Duterte touts ‘free’ press, vows ‘honest’ elections at Biden’s democracy summit

Duterte touts ‘free’ press, vows ‘honest’ elections at Biden’s democracy summit


December 11, 2021 | 12:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday praised what he claimed is a “vibrant democracy” in the Philippines while a journalist on the receiving end of attacks under his administration accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway for vital reporting on his administration. 

In an intervention at US President Joe Biden’s virtual Summit for Democracy, Duterte said “[f]reedom of expression and of the press are fully enjoyed, and the regular transfer of power is guaranteed through free and honest elections,” in the Philippines. 

That same day, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa accepted the Nobel Peace Prize together with her co-laureate Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, one of the rare independent newspapers in a Russian media landscape largely under state control. 

Norwegian Nobel Committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen in October said Muratov and Ressa were being honored “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” The committee also noted Rappler’s reporting on what it says is Duterte’s “murderous, controversial” campaign against illegal drugs. 

Ressa was convicted of cyber libel in 2020 in one of the numerous cases that have piled up against her and Rappler since Duterte took power in 2016. She had to secure special permission from the Court of Appeals in order to travel to Norway and accept the Nobel prize. 

“Philippine democracy is indeed work in progress, but the Filipino is free, the Philippines is free,” Duterte said as he addressed the virtual convention. 

The chief executive also claimed respect for the “separation of powers” in a democracy even as his ban on Cabinet members from attending Senate hearings on anomalies in pandemic spending still stands. 

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines earlier this week criticized Biden’s decision to invite Duterte to the summit, calling the event a “showcase for populist autocrats and human rights violators.” 

“Duterte’s reign of terror and mass murder, which have provoked an [International Criminal Court] investigation of crimes against humanity, would seem to disqualify him from providing advice on anything except fascist populism, repression and human rights violations,” ICHRP chairman Peter Murphy said ahead of the summit on Thursday. 

Although he invited the Philippines, a former colony and longtime ally of the US, to the summit, Biden has drawn controversy for excluding China and Russia, which the president describes as the supreme leaders of the autocracies camp, from the same event. 

Duterte says to ensure ‘honest, peaceful’ elections in 2022 

“My administration will ensure an honest, peaceful, credible, and free elections in May,” Duterte vowed during his intervention. 

“It will be my highest honor to turn over the reins of power to my successor, knowing that in the exercise of my mandate, I did my best to serve the Filipino nation.” 

Duterte previously announced plans to seek the vice-presidency but changed course after a poll revealed that the public sentiment was against the move. 

Instead, he will run for senator in 2022. 

His daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, is seeking the vice-presidency. She is the running-mate of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who is the son and namesake of the late dictator. — Bella Perez-Rubio with reports from Agence France-Presse 

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