For Roque, F. Sionil Jose's view on press freedom in PH is better than NUJP's

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque simply blew off on Tuesday, Oct. 12 the statement of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) that sought to "inform" the Palace official that there is indeed press censorship in the Philippines under the Duterte administration.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque speaks during the "Talk to the People" public briefing on Oct. 11, 2021 (Screenshot from Facebook live)

"The Philippines is a democratic society and every view, regardless of affiliation, must be accorded with respect," Roque said in a statement sent to Malacañang reporters.

"Having said this, we regard F. Sionil Jose's opinion as the better view of the state of the press freedom in the country," he said, comparing the National Artist's hot take to that of the NUJP's assessment.

Perhaps more than anything, the NUJP statement served as a scathing rebuke of Roque for his handling of administration critic, Maria Ressa's recent achievement as the first Filipino to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ressa, chief executive officer (CEO) of Rappler, won the coveted award Friday, Oct. 8 along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov. Malacañang, through Roque, only acknowledged the award on Oct. 11. Even United States (US) President Joe Biden beat the Palace in congratulating Ressa.

"The undersigned congratulated Maria Ressa for winning the Nobel Prize Award during my Oct. 11 press briefing and later shared the statement of National Artist of the Philippines for Literature F. Sionil Jose regarding the former's Award," said Roque, a frustrated senatorial candidate in the May 2022 polls.

Ressa's Nobel Peace Prize brought to focus the issue of censorship of the press in the current administration, where television and radio giant ABS-CBN wasn't granted a franchise renewal and the laureate herself was convicted of cyberlibel.

"You are denying censorship of the Philippine press, which the rest of the world has recognized by standing with Filipino journalists to whom the Nobel Peace Prize belongs. As someone who once stood before the Supreme Court bench and defended the freedom of the press against the Cybercrime Prevention Act, you should know that censorship comes in many forms," the NUJP said in its statement.

"Perhaps, Attorney Roque, you should ask yourself too, if any of your heart-thumping defense of the press once upon a time still mean something to you, anything so that you will never forget," it added.

The NUJP further said of Roque: "As the Palace gave journalists unsolicited advice, we have some for you as well: A supposed human rights lawyer who blames the media for calling attention to threats and restrictions against them isn't actually a human rights lawyer."

This was the union's comeback to the spokesperson's reply to a Malacañang reporter who asked during the Oct. 11 presser what he thought of the "chilling effect" that had been created by the Duterte administration on local journalists.

Roque's answer was, "A journalist who claims a chilling effect should not be a journalist."

"That the media continues to report does not mean that the actions of the government have not created a chilling effect," the NUJP said.

Jose, a novelist and journalist, had insisted in a Facebook post that press freedom is alive in the Philippines, but clarified it wasn't due to Ressa.

“I have criticized Duterte but not on press freedom. The Philippine press is alive and well not because of Maria Ressa. No writer is in jail. There is no censorship. Duterte hasn’t closed a single newspaper or radio station.

"The real test for journalists was made during the Marcos dictatorship when he imposed censorship, closed all media, and jailed journalists,” he wrote.

"Attorney Harry Roque, the Philippine press has been under siege under your principal (President Duterte) for the last five years, and if you refuse to listen to the journalists who you used to represent, just ask your former colleagues in the human rights community," the NUJP said.