DAVAO CITY, Davao del Sur, Philippines — They were not able to cross swords during the campaign for the May 2022 elections. But now Sara Duterte and Walden Bello, former rivals for the vice presidential seat, are trading punches.
Duterte, who won the vice presidential race by a landslide, has unleashed her blows at Bello for blaming her as the cause for his arrest for cyberlibel in Quezon City last Monday.
The cyberlibel charges were filed by former Davao City information chief Jefry Tupas whom Bello characterized — in Facebook posts — as a drug dealer who was “snorting P1.5 million worth of drugs” during a beach party in Mabini, Davao de Oro that was raided by authorities last November 2021.
Tupas, who resigned from her post as a result of the Davao de Oro incident, took exception to the allegation of Bello, claiming that it was baseless.
Duterte said that, instead of blaming her and “playing the victim of an imaginary case of political persecution, and dragging me into his legal woes, I suggest that Mr. Bello be reminded of the fact that a civilized and democratic society does not respect hubris.”
“Mr. Bello — supposedly a respected international educator and a human rights activist — took it so low and displayed a disgraceful version of himself, making him the perfect poster boy of someone we hope our children will not become when they grow up,” Duterte said in a statement released by her office.
“The right to freedom of speech and expression does not protect anyone from defiling the name and reputation of others,” Duterte explained.
Laban ng Masa, under which Bello ran for vice president, condemned his arrest, saying it was a warning to human rights advocates that they might suffer the same fate “while standing up for the right to express one’s views and criticize wrongdoings by the rich and powerful.”
“The cyberlibel case against … Bello is clearly a proxy harassment with no less than Vice President Sara Duterte as the real protagonist. She uses a former aide as a cover for her own vindictive behavior,” it said.
In a statement on Tuesday issued from Camp Karingal where he spent the night on Monday, Bello said Duterte was trying to “evade the central issue: 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.,” said Bello, who has repeatedly challenged Duterte to a one-on-one debate during the campaign period.
“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 narco politician. This is not the behavior of a democratic personality but of one who has little respect for freedom of speech and knows only the art of intimidation,” Bello pointed out.
The Davao City Prosecutor’s Office indicted Bello for two counts of cyberlibel last June. A Davao court has set P48,000 bail for each count.