Philippines: Duterte’s office ‘happy’ about Ressa’s Nobel Prize

Maria Ressa, a tireless advocate for free press in the Philippines and the co-founder of the Rappler news site, won the Nobel Prize on October 8.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s office announced on Monday it was “very happy” that Maria Ressa had won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

“It’s a victory for a Filipina and we’re very happy for that,” Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesperson, said during a press briefing with reporters.

Maria Ressa, a tireless advocate for free press in the Philippines and the co-founder of the Rappler news site, won the Nobel Prize on October 8. The site is known for its reporting against Duterte’s hard-line policies.

She won it jointly with Dmitry Muratov of Russia, who founded and led Russian independent newspaper, Novaja Gazeta.

Both winners have a track record of defending freedom of speech under challenging conditions.

Spokesperson says ‘press freedom is alive’

Delivering the presidential palaces’ first comments on Ressa’s victory on Monday, Roque said the award proved that press freedom was intact in the country.

“Press freedom is alive and the proof is the Nobel Prize award to Maria Ressa,” Roque said.

Roque denied the government had created a “chilling effect” for news outlets, saying anyone who claimed that “should not be a journalist.”

He also rejected claims that the prize was a slap in the face for the government. The Duterte government has taken several steps to shut down Rappler by charging Ressa and the outlet with multiple counts of tax evasion and cybercrimes.

Duterte has called Rappler a “fake news” outlet.

Roque, during the briefing, said “no one has ever been censored in the Philippines.”

Roque also told reporters that Ressa was a “convicted felon” and had to clear her name before the courts.

“We leave it our courts to decide on her fate,” he added.

Ressa’s legal woes

Ressa was convicted of libel online in 2020 under the Philippines’ anti-cybercrime law, which critics say is used as a means to quash dissent.

In response, Ressa has accused the government of weaponising social media and the country’s law to target media organisations.

In an interview to AFP news agency on October 9, Ressa said she was battling seven court cases, including an appeal against the cyber libel conviction, for which she faces up to six years in prison.

Rappler is known for its hard-hitting investigative reporting of Duterte’s government, including the government’s brutality in cracking down on illegal drugs.

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