Ex-VP candidate Walden Bello released after posting bail on libel charges

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Former vice presidential candidate and academic Walden Bello was released yesterday after posting bail of PHP96,000 (US$1,722) for two counts of libel.

Bello, an ex-congressman, was arrested on Monday based on charges stemming from a complaint by Jefry Tupas, Vice President Sara Duterte’s former aide and ex-Davao City public information officer. The libel complaint was based on a Facebook post that alleged Bello had attended a beach party at Davao de Oro that was later raided by the police for drugs.

Some of those arrested in the raid also alleged that Tupas was present but allowed to leave the raid, an accusation that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has stayed mum about.

The Laban ng Masa chairman alleged that his detention was “pure political persecution” and said his arrest was connected to Vice President Duterte and his previous challenges during the election campaign.

“Arrested late afternoon Monday on [a] silly charge of cyber libel posted by the camp of [Vice President] Sarah Duterte. These people are mistaken if they think they can silence me and suppress my exercise of free speech,” Bello tweeted.

Upon news of his release, the hard-hitting academic followed-up with another tweet: “My deepest thanks to all who mobilized against the grave threat to free speech posed by the charge of cyberlibel against me by the camp of VP Sara Duterte. What a wonderful display of unity in defense of our common values! With solidarity like this, how can we possibly lose?”

Meanwhile, opposition senator Risa Hontiveros has spoken against Bello’s arrest.

“Walden [Bello] is a leading public intellectual and a steadfast campaigner for justice and human rights. Critical voices like his are essential to any democracy… now more than ever, we need people like him, whose genuine commitment to freedom and democracy is beyond question, “ she said in a statement.