Palace finally congratulates Ressa but downplays threats to press freedom
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang broke its silence on Monday as it congratulated journalist Maria Ressa for being the first Filipino to win the Nobel Peace Prize for defending freedom of expression, but downplayed threats to press freedom in the Philippines.
“It’s a victory for a Filipina and we’re very happy for that because there’s no crab mentality here in Malacañang,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday, three days after Ressa’s award was announced.
But Roque also brought up Ressa’s conviction for cyberlibel, saying there were individuals who feel that she still has to clear her name before the courts as she is also facing other cases.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee had awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Ressa and Russia’s Dmitry Muratov “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.”
“At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions,” the committee said.
Roque said the Palace does not view the award granted to Ressa, chief executive officer of Rappler—which has been one of the targets of President Duterte’s attacks against critical media—as an indictment of the administration, like what some lawmakers had said.
“It is not a slap on the government. It was made by private individuals in Norway. We respect their decision,” he said.
“There is no slap there because as everyone knows, no one has ever been censored in the Philippines,” he added.
He said Congress could not be blamed for not renewing the franchise of ABS-CBN, one of the top networks in the country before it was shut down last year, because it was part of the legislators’ power.
He insisted that it did not stem from an order from the Executive and that the President has not shut down any media outlet.
“Press freedom is alive, and the proof is even the Nobel Prize award given to Maria Ressa,” he said.
But prior to ABS-CBN’s closure, Mr. Duterte had criticized the network and warned that he would “see to it that you are out.”
Mr. Duterte also said later that he would not allow ABS-CBN to operate even if it gets a new franchise.
Roque said the Palace agreed with novelist F. Sionil Jose who, in a post criticizing Ressa’s award, said the Philippine press was alive and well and not because of Ressa, that there was no censorship in the country, and that the President has not closed a newspaper and radio station.
“Let’s just say Malacañang agrees with our national artist,” he said.
He also downplayed warnings of a chilling effect created by the Duterte administration’s actions against the media.
“A journalist who claims a chilling effect should not be a journalist,” he said.
The Makabayan bloc has filed House Resolution No. 2287, noting that Ressa’s recent victory has earned her accolades from leaders and personalities all over the world.
“Ms. Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize has put the Philippines front and center in the continuous struggle for press freedom at a time when its suppression has become more creative—instead of outright censorship against media outfits critical of the present administration, it has resorted to Red-tagging, harassment, fake news articles, troll attacks, cyberattacks and even weaponizing the law such as the case of Rappler’s initial revocation of its corporate license and ABS-CBN’s franchise denial,” part of the measure said.
It added that even United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres commended Ressa for “speaking truth to power amid rising antimedia rhetoric.” INQ
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