Senate to decide next month whether to honor Nobel laureate Ressa with medal

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Senate to decide next month whether to honor Nobel laureate Ressa with medal
This file photo taken on March 29, 2019 shows Philippine journalist Maria Ressa waving to photographers after posting bail outside a court building in Manila. The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on October 8, 2021 to journalists Maria Ressa (Philippines) and Dmitry Muratov (Russia).
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate will decide in November whether to confer the chamber's highest recognition — established to award Filipino recipients of five prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize — to journalist Maria Ressa, the country's first Nobel Peace Prize winner. 

The Philippine Senate Medal of Excellence was established by lawmakers in September for "deserving Filipinos for setting the highest standards of excellence, nationalism, and virtue that their fellow countrymen can aspire for."

The resolution that created the award outlines that it be bestowed on "Filipinos who are awarded the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, the A.M. Turing Award, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, or an Olympic medal." So far, Olympic medalists who represented the country in Tokyo this year have received the medal.

The Palace has congratulated Ressa but has also implied that the award is undeserved. In a press briefing on Monday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the prize is proof that press freedom is alive in the Philippines. 

An official Senate press release notes that Filipinos who garner any of these international awards are "automatically qualified to receive the Senate Medal of Excellence."

For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, because Ressa is automatically qualified by virtue of her Nobel prize, there should be no more deliberation when Senate resumes session in November. Instead, he said in a statement, awarding her with the medal should be immediately put to a vote on the floor. 

"It is only fitting that the Senate bestows and confers the Senate Medal of Excellence to Maria Ressa for giving the country its first Nobel Prize since the award's establishment in 1895," he said.

"Maria Ressa's victory will inspire today's journalists and the future generation of the press to be fearless in defending our freedom of expression and the freedom of the press and in holding those in power to account."

But Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who said he personally believes any Filipino Nobel laureate should receive the medal, noted that a provision inserted by Drilon into the resolution requires unanimous Senate for the medal to be awarded.

He recalled in a statement that Drilon at the time "had concerns that the award may just be given to anyone not deserving of the Senate’s standards of achievement and may cheapen the distinction of the award."

Unanimous Senate approval to recognize Ressa unlikely 

The need for unanimous approval, however, could hamper the awarding of the medal to Ressa as Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa told reporters earlier Monday that he believed that the body was wrong in giving her the award. 

Nobel prize committee, in its announcement of the award last Friday, noted that Rappler had "focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign." Dela Rosa, as chief of the national police, led that campaign in the early years of the Duterte administration.

"I don't agree," Dela Rosa, who was recently announced as the administration's 2022 standard-bearer, said in Filipino at a press briefing. "Because have press freedom here." 

Last year, the senator told thousands of ABS-CBN workers who were retrenched after administration allies in the lower house shuttered the network to just "find other jobs."

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima in a statement Saturday that it was "a big slap in [President Rodrigo] Duterte's face for the world to recognize the heroism of those he oppressed." 

"More than a well-deserved personal victory, this historic award is a resounding affirmation to all seekers of truth that telling the true story of Filipinos and the real state of governance and democracy is worth fighting for," she added. 

"Maria Ressa, by her defense of the truth in journalism, has avenged the persecution and bullying of journalists, from individual beat reporters all the way to the large collective of ABS-CBN employees who were driven out of their jobs and livelihoods out of petty reprisal by those who are offended by the truth, and the minions who lick their shoes."

Zubiri: Rules can be amended to automatically award Nobel laureates, others  

According to Zubiri, rules can be amended "to clarify that for certain awards such as the Noble Peace Prize, Turing Awards, Magsaysay Awards, and Olympic Medalists, the Senate Medal of Excellence can be given automatically."

A majority vote, rather than a unanimous one, is needed to make such an amendment, he said. 

"And to be sure, this will be taken up immediately when we resume session in November," Zubiri assured.

"Until then, I join the whole country, not just as a legislator but as an ordinary Filipino, in celebrating Maria Ressa’s historic achievement."

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