DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 20 April) – Vice Presidential candidate Walden Bello on Wednesday expressed confidence the cyberlibel complaint filed against him by former Davao City Information Office head Jefry Tupas would be dismissed for having “hardly any basis in truth and fact” as he denied posting the alleged defamatory remarks on social media.
Bello told reporters the filing of the complaint was “politically motivated” and allegedly dictated by City Mayor Sara Duterte, one of his rivals in the May 9 polls who refused to accept his challenge to debate him.
Bello filed the counter-affidavit accompanied by his lead counsel and senatorial candidate Luke Espiritu.
The two marched from Candelaria Park to the Davao Hall of Justice with their supporters calling for the decriminalization of libel.
He said the complaint was intended to harass him for being vocal against Duterte.
Shortly after filing his counter-affidavit, Bello went to the Davao City Council to secure a copy of the resolution declaring him persona non grata.
Bello later uploaded a photo of him inside the session hall.
“Today, while presiding at the Davao City Council, I declared all those who declared me persona non grata in Davao persona non grata in the eyes of the Filipino people,” he said.
Tupas, who figured in the controversial drug raid by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)-Davao, National Bureau of Investigation, and police in the province at a beach party in Mabini, Davao de Oro on November 6, 2021, filed his complaint for cyberlibel against Bello last March 7 for the latter’s alleged “false, defamatory, and malicious” accusations branding her as a “drug addict and a drug dealer” in a social media post.
But, in his 12-page counter-affidavit, Bello denied making the post himself.
He admitted that the alleged statement that appeared on a public fan page named “Walden Bello” was made by his campaign team, specifically by his communications team.
“The page ‘Walden Bello’ cannot be solely attributed to herein respondent Bello because he does not control the same. He does not even have administrator or moderator status in the said Facebook page. Hence, from this fact alone, respondent Bello cannot be made liable for libel,” the counter-affidavit read.
It argued that the liability for crimes punishable under the Revised Penal Code, including a cyberlibel complaint, is “personal in nature” and, in the absence of conspiracy, one cannot be held criminally liable for the act or default of another, unless he participates in its commission.
“It must be stressed that the complainant has not adduced a single electronic evidence to prove that the undersigned personally published the FB post which is the subject-matter of the complaint, and that the account Walden Bello where the contested post was published in the personal account,” it said.
Espiritu told reporters that Tupas was merely mentioned as a “foot note” in online materials directed to Duterte in order to challenge her to a debate and cited only news reports regarding the drug raid where Tupas was involved.
“The subject of material is Sara Duterte, not Jefry Tupas, there is nothing at all, na directed at Jefry Tupas herself. We wanted Sara Duterte to debate with him and explain news reports about Jefry Tupas,” he said.
He said the statement was merely an expression of an opinion rendered based on the news reports and as such it should be “protected” as it was based on established fact that a drug raid took place.
“According to our Supreme Court, even if erroneous – because opinions can be right or wrong – but that is mere opinion that is rendered based on established facts, regarding the drug raid,” he said.
He added that political motivation could also be a valid defense, citing the decision of the Court which enunciated in a previous ruling that “prosecution done as persecution in order to commit harassment should be enjoined and should not continue.”
“So, it’s a valid defense if you are being harassed politically in the guise of prosecution. That should not be allowed,” he said.
Bello’s counter-affidavit read in part: “Even assuming arguendo that I am the one who posted the subject Facebook post, a cursory reading thereof would show that it was stated in a matter-of-factly tone and based only on established acts. There is nothing malicious in asking questions.”
Bello added that the filing of complaint against him would set a bad precedent if Mayor Duterte wins the vice presidency because she would rather resort to “character assassination” instead of addressing criticisms.
“I think that this is not befitting somebody running for the vice presidency and I think this is also an indication if she wins, which I hope she does not, this is how she will react to political criticism. She will respond in this way of character assassination and other means,” he added.
Lawyer Cesar Europa, Tupas’s legal counsel said he has yet to read the counter-affidavit “but of course it is part and parcel of the right of Mr. Bello to due process for him to be given the opportunity to file his counter-affidavit.”(Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)