RTC orders mediation for Bello, Duterte aide in cyber libel case

Walden Bello (left), Jefry Tupas (right)
Walden Bello (left), Jefry Tupas (right)SunStar File Photo

THE Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Davao City has mandated former vice presidential candidate Walden Bello and Vice President Sara Duterte's aide to attend a mediation proceeding by the year-end. 

Presiding Judge Retrina Fuentes issued this order on November 16, later disclosed by Bello's camp on November 20.

The directive follows a pre-trial case on November 16 related to the cyber libel complaint filed by Jefry Tupas, former Davao City Information Officer and current vice president's aide. 

The parties aim to resolve disputes through mediation before proceeding with trials in the coming year, referred to the Philippine Mediation Center (PMC).

The order states, "The parties are hereby ordered to immediately proceed and personally appear at the Philippine Mediation on December 15, 2023, at 10 [a.m.], with or without his counsel/s for mediation proceedings." 

It also states that the assigned mediator is ordered to submit a report to the court on the result of the mediation "based on the factual and legal issues to be resolved within a non-extendible period" of 30 calendar days from the date of the court's referral of the case to the PMC.

If mediation fails after 30 days, the court will proceed with trials scheduled for next year, with prosecution hearings on February 1 and 26, April 17, May 30, and June 20, and defense hearings on July 29, August 7 and 22, September 4 and 18, and October 7 and 21, all at 8:30 a.m.

Bello faces two counts of cyber libel based on Tupas' complaints. Bello filed a petition for review with the Department of Justice (DOJ) on July 29, 2022, dismissed on August 31, 2022. 

A motion for reconsideration was filed on September 15, 2022, pending action. Arrested on August 8, 2022, over cyber libel charges, Bello posted bail worth P96,000. 

Bello's case was arraigned on January 26, 2023, at RTC, following the expiration of the 60 days granted by the court for the DOJ to review the petition. 

During the arraignment, the trial court entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf as he declined to do so.

Bello labeled Tupas' complaint as "politically motivated," stemming from a debate challenge during the 2022 elections, where Duterte declined participation. Bello was declared persona non grata by Davao City for his statements during the CNN Philippines Vice Presidential debate.

Tupas, meanwhile, filed cyber libel charges against Bello for accusing the former of being involved in a drug trade.

The Office of the City Mayor verified Tupas's resignation, but he was also dismissed from his position following involvement in a drug raid on November 6, 2021, in Mabini, Davao de Oro. 

Before resigning, Tupas confirmed via a forwarded message to the media that he attended a beach party at a resort in Barangay Pindasan, Mabini, Davao de Oro. 

Law enforcement confiscated party drugs worth P1.5 million during the raid, with Tupas acknowledging his presence before the incident, leading to the arrest of 17 individuals for illegal drug possession. RGL

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