Maria Ressa: First Filipina Nobel Prize Winner

FEU Advocate
October 14, 2021 10:52

by Antonio Luis A. Carreon and Jemina Eunice G. De Leon

Rappler co-founder and CEO Maria Ressa was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, making her the first Filipino ever to win the prize.

This comes on the back of her work in “safeguarding freedom of expression” in a country where press freedom is not in its best state and where her news outlet, Rappler, has come under fire for simply doing their job as journalists. 

With Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, the two were hailed as 2021 Peace laureates for “utilizing their platform to fight for the protection of freedom of expression and their contribution to democracy.”

Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence, and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines,” said the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in an interview with freelance journalist Stig Arild Pettersen that the award was given to journalists for utilizing their platform to fight for the protection of freedom of expression and their contribution to democracy. 

“Without the media, you cannot have a strong democracy, and democracy is the best protection against war and conflict,” Reiss-Andersen said in acknowledgment of the media's crucial role in society.

A seasoned journalist, Ressa’s job is to cover critical news as it happens, which in the Philippines has proven to be difficult to do in recent years.

Rappler, the digital news outlet she co-founded from the ground up with two other journalists, is constantly challenged by the country’s current volatile political landscape. Ten warrants of arrest have been filed against Ressa alone— not including the warrants received by her journalists and the series of threats that Rappler itself has continually faced. Moreover, it is also the constant scrutiny and undermining that the news outlet has been fighting back over the years.

Ressa has posted bail eight times and was arrested twice for mixed cases of cyber libel, tax evasion, and transgression of the anti-dummy law, and Securities Regulation Code of the Philippines.   

“There will always be repercussions if you do a story someone doesn’t like,” the veteran journalist said. 

Amid the government’s actions to silence the media, she remains assertive that Rappler will keep on writing cutting-edge stories.

Ressa’s perilous fight for journalistic integrity

Ressa has been on the news frontline for every administration since 1986. In her 35-year career as a journalist, Ressa shared how stunned and emotional she felt after hearing the news.

In a conversation with Rappler, she cited two global events that she thinks won her the award: when she had her hands on intelligence documents on the recruited pilot who crashed planes into buildings during the tragic Al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks and their relentless reportage of the Duterte administration’s war against illegal drugs. 

Over the last few years, Ressa has been the subject of criminal charges and threats for Rappler’s critical reporting of the Duterte administration, notably its controversial ‘war on drugs’ campaign.

The news company has been tenacious in exposing the anti-drug operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the true numbers behind the campaign’s extrajudicial killings.

Ressa was also a staunch critic of the administration’s disinformation efforts against the media industry and its movements to silence those critical of its policies. 

If we “live in a world without facts, we live in a world without truth and trust,” Ressa said in a recent conversation with Rappler about the Nobel Peace Prize. 

With the Philippines placed 138th out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index of 2021, the country’s media industry is further coasting away from enjoying press freedom because of persistent harassment and intimidation.

Having two journalists become this year’s Nobel peace laureates speak volumes on the adversity of the journalist profession in its pursuit of the truth. 

Recognition for the Filipino peace laureate

Public officials poured in support for the veteran journalist for international recognition, among them were Vice President Leni Robredo, Senators Risa Hontiveros, Grace Poe, Richard Gordon, Kiko Pangilinan, and Leila De Lima. 

“Congratulations to @mariaressa for being awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize! This is a recognition and affirmation of your tireless efforts to hold the line for truth and accountability,” Vice President Robredo said in a tweet.

Senator Hontiveros lauded Ressa’s courage to hold those in power accountable and pursue the truth despite threats and intimidation against her. 

United States President Joe Biden also extended his praise for the award and work of the two journalists to “check the abuse of power, expose corruption, and demand transparency,” in their countries.

In addition, Former US President Barack Obama described the two journalists’ Nobel peace as “a tribute to their extraordinary courage and the enduring value of fact-based journalism and freedom of expression.”

Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize is a special feat since it was the first for a Filipino to win the award and the first for journalists in 86 years. 

Holding the Line 

Ressa carries on with her duty as a journalist. “We just keep doing what we do,” she answered on being asked what happens after becoming a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The journalist promises to continue the battle for press freedom and acknowledges that her recent feat is “for all journalists around the world.”

While her main goal is to keep the gears of independent journalism alive and running, Ressa firmly believes in ‘holding the line’ when it’s about seeking the truth. This has been their battle cry as journalists who have dangerously fought to deliver the unvarnished truth. 

(Illustration by Maria Margarita Corazon P. Rivera/ FEU Advocate)