Countering shrinking space in the Philippines: decriminalise cyber-libel laws

SOLIDAR expresses solidarity to Walden Bello and calls for decriminalization of libel and cyber-libel laws in the Philippines.

Veteran politician and human rights activist Walden Bello was arrested on Monday 8th August in his home in Quezon City, after being indicted for cyber libel charges over comments he made in the run-up to the election campaign. Bello’s arrest and subsequent detention drew widespread condemnation at local and global level, rising concerns about freedom of speech and expression under the new Philippines government. Many rights advocates around the world have defined Bello’s imprisonment as an attack against democracy and a serious violation of the legitimate exercise of political opposition.  

Among these critical voices Senator Risa Hontiveros, winner of SOLIDAR Silver Rose Award in 2019 for her contributions to social justice and solidarity in the Philippines, expressed her concern over the arrest and called for a fair investigation into Bello’s case. Hontiveros considers “Critical voices like his, essential to any democracy”, and criticized the use of cyber libel made by previous administration to silence criticism and dissent.   

Many human rights activists had pointed out the need to decriminalize libel and cyber-libel laws in the Philippines, which have often been used in the past to intimidate, harass and silence journalists, columnists or activists who criticized government officials.  

Notwithstanding Bello’s release, his arrestation is only one among the series of cyber-libel cases that continue to undermine freedom of speech and opposition, and needs to be condemned. It is important to remark that freedom of expression and freedom of speech are constitutionally guaranteed by the Philippines’ law and are fundamental pillars for a just and democratic society. 

SOLIDAR joins Risa Hontiveros' concerns and demands for the charges against Walden Bello to be dropped. Furthermore, SOLIDAR supports the call for decriminalization of libel and cyber-libel laws in the Philippines, since they have often been used to silence opposition and progressive forces in the country, mining freedom of speech. 



Read more on SOLIDAR work on Philippines  

Read the 2021 Economic and Social Rights Monitor Philippines

Read the Regional Economic and Social Rights Monitor on Asia


Picture credits: Luis Dela Cruz via Shutterstock