle this injustice. We cannot allow our rights to be trampled on,” said Bello.

Bello was arrested on August 8, 2022, on two counts of cyber libel. The case resulted from a complaint filed by the former Davao City information officer on March 7, 2022, who alleged that Bello had defamed and slandered her when she made a Facebook post mentioning Tupas who figured in a drug raid in Davao de Oro on November 6, 2021.

“This is really a political case. Tupas is not even part of the contention,” said Bello.

Bello, who was a candidate for vice president at the time, said he merely brought up a valid issue, emphasizing that voters needed to be aware of the individuals surrounding the candidates.

“That was part of political, democratic debates. I am confident that political persecution has no place in our judicial system,” he said. – Rappler.com

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