Truth to power

Maria Ressa (Facebook)

Maria Ressa (Facebook)

By Alin Ferrer-Garganera

MANILA: Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 8, 2021. This is quite significant for many Filipinos.

It is the first time the Nobel Peace Prize is directly awarded to a Filipino recipient. And the first who was able to do it was a woman! Finally, she is the only female Nobel laureate for 2021.

That she is a renowned journalist facing libel cases and allegedly being harassed by the government adds more color and intrigue to her situation. But really, if anyone is fascinated or intrigued about a woman journalist winning an award, that speaks a lot of how probably immature that society is.

The reason cited for the award for Maria Ressa and Dmitri Muratov was for their courageous defense of press freedom in their respective countries.

Considering the Philippines is regarded as one of the countries where press freedom is accepted as the most liberal, many eyebrows were raised from the political powers that this award happened. And the irony was not lost on several people critical of Ressa. How can press freedom be in danger in the Philippines, when she can report and write what she wants, and then win a Nobel Prize for it?

The award certainly created a lot of stir in the country. Under normal circumstances, this news would have sent ecstatic waves of national pride and general satisfaction. Given the prestige of the award, accolades from national politicians and popular people would have been overwhelming.

But in fact, the immediate reaction from the Presidential Palace (Malacanang) was a deafening silence for several days after the announcement of the Nobel Prize award, a stark contrast to the reaction of politicians to Hidylin Diaz when she won the first-ever Olympic gold in Tokyo a few months earlier. Everyone wanted to be associated with Diaz then, and everyone was going out of their way to give her money, houses, cars and other lucrative sponsorship contracts.

With Ressa’s Nobel prize, even the Senate of the Philippines couldn’t agree to give her a Medal of Excellence, when it should have been automatic given a national policy that awards such recognition to any and all Filipino who receives a Nobel prize.

The Presidential Message was a short and tersely worded congratulatory note, with an ambivalent note. Nothing you would expect on saying something about a fellow Filipino winning a Nobel prize.

But the fourth estate in the Philippine was proudly intense and vigorously animated for days after Ressa was announced as winner. Obviously because she was one from their ranks, but more importantly, Ressa symbolized the journalist-reporter who was under attack by more powerful forces from politics and society. She was under attack for simply telling truth to power.

However, the jubilation of media practitioners doesn’t seem to be shared by the general public. Yes, it made headline news for a few days, and the talk shows and commentary sections of major broadsheets praised Ressa and highlighted the shrinking space of press freedom and human rights in the Philippines. Its notable however, that the general public seemed to have been just mildly amused, if not vaguely interested with the award.

Still reeling from the latest surge of COVID, rising food prices and a series of destructive storms, the sentiment of the public appears to be genuinely happy that Ressa was recognized, but there are far more urgent matters for the ordinary Filipino. Can he go back to work with lockdown restrictions easing down? When can they get vaccinated? How and where will I get my dinner tonight?

A quick review of opinion columns and editorials in tabloid newspapers about two weeks after the award, you can divide the supporters and critiques of Maria Ressa to those who support and criticize Pres. Duterte and his government.

The equation seems fairly simple: It is either Maria Ressa is a hero because she stood up against the bullying and authoritarian tendencies of Duterte, or Ressa is a paid hack of foreign interests thru Rappler, who have a mission to demonize Duterte and his brand of “change” and strongman leadership.

Personally, I do not think it is really relevant what other people think about Maria Ressa wining the Nobel Prize. According to a prominent Filipino lawyer, this award was what they called in legal circles as res ipsa loquitor (the thing speaks for itself). One can label Maria Ressa what they want, but as a Nobel Prize recipient, she stands way above everyone else. No ifs or buts about it.

So what effect will this award bring to Philippine press and media freedom? I would say a lot. The award has broken down a serious obstacle to writers and reporters who had some level of fear because of the tactics of this government against those oppose it.

The moment Maria herad about winning the Nobel Prize:

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