After ignoring repeated requests for comment, President Duterte’s spokesman finally offered congratulation for Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa for winning the prestigious 2021 Nobel Peace Prize but only after US President Joe Biden, his predecessor Barack Obama and other world leaders including UN Secretary-gen. Antonio Guterres hailed the first Filipino ever to win the award. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque congratulated journalist Maria Ressa for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, calling it “a victory for a Filipina.” However, he took care to mention that Malacañang is one with National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose in saying in his newspaper column that press freedom in the Philippines under the Duterte administration is alive and well and that the Nobel Peace Prize win of the embattled Ressa was not a slap on the Palace’s face.

Ressa, founder of online news site Rappler, and Dmitry Muratov shared the 2021 prize after braving the wrath of the leaders of the Philippines and Russia to expose corruption and misrule.

Ressa has been fighting multiple legal challenges in courts related to Rappler’s dogged investigative reporting of Duterte’s government, its bloody war on drugs, and its use of social media to target critics and political opponents.

“It is a victory for a Filipina and we are very happy for that,” Roque told a regular news conference on October 11, 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.

Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra welcomed Ressa’s win but said libel proceedings against her would continue. 

“As an ordinary Filipino, I am happy that a fellow Filipino has been included in this year’s roster of Nobel Peace laureates,” Guevarra said in a statement.

He said freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed in the Philippines but there are legal limits, including libel and defamation.

“Prosecutorial discretion will always be guided by these legal principles and the facts obtaining in any given case, regardless of the persons involved,” Guevarra said.

The Nobel Peace Prize for Ressa was hailed by many at home as a rebuke on official attacks on the media. In Biden’s congratulatory message, he said Ressa and Muratov “have pursued the facts – tirelessly and fearlessly.”

“Ressa, Muratov, and journalists like them all around the world are on the front lines of a global battle for the very idea of the truth, and I, along with people everywhere, am grateful for their groundbreaking work to ‘hold the line,’ as Ressa so often says,” Biden said in a statement. 

Biden also applauded the Nobel Committee for honoring Ressa and Muratov’s work in bringing greater attention to the increasing pressure on journalists and freedom of expression around the world.

UN ‘s Antonio Guterres emphasized that a free press was essential for “peace, justice, sustainable development, and human rights.”

Duterte has described Rappler news site that Ressa co-founded as a “fake news outlet” and a tool of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Launched in 2012, Rappler has challenged Duterte’s policies and the accuracy of his statements. Its investigations have included a spate of killings by police during a war on drugs Duterte launched when he took office in 2016.

Human rights groups say authorities summarily executed thousands of drugs suspects. The police deny this, alleging those killed violently resisted arrest in sting operations.

In 2018, Duterte banned coverage of his official events, prompting the news site to cover event speeches and activities via live television and social media.

Several well-wishers said the Nobel highlights the importance of the media, truth and democracy ahead of Duterte ending his six-year term in June.

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