DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 November) – The lawyers of defeated vice presidential candidate Prof. Walden Bello maintained that the prosecution has failed to establish actual malice in his social media post concerning former Davao City information officer Jefry Tupas that would warrant the filing of two counts of cyberlibel.
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.”
‘Mayor’ refers to Vice President Sara Duterte, who was the mayor of Davao City at the time.
In a seven-page reply to the comment on the motion to quash dated November 6 but released to the media on November 11, Bello’s camp maintained that the criminal informations [sic] of the city prosecutors lacked recitals to establish actual malice in the alleged libelous content published on Bello’s social media account.
Tupas attended a beach party at a resort in Mabini, Davao de Oro on November 6, 2021, when personnel of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency conducted a raid and seized illegal substances, including marijuana and party drugs.
“Why the need for actual malice? That is because the informations contain recitals, on the other hand, that private complainant is the Davao City Public Information Office. As such she is a public official or public figure,” Bello’s legal team said.
They said the requirement for actual malice is “equally applied to public officers and public figures alike.”
Citing the Supreme Court’s landmark case of Disini vs Secretary of Justice, they said “defense of absence of actual malice, even when the statement turns out to be false, is available where the offended party is a public official or a public figure.”
“Since the penal code and implicitly, the cybercrime law, mainly target libels against persons. The court recognizes that these laws imply a stricter standard of ‘malice’ to convict the author of a defamatory statement where the offended party is a public figure,” they added.
They further argued that it was immaterial that Bello made the alleged libelous social media post after Tupas had been separated from the local government because the “complained statements remained to be relating to official conduct when private complainant was PIO.”
“There is nothing in the law or jurisprudential record putting up such a Chronological Chinese wall,” they said.
They said Tupas did not cease being a public figure after her stint with the local government of Davao.
Then mayor Sara Duterte terminated Tupas shortly after the latter figured in the controversial drug raid.
Tupas, who was reportedly active in Duterte’s campaign, has been appointed Chief of the Media and Public Relations Division under the Office of the Vice President.
“Private complainant (Tupas) is a trusted aide handling public information and media for no less than Sara Duterte. In fact, not long after she was terminated as Davao City PIO, private complainant now works in the Office of the Vice President in the same capacity. She is a public figure,” Bello’s lawyers said.
They believed that the filing of criminal action against Bello was a “vendetta in response to the accused’s criticisms of Sara Duterte.”
“The persecution against the accused has been progressive. He was declared persona non grata by the Davao City local government under then Mayor Sara Duterte. Accused was also tagged by Sara Duterte as a narco-politician,” they said.
Last August, Duterte denied any involvement in the two counts of cyber libel filed by Tupas against Bello.
She said she has never filed a libel case in her life despite being the subject of “offensives” launched against her by Bello, one of her opponents during the election.
She said Bello “should focus on salvaging what remains of his dignity and self-respect” instead of obsessing and blaming her for “his fall from grace.”
She said criticisms do not deserve “even a backward glance because the accomplishments of Davao City under my leadership are already set in stone.”
“Instead of deflecting blame, playing the victim of an imaginary case of political persecution, and dragging me into his legal woes, I suggest that Mr. Bello be reminded of the fact that a civilized and democratic society does not respect hubris,” she said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)