Arraignment for Bello set

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 Jan) – The Regional Trial Court Branch 10 in Davao City has scheduled for January 26 the arraignment of the defeated vice-presidential candidate, Prof. Walden Bello, who is facing two counts of cyber libel.

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 April 2022. MindaNews file photo by MANMAN DEJETO

This after RTC Judge Retrina E. Fuentes dismissed the motion to quash the two criminal “informations” of the City Prosecutor’s Office, which earlier found probable cause to indict him for cyber libel on complaints filed by former Davao City Information Officer Jefry Tupas.

In a statement issued to the media on Thursday, Atty. Luke Espiritu, Bello’s lead counsel, said that he regrets the decision of the trial court judge but added that the legal team is preparing for a long fight against the charges.

Espiritu said that they remain confident that the “courts will ultimately vindicate” Bello, who was a staunch critic of the previous Duterte administration.

Atty. Danilo Balucos, who is also one of Bello’s counsels, said he is disappointed by the dismissal of their motion but added that he has high hopes that the courts will “rule in favor of the basic constitutional right of freedom of expression.”

“We highly appreciate that Judge Retrina Fuentes has been giving Professor Bello all the available remedies provided in the Rules of Court,” he said.

Bello allegedly made defamatory remarks against Tupas on social media after the latter was involved in a controversial 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 drugs, including marijuana and party drugs.

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.”

The legal team of Bello asked the trial court to quash the criminal “informations” filed by the City Prosecutor’s Office as the “facts charged do not constitute an offense” and the court is divested “with jurisdiction in cases where it is palpable that the criminal proceedings are acts of persecution rather than prosecution.”

Bello’s camp said that the criminal “informations” of the city prosecutors lacked recitals to establish actual malice in the alleged libelous content, which made reference to Tupas.

However, in a 19-page order dated December 28, the trial court said the two “informations” sufficiently alleged the essential elements of the offense charged.

It said both “informations” disclosed the willful imputation of a crime based on the statement communicated by Bello via Facebook and during a Zoom meeting.

On political harassment, the trial court said Bello presented no other proof to adequately justify the perceived political persecution other than the series of newspaper articles regarding Tupas’ involvement in the drug raid and failed to “prove that both the public and private prosecutors were motivated by hostility or ill will of any kind in prosecuting the instance case.”

“Respondents must prove that the public prosecutor, not just the private complainant, acted in bad faith in prosecuting the case or has lent himself to a scheme could have no other purpose than to place respondents in contempt and disrepute. It must be shown that the complainant possesses the power and the influence to control the prosecution of cases,” it said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)