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Cyber libel vs Bello

Bello confident of Dabawenyos’ support in his cyber libel trial

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews) —Defeated vice-presidential candidate Professor Walden Bello said that the people of Davao are for the “rule of law” and will support him as his trial for the two counts of cyber libel began on Monday at the Regional Trial Court Branch 10 here.

 Bello told reporters in a press conference at the Le Café Rotunda on Monday that he has received an overwhelming support from the ordinary Dabawenyos as he faces the cyber libel charges filed in court by the City Prosecutor’s Office based on the complaint filed by Davao City’s ex-city information officer Jefry Tupas.

 He believed that most of the “ordinary people” in Davao will be supportive of him as they “do not want the politization or weaponization of cyber libel” because they are for the “rule of law.”

 “And I would just like to say that in our coming to Davao over the last year and a half in the preliminaries of this case, we have gotten a lot of support from ordinary Dabawenyos who realize what’s at stake—maybe not from big political families but certainly from ordinary people of Davao—because of that I think that hospitality we have received from people here is very heartening,” he said.

 Bello appeared during the trial, along with his lead counsels, lawyers Danny Balucos and Estrella Elamparo, who cross examined the prosecution’s first witness, Roger Baay, a close friend of Tupas.

 Bello said his case has gained local and international attention, saying there is so much at stake in the cyber libel charges against him.

He said the decision of the trial court may affect the country’s own standing in the international community.

 Bello added that it was unfortunate that the charges reached trial because government resources are being wasted for a “case like this which really is very shallow, has no basis and is in fact mainly pushed for political reasons.”

 He said he remains hopeful the trial court would eventually dismiss charges against him.

 Elamparo said the defense team noted several loopholes in the statements of the prosecution’s first witness including, among others, the lack of personal knowledge about the controversial beach party in Mabini, Davao de Oro on November 6, 2021, where Tupas was allegedly among the attendees when authorities conducted a raid and seized illegal drugs, including marijuana and party drugs.

 She said that in the alleged libelous material published on social media, Bello was only commenting on Mayor Sara Duterte’s refusal to attend vice presidential debates but raised in the same content the drug raid because it was a matter of public interest as Tupas was a city hall employee.

Tupas, who was reportedly active in the campaign of then Mayor Sara Duterte, was appointed Chief of the Media and Public Relations Division under the Office of the Vice President.

 Elamparo said it was clear that Bello, being a political opponent and staunch critic, was only singled out.

 She said that the next trial has been scheduled for April 17, and the prosecution will present its second witness.

 Elamparo added that the defense has six witnesses, and their team is more than “prepared” to defend Bello.

 Balucos said that efforts to settle the case through the Philippine Mediation Center did not succeed as the parties failed to arrive at an amicable settlement.

 “There were efforts to arrive at an amicable settlement between the parties through the counsels of private complainant and Davao counsels. However, the mediation failed. In short, the parties did not arrive at a mutually agreeable settlement,” he said.

 Balucos said the camp of Tupas wanted Bello to issue an apology.

 He said that they did not arrive at a “wording of the statement” acceptable to both parties.

 “There were proposals and counterproposals from both parties and despite the revisions of the terms and conditions of one party and the other party are not acceptable to both,” he said.

 Elamparo added that the court did not foreclose the possibility of settling the dispute amicably.

 She said the defense team will always remain open for a possible amicable settlement for as long as it will not compromise Bello’s principles and his position on the freedom of expression and of the press. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews) 


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