Philippines | Official says journalist’s Nobel Prize not a slap on Duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration belatedly congratulated journalist Maria Ressa yesterday for being one of two winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her fight for freedom of expression under grave risks.
However, it rejected criticism that it was a slap on Duterte’s administration despite Ressa being a critic of the president, who opponents say veers toward authoritarianism.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Ressa, the 58-year-old co-founder of the Rappler news website known for its probing reportage into Duterte’s bloody anti-drug crackdown, has been convicted of cyber libel and faces other criminal charges which courts would independently decide on. Journalists were not being muzzled in the country, he said.
It was the first time the Duterte administration has publicly reacted since Ressa won the award over the weekend.
“There is no slap there because as everyone knows, no one has ever been censored in the Philippines,” Roque said in reply to a question at a news conference.
Roque sought to back up his statement by citing a Filipino National Artist awardee, Francisco Sionil Jose, who said in a statement that Ressa did not deserve the award and that “the Philippine press is alive and well” not because of her, and added that there were no writers in jail nor did censorship exist in the country.
Duterte has not shut down any newspaper or radio station, Jose said. Even though the president exerted influence on Congress, which did not renew the license of leading TV network ABS-CBN, leading to its closure last year, that was not a press freedom issue, he said.
Jose conceded that journalists have been killed after attacking local politicians and officials under Duterte — similar to what had happened under his predecessors. However, “those killings cannot be laid at Duterte’s door,” said the 96-year-old multi-awarded novelist, whose comments drew intense criticism and ridicule.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee noted that Ressa’s Rappler news site, which was set up in 2012, has put a spotlight on Duterte’s “controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign” in the Philippines. Other domestic and international news agencies have also closely reported on the brutal campaign, which Duterte launched when he took office in 2016, and which has left more than 6,000 mostly poor suspects dead.
Western governments and human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concerns about the level of brutality and lack of due process.
Duterte has openly lambasted journalists and news sites who report critically about him, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a leading daily, and ABS-CBN, which was shut down by the government’s telecommunications regulator after its 25-year license expired.
The shutdown has been criticized as it cut off a major source of information on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Philippines has remained one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists even after the 1986 downfall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who had muzzled the media, imprisoned journalists and opponents and tortured activists.
In 2009, 58 people were gunned down in the country’s volatile south in a brazen assault sparked by an electoral rivalry between two powerful political clans that horrified the world. Thirty-two of those gunned down were local reporters and media workers in the world’s single worst recorded attack on journalists. MDT/AP

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