Walden Bello indicted in cyber libel case

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 June) – The Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP) in Davao City found probable cause against Walden Bello for two counts of cyber libel over his post on social media accusing former city information officer Jefry Tupas to be involved in illegal drugs during a beach party that was raided by authorities on November 6, 2021.

Walden Bello (wearing glasses), with lawyer Luke Espiritu, files his counter-affidavit against the cyber libel case at the Hall of Justice in Davao City on 20 April 2022. MindaNews file photo by MANMAN DEJETO

In a seven-page resolution dated June 9 but released to media on June 14, the OCP found “defamatory” Bello’s statement, delivered during a live interview and later posted on his verified Facebook account last March 1, 2022, alleging that Tupas and her friends were “snorting P1.5 million worth of drugs” and describing him as a “drug dealer.”
The resolution, written by Prosecutor Jose Charlito I. Cortez II, said that there was “a clear malicious imputation of a crime” in Bello’s online content “considering the manner how the statements were conveyed.”
It said that the online content “would show that the respondent (Bello) was imputing to the listeners or the attendees of the virtual forum that he was certain of his allegations against herein complainant as a drug dealer” but added that these imputations were incorrect based on the statements of the complainant’s witnesses.
Bello, a defeated vice-presidential candidate who is a staunch critic of the Duterte administration, denied the allegations in the complaint filed by Tupas.
He said that his Facebook post was a call-out to vice presidential candidate Sara Duterte for boycotting the CNN Debates, and not meant to target Tupas whose name was only included in the post “in a matter-of-factly tone” based on “established facts and were posed in such a way as asking for questions.”
He said he does not personally know Tupas nor he has personal ill will towards her.
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.”
But Bello maintained the complaint was “politically motivated” intended to silence him, saying Tupas did not bother to file libel complaints against other news outfits that ran stories on the controversial drug raid.
He added that no crime of cyber libel was committed because he did not post the article himself.
But the OCP said that the allegation that the subject statements were merely “posed as a question on Facebook article is not sufficient to exonerate the respondent for the crime charged.”
It added that “malice is presumed in every defamatory imputation.”
It said that the statements could not be classified as a “privileged communication” since these were unrelated to Tupas’ position as a public information officer.
It said that the statements “made were attacks against the private character of the complainant which delved on matters completely unrelated to the complainant’s official functions.”
“The statements or utterances were not based on established facts. No statements declaring the complainant as a drug dealer or drug user surfaced from articles relied upon by the respondent. If the subject news articles would be read in their entirety, it cannot be inferred from the same that the respondent was painted as a drug dealer. No inference can likewise be made that the complainant was arrested for snorting illegal drugs,” it said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)