As of today, 125 organizations, networks and movements and 329 individuals support Focus on the Global South (Focus) statement, “Speaking Truth to Power is Not A Crime: Drop Charges Against Walden Bello, Decriminalize Libel & Cyberlibel”. In the statement, released on August 9, 2022, Focus condemned in the strongest terms the arrest of its founding director and co-chair of the Board, Dr. Walden Bello, over libel and cyberlibel charges filed by Jefry Tupas—former staff of current Vice President Sara Duterte—over statements made by Dr. Bello during the electoral campaign regarding Tupas’ reported involvement in a November 2021 drug raid conducted by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in the Province of Davao de Oro.
As outlined in the case brief here, the warrant for Dr. Bello’s arrest was issued at around lunchtime in Davao and was electronically transferred through email to the Quezon City Police District (QCPD). The warrant was served a few minutes past 16:00 yesterday and Dr. Bello was arrested in his residence in Quezon City. Since the said arrest was done late afternoon, there was not enough time for Dr. Bello’s legal team to post bail as government offices have shortly closed down for the day. Consequently, Dr. Bello spent the night in detention within the Camp Karingal Police Headquarters. Dr. Bello was temporarily released on bail on August 9, 2022, although there have been reported delays in the signing of the order of his release.
Dr. Bello’s lawyers have now filed a petition to the secretary of justice to review and dump the Davao City prosecutor’s judgment that there is “probable cause” to charge Dr. Bello with cyberlibel. Until the secretary rules on the matter, court proceedings, including Dr. Bello’s arraignment and preliminary hearings, are in abeyance. In the meantime, the arraignment for Dr. Bello’s case has been scheduled for October 27, 2022, in Davao City.
The statement also calls for the decriminalization of libel and cyberlibel, as criminal libel has often been used to undermine freedom of expression and of the press and has been weaponized to go against political opponents. Dr. Bello’s arrest is a clear act of political persecution meant to sow fear amongst all those who might speak out against the vice president and the current government. As stated by social justice organization Global Justice Now: “The Philippines government is weaponising the new cyber libel law to harass political opposition in the country. This latest case is similar to the ongoing high-profile cyber libel charge against the CEO of Rappler and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. What is at stake in both cases are the most fundamental democratic rights – freedom of expression and the right to criticise politicians.”. More details on the outpouring support for Dr. Bello from various movements and organizations can be found here.
Lastly, the statement calls on civil society and social movements to continue exercising vigilance as it expects the ruling elites to adopt the same if not a more intensified and systematic approach to repressing ordinary peoples’ fundamental rights and freedoms.
The statement remains open for sign-on in support .
Read the full statement here.
Endorse the statement: https://forms.gle/4gtvDcVLFAiTFw83A
Joseph Purugganan (Head of Philippine Office)