MANILA - Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa on Tuesday said if given the chance, he would vote twice against granting the Senate Medal of Excellence to Maria Ressa, for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said Ressa, the first Filipino individual to receive the prestigious award, automatically qualifies to receive the medal due to a provision under a Senate resolution.
Established last August, the Senate Medal of Excellence is given to Filipinos "for setting the highest standards of excellence, nationalism, and virtue that their fellow countrymen can aspire for."
"Yes, kung pwedeng dalawa ang boto ko, dalawang kamay ang boto ko na huwag mong bigyan yan," Dela Rosa told ANC's Headstart.
(Yes, if I can have two votes, if I can vote with both my hands to not give it to her.)
Dela Rosa, who was fielded by his political party to the presidential race, said there is no suppression of press freedom in the country.
"Bakit ko ipo-proclaim yung ginawa ni Maria Ressa? For what? Nanalo siya ng Nobel Peace Prize dahil sa kaniyang laban for freedom of expression, for freedom of the press. Bakit, meron bang ongoing suppression of press freedom here in the Philippines?" he said.
(Why would I proclaim what Maria Ressa has done? For what? She won the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for the freedom of expression, for freedom of the press. Why, is there an ongoing suppression of press freedom here in the Philippines?)
"Sabihan ko si Maria Ressa, give me one single media practitioner na ikinulong ng gobyernong ito dahil sa kaniyang criticism against the government," he added.
(I will tell Maria Ressa, give me one single media practitioner who was jailed by the government because of her criticism against the government.)
Ressa and news outfit Rappler, which she heads, faces charges of tax fraud, violation of the Securities Regulation Code and the Anti-Dummy Law, among others. Last year, she and a researcher were found guilty of cyberlibel over an article tagging a businessman to alleged illegal activities.
Also last year, media conglomerate ABS-CBN was denied its broadcast franchise. For Dela Rosa, this was also not an indicator of suppression of press freedom.
"Wow, paano mo masabing chilling effect? Bakit, sinara ba pati GMA, sinara ba pati TV5? Hindi naman. Kayo lang naman, ABS-CBN lang naman ang hindi binigyan ng prangkisa ng Congress because of some issues," he said.
(How can that be called a chilling effect? Why, was GMA also closed, was TV5 also closed? No. It was only ABS-CBN that was not given a franchise by the Congress because of some issues.)
"Ang purpose naman dun is hindi para i-suppress ang press freedom. Alam ko ang ginawa ng Congress. Hindi nila yun ginawa para i-suppress ang press freedom, kundi para i-address ninyo yung mga issues na binato sa inyo. Ngayon, hindi sila satisfied sa pagsagot ng mga issues ng ABS-CBN, then hindi nila in-approve yung prangkisa ninyo. So is there suppression of press freedom?"
(The purpose was not to suppress press freedom. I know what Congress did. It was not to suppress press freedom, but for you to address the issues thrown at you. Now, they weren't satisfied with the answers to these issues against ABS-CBN, then they did not approve your franchise. So is there suppression of press freedom?)
During the hearings at the House of Representatives for the franchise renewal, ABS-CBN executives faced lawmakers to answer questions that pertained to its ownership and tax liabilities, among others. There were also queries about supposed fairness of its news coverage.
Dela Rosa, a staunch ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, said the chief executive may have personal stance on the matter, but it was Congress that ultimately decided on the fate of ABS-CBN.
"Personal niya yun, but hindi naman siya—bakit, si Pangulo ba ang nag-grant ng prangkisa? It’s Congress. At ang Congress ay maraming nagde-deliberate diyan at binobotohan yan. And the people who voted for the closure of ABS-CBN are voted by the people, they represent the people. So kagustuhan ng taongbayan yun," he said.
(That's personal to him, but he did not—why, was it the President who granted the franchise? It's Congress. And in Congress, many people deliberated on it, voted on it. And the people who voted for the closure of ABS-CBN are voted by the people, they represent the people. So that was the will of the people.)
Duterte had accused ABS-CBN of "swindling" after the network did not air a campaign advertisement that he had paid for during the 2016 elections. ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak apologized to Duterte, which the latter accepted.
In 2019, Duterte said he "will see to it that you are out," pertaining to the media company's franchise renewal application. He later said it was better for the owners of ABS-CBN to just sell the network.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.