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Bishops congratulate first Filipino Nobel peace laureate

President Duterte and government under fire for their lukewarm response to Maria Ressa's award

Bishops congratulate first Filipino Nobel peace laureate

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa speaks to the media as she arrives at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters after her arrest in Manila in February 2019. (Photo: AFP)

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has congratulated veteran journalist Maria Ressa on being the first Filipino to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Prize Committee announced on Oct. 8 that Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov would share this year’s prize for their “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

Congratulating 58-year-old Ressa on Oct. 10, the Philippine bishops highlighted the importance of press freedom in the Catholic faith.

“Recent popes have, on occasion, highlighted the important role that the press plays in gauging the health of a healthy democratic society,” CBCP president Archbishop Romullo Valles said in the message.

“For journalists, their work has become more and more difficult because of the level of disinformation and fake news that continue to spread through social communications.

“The vocation and mission, therefore, of members of the press (as envisioned by our popes) is to contribute not only for the search for truth but, more importantly, to help build a culture of dialogue.”

This important recognition — the first for a Filipino — will hopefully strengthen our people’s conviction to build a nation where journalism is free

The prelates praised Ressa for her bravery in responding to modern challenges in journalism, particularly in social media.

“We are grateful that Ms. Ressa, together with many of the distinguished and dedicated members of the fourth estate, have discerned the signs of the times and have valiantly responded and continue to respond to this particular invitation,” said the prelates.

“This important recognition — the first for a Filipino — will hopefully strengthen our people’s conviction to build a nation where journalism is free, at the service of truth, goodness and justice.”

Ressa, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, is facing several criminal charges for investigating the controversial policy and his alleged use of “paid trolls” to smear his critics on social media.

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The CEO of the Rappler news website has referred to the trolls as “weaponization” of the internet.

There are at least seven cases pending against Ressa, Rappler and its management, according to her lawyers.

Meanwhile, the government is facing criticism from the public over its perceived reluctance to congratulate Ressa on her prestigious award.

Ressa received only lukewarm praise from government officials on Oct. 11, three days after the award was announced.

“It is a victory for a Filipina and we are very happy for that,” Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said.

Roque said that winning the prestigious award is one thing but proving her innocence in court is another.

“Of course, it is true there are individuals who feel Maria Ressa still has to clear her name before the courts,” he added.

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