MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Saturday remained silent on the Nobel Peace Prize award to Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, even as lawmakers and business groups described it both as an indictment of the Duterte administration and applause to courageous Filipino journalists under fire.
The award, which was announced in Oslo, Norway, on Friday, was shared by Ressa with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov. They were cited as representatives of all journalists who stand up for freedom of expression.
“It is a big slap to the face of Duterte that the world recognized the heroism of those he oppressed,” said one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s strident critics, detained Sen. Leila de Lima.
“More than a well-deserved personal victory, this historic award is a resounding affirmation to all seekers of truth that telling the true story of Filipinos and the real state of governance and democracy is worth fighting for,” she said in a statement.
Opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay said Ressa’s Nobel Prize was “another black mark on the President who has been demonizing and derogating press freedom.”
While Ressa was given accolades, Duterte was included by Reporters Without Borders among 31 world leaders in the gallery of “Press Freedom Predators,” the lawmaker said.
Lagman said that at Duterte’s direct and indirect “behest,” various cases were filed against Ressa and Rappler, and she already received one conviction for cyber libel.
In a statement, the Makati Business Club (MBC), one of the most prominent business groups in the Philippines, said the award recognized Ressa’s courage and highlighted “the conditions that require such courage.”
“Freedom of expression is under siege in the Philippines and the world from people with the power and resources to attack legitimate journalism, abuse the internet, and scare citizens into silence,” MBC said.
Freedom of expression, speech and of the press, and information, are individual rights that are also the “bedrock of democracy” which provide peace and better lives for all, the group said.
“Our gratitude, as well, to all journalists and citizens who fight for these rights,” MBC said.
Aurelio R. Montinola III, president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and Rizalina Mantaring, co-chair of the group’s national issues committee, said Ressa’s award provided inspiration to all journalists who struggle against increasing suppression of the media across the globe.
Victory vs fake news
“Her award underscores the importance of protecting freedom of the press as our vanguard against the abuse of power, and an essential element of democracy,” the MAP officials said. One of Ressa’s lawyers, Francis Lim, a former MAP president and head of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, said the cases filed against Ressa were threatening the corporate existence of Rappler “as a truly independent media institution.”
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, said the Nobel Prize “made journalism synonymous with courage” and was a victory against fabricators of fake news. “You have shown the whole world that the Pinay is world-class, world-class in telling the truth, world-class in courage,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Grace Poe praised Ressa for her “courage and constancy” in the dangerous pursuit of truth and justice.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the award was timely as Filipinos and people around the world needed “a strong push back on assaults against freedom of expression by tyrannical forces.”
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Nobel Prize was “amazing” and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra welcomed the honor given to Ressa.“As an ordinary Filipino, I am happy that a fellow Filipino has been included in this year’s roster of Nobel Peace laureates,” Guevarra said. He said, however, that the award would not influence the charges against Ressa as these would be guided by legal principles and the facts of the cases.
“Congratulations, Maria,” Locsin said on Twitter.
“A win is a win,” he said. “Even Cory Aquino couldn’t get it for restoring democracy through the first ever peaceful people power revolution that inspired the same throughout the Soviet Bloc and the Asian dictatorships.”
F. Sionil Jose’s beef
Not everyone was happy that Ressa received the Nobel Peace Prize.“Maria Ressa does not deserve the Nobel,” said writer and National Artist F. Sionil Jose in a Facebook post.
“I have criticized Duterte but not on press freedom. The Philippine press is alive and well not because of Maria Ressa,” said Jose, who is a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism. The Magsaysay Award is the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
Jose said he hasn’t read “anything memorable” by Ressa.
“The real test for journalists was made during the Marcos dictatorship when he imposed censorship, closed all media, and jailed journalists,” he said.
Duterte did not have serious regard for Ressa, otherwise he could have “nailed her like he did with Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Senator Leila de Lima,” he said.
His post received more than 1,400 comments from people who agreed and disagreed with him. Fil Elefante responded saying: “Sir, you have the right to state your opinion. Obviously the Nobel Peace Prize Committee does not share yours.”
Another, Jose Mari Tirol, wrote: “Sir, your post again proves that you are still one of our country’s greatest fiction writers.”Ressa dedicated the award to all journalists.
“This just shows that the Nobel Peace Prize committee realized that a world without facts means a world without truth and trust. And if you don’t have those things you can’t conquer coronavirus, you can conquer climate change,” she said. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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