Mayor Belmonte files cyber libel raps vs Rep. Defensor

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte has filed a cyber libel complaint against Anakalusgan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor over the accusations he posted on social media platforms, which have crossed the boundaries of freedom of speech.

Belmonte’s complaint, which she filed on Feb. 24, stemmed from two Facebook posts which she considered "libelous, malicious, false, and fraudulent" that require legal action.

The first post claims that she organized a group to remove the campaign materials of Defensor, who also runs for the mayoral seat, placed around the city. He also branded her “mapanghati, mapanira, kasuka-suka, at kapit-tuko sa kapangyarihan (divisive, slanderous, sickening, and grasping tightly to power)."

In another post, the lawmaker claimed that an employee from the city hall was set to file a plunder case against the mayor because of the "overpriced ayuda (help)."

"I don't usually look at Facebook pages, especially if I know that they would be of no use or benefit. In truth, as soon as he decided to run for Mayor, we already knew that he would engage in the kind of behavior he is now displaying," she said.

"Sometime in early February, however, I was informed by a concerned citizen that his official posts were already libelous. When I finally read them, I confirmed that these were no longer acceptable nor tolerable, and legal lines were crossed," the mayor added.

Quezon City Legal Officer Atty. Nino Casimiro agreed with the mayor’s assessment, saying "all elements of the crime of Libel in relation to the Cybercrime Act of 2012 are present" on the posts.

"While being disrespectful and ungentlemanly is not necessarily a crime, a sitting Congressman should know that there is a law punishing such behavior when it goes too far," he added.

Casimiro said that aside from the two posts, over a hundred counts of cyber libel may be directly connected to Defensor as they have established that there is a host of different Facebook pages under one group that has links to the lawmaker.

"So far, we have identified 102 posts which may be counted as unique and individual cases of libel, and we are not stopping there. Bawat fake news ni congressman o ng kanyang kampo, sisiguraduhin natin na pananagutan nila ito sa ilalim ng batas (We will make sure that for each fake news from the congressman and his camp, they will be held accountable under the law )," he stated.

Belmonte said that she is aware that there is a certain degree of freedom in criticizing public officials and she welcomes valid criticisms in all forms.

"On the other hand, how can I protect the rights of QCitizens if I allow myself to be subjected to these malicious attacks. I have to stand for my own rights if I am to stand for the rights of our people. As a public official, I have a sworn duty to uphold the law," the mayor said.

Defensor on Thursday, March 3, said that the case filed against him was just "a cheap publicity gimmick" in a bid to draw public attention.

He said that both of them are elected officials who cannot run away from public scrutiny. He urged the mayor to resign if she cannot stand public denunciation.

“We would urge Mayor Belmonte to stop her antics and to respond instead to the criminal complaints about plunder filed against her in connection with the P713 million worth of overpriced ayuda food packs that she bought,” he said.