The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) strongly condemns the arrest of its former board member Walden Bello in the Philippines by members of the Quezon city police, and calls for all charges to be dropped. The arrest Monday, for alleged “cyber libel” against a former aide to Vice President Sara Duterte — an offense punishable by several years in prison — is a clear attempt to crack down on political opposition and dissent. Bello, a former congress member, ran for vice president in elections earlier this year as a candidate with the Laban ng Masa coalition, and was a prominent critic of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1980s. The former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s son, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., was inaugurated as the Philippines’ new president on June 30, 2022.
“Walden is truly a global leader in worldwide movements for economic and social justice, and to break the iron rule that the most powerful people in high-income countries wield over the institutions of global governance, which they do to the detriment of the majority of the world,” CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said. “And he’s long been a leading voice for justice, accountability, and democracy in the Philippines, which is why he’s being targeted.”
Bello was released on bail after spending the night in jail. Prior to his arrest, Bello had reportedly only recently begun recovering from a COVID-19 infection, and Bello supporters and others expressed concern for his health.
After his release, Bello Tweeted: “Arrested late afternoon Monday on silly charge of cyberlibel posted by the camp of Sarah Duterte. These people are mistaken if they think they can silence me and suppress my exercise of free speech.”
“This is an ominous start to the Marcos presidency,” Weisbrot said. “It appears that the Philippine authorities are continuing with the repression of freedom of speech and freedom of the press that was a hallmark of the Rodrigo Duterte government. It hearkens back to the dark days of the original Marcos dictatorship.”
CEPR calls on the White House and the US State Department to communicate to the Marcos administration that it condemns the political persecution of Bello and other critics of the Marcos and Duterte governments. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had met with President Marcos just days before Bello’s arrest.
“Walden served on CEPR’s board during most of its existence, and has been a longtime friend and ally,” Weisbrot said. “He has devoted his life to advancing equality, justice, and democracy in the Philippines and around the world, and to fighting for working and low-income people. He is truly a leading intellect and inspiration, a champion in the global struggle for a more just, equitable, and democratic world.”