De Lima eyes suing bloggers that ‘degraded’ her as a woman
MANILA, Philippines — Bloggers who had spread “fake news” and malicious disinformation against recently released former Sen. Leila de Lima should brace themselves for possible court cases that are now “under study” by her legal team.
“The charges could include libel, cyberlibel, defamation, slander, and assault to honor,” said De Lima who was granted bail last month after almost seven years in detention at Camp Crame for drug-related charges filed against her during the previous administration.
In an interview with the Inquirer on Friday, the former human rights commissioner and justice secretary said that while she does not go for censorship and believes that “(one) should always be respectful of everyone’s right to free speech,” what some bloggers had posted on social media were a “clear abuse of their rights to free expression.”
Social media, De Lima said, “was supposed to have been envisioned for good. [It was] supposed to be a source of information in order to do good for society.” Instead, it became a “tool for fake news, propaganda and misinformation,” she said.
She initially tried to ignore the slurs as she did not want to go “down to their level,” De Lima said, adding that she had even resorted to hiding her mobile phone that were clogged with “cruel, hateful statements.”
But De Lima later realized that “maybe we should address the misinformation that they spread about me,” and correct them.
“People were telling me, if you don’t respond, there may be more people who would believe these lies,” she said.
Her lawyers are now looking into filing charges against those who have posted crude messages and misinformation about her.
De Lima recalled how, in 2016, she received “offensive” and “unprintable” comments after public prosecutors during the term of then President Rodrigo Duterte accused her of receiving millions of pesos in drug money from convicted drug personalities during her time as justice secretary.
2,008 messages in a day
The three drug-related cases—two of which have been dismissed—were strongly denounced by De Lima and her supporters as trumped-up charges meant to get back at her for investigating extrajudicial killings in Davao when Duterte was still mayor of the city and the deaths that piled up as he waged a “drug war” during his presidency.
“During the House hearing on the Philippine drug trade [in September 2016], I received more than 2,008 messages … (that) degraded me as a woman,” De Lima said. There were so many social media posts and messages that she “cannot even cite a specific example anymore.”
Uson, Nieto, Lopez
But she is “aware” of those bloggers, De Lima said, adding that identifying these people and verifying what they posted would be easy since most of their incriminating social media posts are still accessible.
Most of the posts came from personalities known to be Duterte supporters who were later given plum government positions. Many of those who insulted her were “paid” by the previous administration, so insulting her became “the norm,” De Lima said.
“Many were just doing what Duterte was doing, and they thought it was fashionable at that time,” she added. “They utilized social media in order to destroy the public persona of someone who happens to be the enemy of the most powerful person in the country.”
A search of previous posts on the Mocha Uson Blog Facebook page, for example, showed a September 2016 CNN video showing De Lima empathically proclaiming her innocence in the drug charges.
Yet Uson, a former Presidential Communications Operations Office assistant secretary, put a caption on the video in Filipino that translates to “De Lima is having tantrums again.”
In 2017, the Thinking Pinoy Facebook page run by Rey Joseph Nieto showed the blogger and another social media personality, Mike Acebedo Lopez, posing before De Lima’s office with an edited image of the senator behind bars. Another post by Nieto in March 2021 contained suggestive words alluding to De Lima’s alleged relationship with her driver.
Nieto was a former consultant at the Department of Foreign Affairs, while Lopez was a former member of the National Youth Commission. When asked to apologize for the “taunting” photos taken in front of De Lima’s office, Nieto refused, saying he was “entitled to his own political opinion.”
Filing charges against these bloggers won’t be easy, the former senator admitted.
“Part of the study now, I told my lawyers, is if it is still prudent and wise for us … to go back [and charge] those people,” she said.
De Lima said she would want to prioritize securing an acquittal in her third and final case, and then “[our] focus is to hold accountable the people behind the trumped-up charges against me.”
Still, “those names were mentioned,” she said, referring to Uson, Nieto and Lopez. “We are aware of them.”