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Fearless Filipino

/ 05:01 AM October 30, 2021

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded this year to two journalists, Maria Ressa and the Russian Dmitry Muratov of the Novaya Gazeta, both leading embattled outfits at the cost of great personal sacrifice, gives testimony to the heroism of principled media practitioners around the globe who deliver fact-based news in the front lines of fire.

The Nobel committee explained the principal reason for its choice: “…for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” The pair, according to the Harvard Gazette, “represented journalists around the world engaged in the fight to speak freely despite increasingly adverse conditions.”

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This year’s Peace Prize is also a testament to brave women not only in the Philippines who are changing the conversation, confronting the dumbing down of politics and pushing back against the naysayers and the haters and those who employ social media to distort the truth and undermine the trust of citizens—women who combine courage with conviction and competence during these trying times.

In mid-June 2016, soon after he assumed power, President Duterte remarked that murdered journalists “deserved what they got” and had it coming for them because “they were corrupt.” His off-the-cuff remarks, and there have been countless similar ones since then, seemed to be an invitation to take hostile acts against media persons who stood out in the practice of their craft—in a country that was exceedingly dangerous for journalists who took their profession seriously. I recall writing a piece, “They shoot journalists, don’t they?” by way of a citizen’s response.

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The number of media practitioners who have since lost their lives are now in the double digits: 19 to be precise, without counting the human rights defenders, lawyers, and judges who took a stand for truth and were felled by bullets in broad daylight.

I first met Maria Ressa when she was a young reporter for CNN in the Philippines. The interview took place in a most inauspicious time and place; the country then was facing a hostile takeover attempt by disgruntled military officers who wanted to forcibly remove President Cory Aquino from power in 1989. Citizens had formed a movement against the coup d’état which we called “KILOS”—an acronym that meant “act”—and the young Ressa wanted to know if this was perhaps among the first such coups in the world that, as had been observed of coup d’états in the Philippines, “are publicly announced and publicly postponed.” With her rapid-fire questions and an incisive mind, she proved to be a formidable interviewer even in the midst of fire, with armed combatants on opposite sides and planes roaring overhead.

In 2012, the Princeton graduate Ressa founded Rappler, which has now become one of the country’s staunchest defenders of “democratic space,” allowing the delivery of vital information to its readers, fact-checking the pronouncements of the country’s leaders, and giving space to citizens who wish to air their grievances or share their thoughts on vital and relevant issues of the day.

In a country with a history of fearless journalism that dates back to the Marcos martial law period—beginning in the early ’70s when media people worked in outlets that were then labeled the “mosquito press” and which operated on shoestring budgets under constant threat—Rappler has touched a vital nerve in the country’s capacity for defiance and in media’s ability to reimagine ways of maintaining its relevance.

Through their selection of Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, what Oslo’s Nobel Peace Prize Committee has honored with this year’s award are journalists in different parts of the world who are standing fast against constant threats and writing their stories as they see fit without fear or favor.

Indeed, “the line of fire is the place of honor!”

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Ed Garcia is a framer of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, a former researcher at the international secretariat of Amnesty International, and a peace envoy at International Alert.

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TAGS: democracy, Dmitry Muratov, free press, Journalism, Maria Ressa, Media, Nobel Peace Prize, Rappler
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