Former vice presidential candidate Walden Bello was arrested on charges of cyberlibel on Aug. 8 filed against him by a former Davao City employee.
The Laban ng Masa chairman was charged with two counts of cyberlibel by Jefry Tupas, Davao City's former information officer. Bello was released on Aug. 9 with bail set at P48,000 per case.
During a TV interview in March, Bello accused Tupas of involvement in the illegal drug trade, which the latter denied. Tupas worked under the local government while Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio was still its mayor.
"I am innocent of the charges filed by the camp of Vice President Sara Duterte," the activist said, describing his arrest as "politically motivated, frivolous, and inconsistent with facts."
While Bello was detained, his former running mate Ka Leody De Guzman, Senator Risa Hontiveros, Progressive International, and VP Duterte issued statements about the case.
"Hindi kailanman magiging makatwiran ang kasong cyberlibel kay Walden Bello dahil malinaw ang motibasyon sa likuran nito ay pampulitikang panunupil," De Guzman wrote on Facebook.
The labor leader called on the Department of Justice to revoke the warrant against his former VP candidate and on lawmakers to decriminalize libel.
Meanwhile, Sen. Hontiveros said critical voices like Bello's are "essential to any democracy."
"While Walden and I could sometimes disagree, he will always have a special place in my heart. Now more than ever, we need more people like him, whose genuine commitment to freedom and democracy is beyond question," the senator wrote on Twitter, calling for a fair and transparent investigation.
Statement on the arrest of Walden Bello— risa hontiveros (@risahontiveros) August 9, 2022
Critical voices like his are essential to any democracy. pic.twitter.com/UoUDmN3arT
On the other hand, Progressive International, an organization in which Bello is a council member, denounced the arrest.
"Walden Bello’s arrest is a violation of his fundamental rights, an affront to the institutions of Philippine democracy, and a threat to free expression everywhere," it said.
"We denounce the arrest of Walden Bello, Council member of the @ProgIntl, and call for the spurious charges against him to be dropped immediately."— Progressive International (@ProgIntl) August 9, 2022
Statement from @jeremycorbyn, @avilarenata, @NnimmoB, @Nanjala1 and other members of the PI Council.https://t.co/ZLLH282CWM
VP Duterte, whose camp Bello said the charges were from, denied having a hand in the case. She said that despite being the subject of criticism, she has never filed a libel case in her life.
“I have never filed a libel case in my life. Criticisms do not deserve even a backward glance because the accomplishments of Davao City under my leadership are already set in stone,” the VP said in a statement on Aug. 9.
Duterte added that Bello should "focus on salvaging whatever remains of his dignity and self-respect" and to "stop obsessing" over the VP.
"Stop blaming me from his fall from grace," she concluded.
Bello answered Duterte's statement, saying her response evades the issue which is that she "is the moving force behind this brazen effort to subvert my freedom of speech."
"The cyberlibel charge against me was a vindictive response to questions I raised about Vice President Duterte's performance as mayor of Davao that she was expected to answer as a candidate for higher office," he wrote.
"Instead of engaging in democratic exchange, her camp weaponized the law by filing a cyberlibel case against me, declared me persona non grata in Davao, and branded me a narcopolitician."
Prior to running in the May 9 elections, Bello was actively opposing former President Rodrigo Suterte's "bloody campaign against illegal drugs."
He is a human rights activist since the regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and has served as a congressman from 2009 to 2015 as the representative of the Akbayan Citizens' Action Party.