Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration congratulated journalist Maria Ressa on Monday for being one of two winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, which recognizes her fight for freedom of expression under grave risks. .
However, it shrugged off criticism that it was a slap on Duterte’s leadership, although Ressa was critical of the president’s leadership, which critics say leans toward authoritarianism.
Ressa, the 58-year-old co-founder of the rapper news website known for its investigation reports into Duterte’s bloody drug crackdown, has been convicted of cyber defamation and is facing other criminal charges, said presidential spokesman Harry Roque. which the courts will decide independently. Feather. He said that journalists are not being strangled in the country.
It was the first time the Duterte administration has publicly reacted to Ressa’s victory since winning the award on Friday.
“There’s no slap because as everyone knows, no one has ever been censored in the Philippines,” Roque said at a televised news conference in response to a reporter’s question.
Roque sought to support his statement by citing a Filipino National Artist Awardee, Francisco Cionil Jose, who said in a statement that Resa did not deserve the award and that “the Philippine press is alive and not well” and Said that there were no writers in jail and neither did censorship exist in the country.
Duterte has not shut down any newspapers or radio stations, Jose said, although the president influenced Congress, which did not renew the license of major TV network ABS-CBN, which led to its closure last year. Was. Press freedom is not an issue.
Jose acknowledged that journalists have been killed after attacking local politicians and officials under Duterte – as had been the case during his predecessors. However, “those murders cannot be put at Duterte’s doorstep,” said the 96-year-old multi-awarded novelist, whose comments drew intense criticism and ridicule.
Despite this, Roke said that Rashtrapati Bhavan agreed with his views.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee noted that Resa’s Rappler news site, which was founded in 2012, has shed light on Duterte’s “controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign” in the Philippines. Other domestic and international news agencies have also reported closely on the brutal campaign, which began after Duterte took office in 2016 and killed more than 6,000 mostly impoverished suspects.
Western governments and human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concern about the level of brutality and the lack of due process.
The committee cited the work of Ressa and the rapper as saying “how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”
Resa won the prize, along with Russia’s Dmitry Muratov, co-founder of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which the Nobel Committee called “the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a radically critical approach to power”. The committee said six of its journalists have been killed since its inception in 1993.
Resa was convicted of defamation last year and sentenced to up to six years in prison in a decision that the media watchdog called a major blow to press freedom in the Asian bastion of democracy.
A Manila court found Ressa and a former rapper reporter, Reynaldo Santos Jr., guilty of defaming a wealthy businessman who linked murder, drug dealing, human trafficking and smuggling in a story citing an intelligence report. The businessman denied the allegations and complained that the rapper did not publish his side of the story. Lawyers for the news site opposed any malice and said the statute of limitations for filing a libel complaint had been passed.
Resa and Santos appealed the sentence.
“The Philippine government filed 10 arrest warrants against me. In the past year, the government has stopped my travel four times, including when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I had to visit my aging parents,” Resa said. said in a Zoom interview after winning the Nobel Prize on Friday.
Duterte and other Philippine officials have said that the criminal complaints against Resa and the rapper were not an issue of freedom of the press, but a part of normal judicial processes arising out of alleged violations of the law.
Duterte has openly lambasted journalists and news sites that report critically about him, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN, a leading daily that has been banned by the government’s telecommunications regulator for a 25-year license period. was closed after it was finished.
The shutdown was criticized because it cut off a key source of information on the COVID-19 pandemic in the disease’s Southeast Asian hot spot.
The Philippines remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists even after the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, who strangled the media, imprisoned journalists and opponents, and tortured activists.
In 2009, 58 people were killed in the unstable south of the country, in which the electoral rivalry between two powerful local political factions stunned the world. Thirty-two of those killed were local journalists and media persons, who were involved in the world’s worst recorded attack on journalists.