Writers group distances self from founder F. Sionil Jose's tirade vs Maria Ressa

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 10 2021 08:58 PM

MANILA - The Philippine Center of International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) on Sunday clarified that it does not share the opinion of its founder, National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, about Maria Ressa's Nobel Peace Prize.

"The Board of Directors of the Philippine PEN wishes to clarify that the statement of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for journalism F. Sionil Jose is a personal opinion and should be respected as such. PEN members are entitled to their own opinion, and they include no less than the Philippine PEN founder," it said in a statement posted on Facebook.

The group went on to explain that it has decried the cyberlibel conviction of Ressa in 2020.

"PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible," it added.

The group released its statement a day after Jose, in a lengthy Facebook post, said Ressa does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

"Maria Ressa does not deserve the Nobel," said Jose.

He said this after mentioning that he himself "was in the listing of possible Nobel literary prize winners as published in international media."

The writer also denied that the Duterte administration threatened press freedom, saying "Philippine press is alive and well."

PEN meanwhile said "one cannot deny that press freedom and human rights have been under attack in the Philippines under the government of Rodrigo Duterte." 

"ABS-CBN has been denied a renewal of its broadcast franchise and forced to close down as a network by the House of Representatives whose leadership is controlled Mr. Duterte and his political coalition. As of 2020, 19 journalists have been killed under his watch, mostly by suspected state agents, according to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility," the group said. 

This was in contrast to Jose's claim that ABS-CBN was closed due to "money, politics, power and its abuse by the Lopezes who own the TV network."

Jose also played down the killings of journalists under Duterte saying "those killings cannot be laid at Duterte’s door."

Aside from being a National Artist, Jose also received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts.

Ressa, co-founder of news website Rappler, and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the prize on Friday for their efforts to "safeguard freedom of expression".

"This is really for all journalists around the world," Ressa, a vocal critic of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, told AFP in an interview.

Philippine press groups and rights activists hailed Ressa's award as a "triumph" in a country ranked as one of the world's most dangerous for journalists. 

Since Duterte was swept to power in 2016, Ressa and Rappler have endured what media advocates say is a grinding series of criminal charges, investigations and online attacks.

Duterte has called Rappler a "fake news outlet", and Ressa has been the target of abusive messages online.

Ressa, 58, said she hoped the prize would provide a protective shield for her and other journalists in the Philippines against physical attacks and online threats.