DAVAO CITY – Social activist and sociologist Prof. Walden Bello hopes that Senator Leila De Lima’s recent release on bail will also draw attention to other cases of political persecution in the country, including his own.
Bello, who was in the city on Thursday as part of the pre-trial investigation into defamation and cyber libel cases filed against him by Vice President Sara Duterte’s former information specialist Jefry Tupas, said he was happy about De Lima’s release despite that he described the De Lima case as a case of the “great frame-up” in Philippine history.
He also urged Vice President Duterte’s camp to “focus on serving the people, fulfill the duties of vice president and simply stop harassing people like me,” he said.
“I think the release of Senator De Lima on bail is a big step forward in correcting injustice,” Bello told reporters ahead of the preliminary hearing at the 10th Division of the Regional Court (RTC) in the city.
“I hope that this will arouse the same kind of concern among citizens to reveal what is really behind the Internet defamation charge brought against me, which is obviously much less than what Senator De Lima experienced, but nevertheless also constitutes a serious great a miscarriage of justice,” said Bello, who actively fought for De Lima’s release.
“I hope that the release of Senator De Lima and the rectification of this great injustice will also have an impact on other political issues, including our own,” he added.
Tupas, who currently works in the Office of the Vice President, filed a case against Bello after the latter raised Tupas’ alleged involvement in a drug raid in Davao de Oro.
Bello, who raised the issue during the height of the 2022 presidential and vice presidential campaigns and posted it on his Facebook name, cited media reports about the raid.
Bello said De Lima’s release had somewhat restored his faith in the justice system. He, however, added that De Lima’s acquittal of the charges against her still had to happen, but if that happened, Bello expressed hope that it would usher in a new era in Philippine judicial history in which “no grand conspiracy” of this scale should happen again.
“We hope that in the same way that Senator De Lima was released on bail, we hope that the court in Davao will similarly rule in favor of Ka Walden,” said lawyer Estrella C. Elamparo, one of the legal defenders of the Bello members.
“Although Ka Walden has not been arrested, she is currently under criminal investigation. We definitely believe that this criminal case has no merit on which to stand,” she said. “We hope that the court here will look at this case similarly, from the same perspective that the judge presiding over Senator Leila De Lima’s case resolved her case. This is nothing less than political persecution, instigated at the height of the presidential and vice presidential elections by the vice president’s trusted staff.”
She added that the efforts to defend Bello were part of a broader fight to decriminalize defamation and protect the constitutional right of all citizens to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
“We believe that (our existing defamation and online defamation laws) have no place in a society that believes in freedom of speech and press, and in the Philippines it is often used only as a tool of political persecution and punishment against opponents of the incumbent powers,” Elamparo said .
She said Bello’s legal team is also exploring other options, including using the case to challenge the constitutionality of the country’s defamation and cyber libel laws to the Supreme Court.
“We believe that while no right is unlimited, exercising free speech in violation of another person’s rights does not elevate it to a criminal case. Instead, it may entitle you to compensation in a civil case,” Elamparo said.
“This is just part of a bigger fight for us,” she added. “We hope that Ka Walden will eventually be brought to justice and vindicated and acquitted (because) there is really no evidence that would meet the criteria for defamation.”
That’s what lawyer Danilo Balucos, another lawyer defending Bello, said
Last December, when Amnesty International awarded Bello the Most Outstanding Human Rights Defender Award in the Individual Category, various sectors issued four calls to defend Walden, release Leila De Lima, decriminalize defamation and repeal the anti-terrorism law.
“As you can see, these four actions focus on protecting the freedom of speech and freedom of the press enshrined in our Constitution. We are bringing these claims along with the necessary defense in Dr. Bello’s case,” Balucos said.
“Pure harassment and political persecution,” Bello says of his arrest
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