MANILA (UPDATE)—Rappler founder Maria Ressa on Tuesday said government should take responsibility for the cyberlibel complaint she faces, a day after the administration congratulated her for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
“I suppose thank you and then what I didn’t appreciate is almost hand in hand it came with a hit,” Ressa said of the Malacañang statement congratulating her for her award.
“Hand in hand with that [praise] was this reminder, which is a lie... that the cyberlibel complaint is filed by an individual and what the government repeatedly refuses to say is that it takes a government to actually file a criminal case.
“So this is the government’s case, it’s the Department of Justice’s, it is their decision. So they should really own it. So thanks, but not thanks.”
Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov won the 2021 Nobel prize for braving the wrath of their respective governments to expose corruption and misrule
Ressa has been fighting multiple legal challenges in courts related to Rappler’s dogged investigative reporting of President Rodrigo Duterte's government, its bloody war on drugs, and its use of social media to target opponents.
“It is a victory for a Filipina and we are very happy for that,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told a regular news conference, responding to a question on what the award meant for the government.
“Of course it is true there are individuals who feel Maria Ressa still has to clear her name before the courts,” he said, in the first comment on Friday's award from Duterte's camp.
The firebrand leader has described Rappler, launched in 2012, as a “fake news outlet” and a tool of the US Central Intelligence Agency, which Ressa has dismissed as nonsense.
In the interview, Ressa also refuted Malacañang's claim there was no censorship of media in the country.
"Hindi mo na kailangan sabihin. Tingnan mo nalang ang mga nangyayari (You don't have to say it. You just look around)," she said.
"Nasa'n kaya ang franchise ng (Where is the franchise of) ABS-CBN? The last time that happened the ABS-CBN lost its franchise was when a dictator declared a martial law and shut down the network."
It has been more than a year since 70 members of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Legislative Franchises, a panel dominated by administration allies, voted to reject ABS-CBN’s bid for a new franchise.
The network was first shut down in 1972 when dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial rule. Nearly 5 decades later, it was forced off the air under the Duterte administration.
In the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, the Philippines slipped further, placing 138th out of 180 countries due to the rise of red-tagging and government attacks against local media.
As the 2022 elections near, which Ressa said is going to be "a battle of lies," she said this is the best time to be a journalist.
"What a journalist does is to speak, to ask questions, to analyze, to demand answers. It's not for yourself, it’s really for the people so that we hold governments and the private sector accountable. Nasa Konstitusyon po 'yan natin (It's in our Constitution), and the power of journalist is the power of the people," she said.
— With a Reuters report