Joy Belmonte files cyber libel raps vs Mike Defensor
MANILA, Philippines — Quezon City mayoralty candidate and AnaKalusugan party-list representative Michael Defensor may find himself in legal trouble for claims that he made using various platforms.
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte recently filed a cyber liber complaint against the congressman because of two particular social media posts that were said to have crossed the boundaries of free speech.
One of the posts claimed that Belmonte organized a “Baklas army” that removed Defensor’s campaign materials. In the same post, he labeled the lady mayor as “mapanghati, mapanira, kasuka-suka, at kapit-tuko sa kapangyarihan (divisive, slanderous, sickening, and grasping tightly to power.)”
In another post, Defensor claimed that a Quezon City Hall employee was set to file a plunder case against Belmonte at the Office of the Ombudsman because of purported “overpriced ayuda”.
Defensor had echoed this overpricing allegation repeatedly in both online and offline channels, despite the fact that several fact-checking organizations, and even the Commission on Audit itself, have gone on record to say that no irregularities took place.
According to Belmonte, these social media tirades are “libelous, malicious, false, and fraudulent”, and necessitate legal action. “I don’t usually look at Facebook pages, especially if I know that they would be of no use or benefit. In truth, as soon as he [Defensor] decided to run for mayor, we already knew that he would engage in the kind of behavior he is now displaying,” she explained.
“Sometime in early February, however, I was informed by a concerned citizen that his official posts were already libelous. When I finally read them, I confirmed that these were no longer acceptable nor tolerable, and legal lines were crossed,” Belmonte further noted.
For his part, QC Legal Officer Atty. Niño Casimiro agreed with this assessment. “There is no question that all elements of the crime of libel in relation to the Cybercrime Act of 2012 are present: there is an imputation of a crime, vice or defect in the posts; they were irresponsibly made public with unconscionable malice and with full knowledge that they are false; and were purposely made to cause the dishonor, discredit, and destroy the reputation of Mayor Joy Belmonte. While being disrespectful and ungentlemanly is not necessarily a crime, a sitting congressman should know that there is a law punishing such behavior when it goes too far.”
Casimiro further clarified that, apart from the cases specific to Defensor’s posts, more than a hundred counts of cyber libel may be directly linked to the party-list representative. “We have established that there is a host of other Facebook Pages that are all orchestrated under one group, which have links to Congressman Defensor and his co-respondents, May Guia Padilla, Carmelo Paulo Bayarcal, and Oliver Macatangay. These include pages such as Batang QC, Kurapsyon QC, Taga Quezon City Ako, Quezon City Gladiators, DDS ng Quezon City, and Lente ng Kyusi,” he enumerated. “So far, we have identified 102 posts which may be counted as unique and individual cases of libel, and we are not stopping there. Bawat fake news ni Congressman o ng kanyang kampo, sisiguraduhin natin na pananagutan nila ito sa ilalim ng batas,” Casimiro stated.
Notwithstanding the cases, Belmonte acknowledged that public scrutiny is customary for elected officials. “I am aware that there is a certain degree of freedom in criticizing public officials, and I have long been an advocate of free speech. In fact, I more than welcome both valid criticism in all forms,” she emphasized.
“On the other hand, how can I protect the rights of QCitizens if I myself allow myself to be subjected to these malicious attacks. I have to stand for my own rights if I am to stand for the rights of our people. As a public official, I have a sworn duty to uphold the law,” Belmonte concluded.