F. Sionil Jose decries Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize, and several press freedom advocates are not happy
F. Sionil Jose lit up social media after he stated that Filipina journalist Maria Ressa “does not deserve the Nobel” Peace Prize award, with writers and journalists repudiating his sentiments and one even calling the National Artist as "pathetic."
Jose published his sentiments in a Facebook post on Oct. 9, or just a day after news broke out that Ressa became the first Filipino to receive the distinction.
The Nobel Committee awarded the prize to Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov "for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace."
But Jose said 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 closure of ABS-CBN was made by Congress which did not renew the ABS-CBN franchise,” he said.
ABS-CBN's franchise was indeed junked by Congress in July 2020, but it was done so by a Congress dominated by Duterte's allies. Duterte has also mentioned before in a number of instances that he will block the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, a network he has accused of not airing his political ads during the 2016 elections. ABS-CBN has denied Duterte's charges. Government regulators have also cleared the network of any pending tax liabilities and other charges during its legislative franchise hearings.
Jose went on to say that he hasn’t “read anything memorable by (Ressa).”
Jose has a column for The Philippine STAR, where he has written before about his dream to receive the Nobel prize someday, and his support for the Duterte administration. (Editor's note: The Philippine STAR has always maintained that the views and opinions of its columnists are independent of the paper's.)
Following Jose’s post, writers, journalists, and professors called him out on social media.
The Philippine Center of International Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists (PEN) clarified on Oct. 10 clarified that it doesn’t share Jose’s “personal opinion.” The organization was founded by Jose in 1957.
“The Board of Directors of the Philippine PEN wishes to clarify that the statement of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for journalism F. Sionil Jose is a personal opinion and should be respected as such. PEN members are entitled to their own opinion, and they include no less than the Philippine PEN founder,” it said in a statement on Facebook.
UP Constitutional Law Professor John Molo posted a statement on Twitter, stating that “glossing over” Ressa’s arrest and accusations is an act of “revisionism.”
Sir,— John Molo (@iamJohnMolo) October 10, 2021
You are a legend in literature but, facts are immutable. We can have different opinions about @mariaressa but, to gloss over what she, Rappler & ABSCBN faced is revisionism.Respectfully, we shouldn't trivialize the suffering of others as we sit on our comfortable pedestals. pic.twitter.com/SY4DjwxxPX
Felipe Salvosa, who is the journalism program coordinator at the University of Santo Tomas, described Jose as "pathetic.
"For F. Sionil Jose to diss Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize while mentioning his own failed bid to become a laureate for literature is pathetic enough," Salvosa wrote on Facebook. "But he goes beyond that to deny the damage Duterte has done to our institutions and freedoms."
“I have kept my views on Sionil Jose’s intellectual degeneration to myself and within intimate Viber groups, out of respect (and who was I, really, to pass judgment on a titan?). At the Varsitarian, where I became editor in chief, I felt unworthy occupying the post he once held. Sadly I can no longer hold him up to students as a role model,” he added.
Human rights activist and entrepreneur Francis Baraan IV posted a screenshot of his response to Jose on Twitter. “I would expect nothing less from someone, who vehemently and shamelessly supports a divisive WARLORD.”
My reply to F. Sionil Jose to his Facebook Post about Maria Ressa not deserving the Nobel Peace Prize, because her winning was just influenced by Western media hype. pic.twitter.com/ODdOvZ3Iyl— Francis Baraan IV (@MrFrankBaraan) October 9, 2021
Journalist Howie Severino also responded in the comment sections of Jose’s Facebook post, stating that Ressa is a “better writer” over him.
Journalist Alma Anonas-Carpio also replied to Jose’s Facebook post, stating that she feels “saddened that you make yourself look so bad with your own incautious speech.”
Following the backlash, Jose maintained in a follow-up post on Facebook that his “opinion is based on verifiable facts” and the “truth.” “If you are intelligent, question the facts, do not kill the messenger that brought them. Then ask yourself: What heroic sacrifice has Maria Ressa done for freedom and the Philippines. And who is funding her,” he said.
Jose said that while he “forgives” critics, he also challenged them to “look deeply into yourselves.” He also claimed that he doesn’t “even know” Duterte and has also “criticized him.”
Jose is known as one of the widely read Filipino writers in the English language. His novels and short stories have been translated into 28 languages such as Filipino, Korean, and Indonesian, among others. He was awarded the National Artist Award for Literature in 2001.