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Walden Bello’s petition to decriminalize libel, cyber-libel still pending at high court

THE PETITION by vice presidential candidate Walden Bello to strike libel and cyber-libel down as unconstitutional remains pending at the Supreme Court. 

Bello’s legal counsel petitioned the SC on Dec. 5, 2023, to declare articles 353 to 355 of the Revised Penal Code on Libel and Section 4(c)(4) of Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

The petition cited that the provisions violate Section 4, Article III of the Bill of Rights, which reads, “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

Estrella Elamparo, one of Bello’s legal counsels, told the media in Le Cafe Rotunda on Monday, Feb. 26 that the team has yet to receive any notice from the Supreme Court regarding their petition.

Ang balak natin ay yung mga recent orders denying our motion to suspend proceedings, isa-submit natin yan sa Korte Suprema bilang patunay  na magtutuloy itong kasong ito,” Elamparo said referring to the two counts of libel filed against Bello. 

She added their team will apply for injunctive relief to suspend the libel case in the Regional Trial Court in Davao as the issue of constitutionality [of libel] has to be resolved first.

RPCon Libel Articles 353- 35 and Section 4(c)(4) of R.A. 10175 on cyber-libel, according to Elamparo, bring a “chilling effect” and instill fear in those who will engage political dissent. 

Once decriminalized, those serving jail terms will be freed of their conviction, ““Hindi lamang sa kaso ni Prof. Walden but sa lahat ng mga naisampa at pending na kaso,” Elamparo said.

Bello said it has become a “weapon of choice in terms of silencing criticism of dissent” as he maintained that public officials “should be open to criticism and not have an onion skin.”

The professor is confident of the support from the Davaoeños as he faces a cyber-libel charge filed against him by former Davao City information officer, Jefry Tupas.

He believes most of the common people in Davao will support him as they do not want the “politicization and weaponization of cyber libel.”

The trial for Bello started on Feb. 26 at the RTC Branch 10 in the city where Bello was present along with legal counsel, Elamparo and Atty. Danny Balucos.

After Monday’s hearing, his legal team hoped the trial court would dismiss the charge against him after finding several loopholes in the first witness presented by the prosecution, Roger Baay, a close friend of Tupas’.

During the cross-examination, it was found out that Baay had no personal knowledge of the beach party in Mabini, Davao de Oro where P1.5 million worth of illegal drugs were seized. 

Elamparo said Baay confessed he saw the content of the alleged libelous material and that Bello only asked then vice-presidential bet Sara Duterte to ask about Tupas’ involvement in the drug haul.

The legal counsel said it was clear that Bello was only “singled out” being an opponent of Duterte in the vice presidential position.

The prosecution is expected to present the second of their six witnesses in the next trial scheduled on April 17. 



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