Regional parliamentarians and human rights groups condemned the arrest of former Philippine legislator Walden Bello for two counts of cyber libel on Monday, August 8.
“The filing of cyber libel charges against Walden Bello is nothing but an act of political harassment and persecution,” read a statement from Charles Santiago of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament, said it is “deplorable how restrictive legislation, such as the Cyber libel law, has been repeatedly used as a political weapon to persecute government critics and opposition voices in the Philippines.”
Police arrested Bello, who ran for vice president in this year’s national elections, over a case filed against him by Jefry Tupas who was information officer of Davao City until last year.
The former legislator was indicted by a Davao City prosecutor for violation of the Revised Penal Code and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 in a seven-page resolution dated June 9.
In a statement, Bello said his arrest was “pure political harassment and persecution.”
“No way I will let these people intimidate me and suppress free speech,” he said.
A report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer said Bello has previously stated that the cyberlibel suit filed against him was merely a “smokescreen” by Vice President Sara Duterte for her “cowardice” to join debates during the national elections.
APHR’s Santiago said libel laws “should not exist in a democracy worthy of this name, in which freedom of speech should be protected, not persecuted.”
“The use of this law against Mr. Bello amounts to an attack against democracy itself and the legitimate exercise of political opposition,” said the Malaysian legislator.
Bello is known as an academic, environmentalist, and social activist who served as a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines.
He is professor of sociology and public administration at the University of the Philippines, and executive director of regional policy think-tank Focus on the Global South.
Bello received his Ph.D. in sociology from Princeton in 1975 after completing his doctoral dissertation titled “The roots and dynamics of revolution and counterrevolution in Chile.”
He was part of the movement against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. while teaching at the University of California, Berkeley.