DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 Aug) – Former senatorial aspirant Luke Espiritu asked Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla to review and dismiss the cyber libel complaints filed against human rights activist Walden Bello.
Lawyer Luke Espiritu, Bello’s lead counsel, told a virtual press conference over Zoom on Wednesday that a “petition for review” on the indictment filed last July 29 before the Department of Justice (DOJ) remains pending. The petition seeks to set aside the finding of probable cause by the Office of the City Prosecutor in Davao City for two counts of cyberlibel based on the complaints filed by former city information officer Jefry Tupas. Bello, who was arrested in Quezon City last Monday on the strength of the warrant of arrest issued by Judge Retrina Espe of the Regional Trial Court Branch 10, was temporarily released on Tuesday after he posted bail for P48,000 for each count. Espiritu said the petition must be considered, urging Remulla to “dismiss right away the complaint” as the agency has the responsibility to protect “cherished” freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution. Bello said the cyberlibel law is a very dangerous legislation, which politicians could weaponize against their critics. He called on Congress to repeal the law. “We can be sure that it can be used time and time again,” he said. Espiritu said this fight involves democracy, asking Remulla to exercise “independence” while reviewing the indictment without any political influence. He said Remulla is obligated to serve “justice without error and favor.” He said that the legal team has yet to ask the lower court to suspend the criminal proceedings, pending resolution of the justice secretary on the petition for review within 60 days. He believed that Vice President Sara Duterte was the one behind the filing of charges against Bello. Last June, the Office of the City Prosecutor here found “defamatory” Bello’s statement, delivered during a live interview and later posted on his verified Facebook account last March 1, alleging that Tupas and her friends were “snorting P1.5 million worth of drugs” and describing him as a “drug dealer.” Bello’s post that led to his indictment read in part: “Mayor Duterte’s Press Information Officer, Jefry Tupas, was nabbed at a beach party where she and her friends were snorting 1.5 million pesos worth of drugs on November 6, 2021. Now, the Mayor’s excuse that she did not know that she was sheltering a drug dealer does not wash, it is not credible.” Espiritu said Bello posted this statement online to challenge Duterte to respond to issues, including illegal drugs in Davao, after she declined invitations to join the debate among vice-presidential candidates. Duterte, in a statement on Wednesday, said that she had no role in the filing of cyberlibel charges against Bello and told the former vice-presidential aspirant to stop obsessing over her and to stop blaming her for “his fall from grace.” Senator Risa Hontiveros expressed concern over the filing of cyberlibel and vowed support for Bello. Hontiveros said that cyberlibel has been weaponized to silence critics and curtail freedom of speech even in the previous Duterte administration. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)