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MANILA, Philippines – The camp of Laban ng Masa chairperson Walden Bello has urged Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla to “exercise independence” in relation to the former vice presidential candidate’s cyber libel case.
Luke Espiritu, one of Bello’s legal counsels, made the call during a press conference on Wednesday, August 10.
“I really encourage Secretary Remulla to exercise the independence that is incumbent upon his office. Because siya ang (he is) secretary ng mismong (of the actual) justice department, which is obligated to defend justice without fear or favor at least [at] the prosecutorial level,” Espiritu said.
On Monday, August 8, Bello was arrested over a cyber libel complaint filed by former Davao City information officer Jefry Tupas. He was released the following day after posting bail.
He was indicted in July, prompting his camp to immediately file for a motion for reconsideration before the Davao prosecutor’s office, but it was denied.
The Bello camp then sought the DOJ’s intervention by filing a petition before the justice department to review his libel and cyber libel cases on July 29, or prior to Bello’s arrest.
During the newsbriefing, Espiritu also reminded the justice department of the power it holds in protecting “freedom.”
“We must understand na itong laban na ito (that this fight) involves nothing less than our democracy, our right to free speech, and our freedom of expression,” Espiritu said.
“And it should be the institution of our government that has the responsibility to protect this cherished freedom enshrined in our constitution. Therefore, Secretary Remulla, ang bola po ay nasa inyo, dalawa po ang choices ninyo: Hahayaan na lang ba natin na ang ating demokrasya, ang ating kalayaan sa pamamahayag ay babalahurain?” he added.
(The ball is in your hands, you have two choices: Should we allow our democracy, our freedom of expression to be trampled upon?)
Appeal to the DOJ
Here is a summary of the points raised by the Bello camp in their petition filed before the justice department on July 29:
- Authorship of the post. Tupas sued Bello over a Facebook post that Tupas was nabbed in a party where she and her friends were “snorting P1.5 million worth of drugs.” Bello acknowledged the Facebook post but said it was his communication team who posted it. The Bello camp also argued that Tupas has yet to prove that Bello personally published the post, and that the account of Walden Bello, where the post was made, is his personal account.
- ‘Questions are not defamatory.’ The Bello camp argued that questions are not defamatory, if done “with good intentions and justifiable motives.” In the resolution for Bello’s indictment, Tupas lifted the statement, where Bello accused him of drug-related claims. That particulat sentence ends in a question mark.
The camp also highlighted in their appeal that allowing questions “to give rise to a defamation claim” will affect public debate and sets a dangerous precedent. They add the use of question mark invite people to reach their own conclusions with the available facts.
- Subject was a public official. Bello and his team also argued before the DOJ that Tupas was a public official when Walden’s criticisms against her was posted. The camp, quoting the Code of Ethics for Public Officials and Employees, added that public officials are subject to higher ethical standards.
- A case of political persecution. The Bello camp believes that the charges filed against him is a case of political persecution. Bello’s petition added that during the campaign period, Bello, who ran against Vice President Sara Duterte, was “hurting” the campaign of Duterte for “voicing out the truth.” At the time of the incident involving Tupas, she was an information officer of the Davao city government under then-mayor Duterte.
While waiting for the DOJ’s decision on the appeal, Bello’s camp will also seek another legal action – a motion to suspend proceedings before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) 10 in Davao.
The Bello camp said they will file the motion once the documents on Bello’s warrant and bail have returned to the court. The court has yet to announce the schedule of arraignment and pre-trial of the case. – Rappler.com