Filipino activist and former vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello released on bail

Members of Bello’s leftwing coalition Laban ng Masa (in English, ‘Fight of the Masses’) have condemned the arrest, suggesting that it is part of a crackdown led by Sara Duterte and those allied with her

August 09, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Walden Bello arrest Philippines
Walden Bello. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, August 8, social activist, environmentalist and former vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello was arrested by the Quezon City police in the Philippines under cybercrime provisions in a case of ‘cyber libel’ filed against him. Bello was temporarily released on bail on Tuesday August 9.

Bello’s arrest comes at a time of increased persecution against activists and journalists in the country following the formation of the new government in May 2022 headed by Bongbong Marcos, son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda Marcos, and Sara Duterte, daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte. In June 2022, the websites of several progressive media organizations were banned in the country for allegedly having links with ‘terrorist’ groups, and in July, a conviction against online news platform Rappler for cyber libel was upheld by the Court of Appeals.

Rights advocates have expressed concerns since Marcos announced that he was in contention for the presidency in October 2021, and this mobilization only intensified when it was announced that Duterte would be his running mate.

Both Ferdinand Marcos’ rule in the 1970s and 1980s and Rodrigo Duterte’s government since 2016 have been marked by their extreme brutality and corruption, as well as economic mismanagement and assaults on democratic freedoms.

Duterte’s time in office was known for its extrajudicial killings of thousands of alleged ‘drug users’ and other ‘criminals’ and the crackdown on communists and internal dissidents. In March 2018, Duterte had withdrawn the Philippines from the Rome Statute – the declaration that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) – after it was announced that the Court was looking into allegations of human rights violations under his ‘war on drugs.’ In September 2021, the ICC formally authorized this investigation.

Bello’s arrest on Monday came as a response to claims he had made while on the campaign trail regarding the involvement of Jefry Tupas, Davao City Information Officer under then Mayor Sara Duterte, in the country’s illegal drug trade, after it appeared that she had been at a party where the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency had seized a large volume of recreational drugs. Bello said in a Twitter post that his arrest was politically motivated and would not silence him.

Members of Bello’s left-wing coalition Laban ng Masa (in English, ‘Fight of the Masses’) have condemned the arrest, suggesting that it is part of a crackdown led by Sara Duterte and those allied with her. They have also raised questions about how, despite her father’s strong and public stance against drugs, someone close to her has been linked to drugs in this way.

Bello’s arrest and other such attacks on activists and journalists has confirmed activists worst fears about the Marcos and Duterte administration that the silencing of progressive forces in the country will not only continue, but will get worse, and that those involved in human rights violations in the past will continue to evade justice. The administration has also indicated that they plan to continue implementing neoliberal economic policies in the country, a central issue of discontent of the masses in the country.