Manila – Former vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello has filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC), seeking to invalidate the country’s laws on criminal cyberlibel. Bello, a 76-year-old sociologist, was arrested last year following libel charges filed against him by a former senior aide of Vice President Sara Duterte. In his petition, he challenges the constitutionality of Articles 353 to 355 on libel under the Revised Penal Code and Section 4(c)(4) of RA 10175 on cyberlibel.
According to Philippines News Agency, Bello argues that these laws violate the Bill of Rights and contends that the increasing number of libel and cyberlibel cases used to persecute state critics and suppress dissent necessitates a reevaluation of their validity. The charges against Bello stem from statements he made during the election campaign about a drug raid in Davao province, which implicated Duterte’s former aide, Jefry Tupas. Tupas subsequently filed libel and cyberlibel charges against Bello.
Cyberlibel, as defined under Section 4(c)(4) of R.A. 10175 in relation to Articles 353 and 355 of the Revised Penal Code, includes various elements such as the imputation of a crime or defect, public dissemination, malice, and identification of the defamed party. The offense must also involve the use of a computer system or similar means. Bello’s challenge to these provisions is a significant move in the ongoing debate over freedom of speech and state suppression in the Philippines.