MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David are this year’s recipients of the Ka Pepe Diokno Human Rights Awards.
The De La Salle University and the Jose W. Diokno Foundation conferred the awards on Ressa and David in a ceremony held at the De La Salle University on Tuesday, February 26.
Bishop David, one of the most vocal critics of President Duterte's war on drugs, could not make it to the event after receiving a number of death threats in the past week.
His brother, University of the Philippines sociology professor Randy David, instead read out the message of the bishop, who said he was humbled and grateful for the award, but did not want to “unnecessarily endanger the lives” of those who were to accompany him to the event
Ressa opened her acceptance speech by citing the "shocking" death threats made against Bishop David.
“It is happening to everyone who has raised a voice – everyone who is perceived to be an end, everyone who questions, who demands accountability. And I think what we need to do now is for each of us to look at ourselves, look at our area of influence, and realize that silence is consent. I’m not the first person to say that. Silence is complicity,” said Ressa.
In her acceptance speech, Ressa said her arrest was done to make an example out of her.
“My arrest doesn't hurt me because it only makes me more resolute because I see firsthand how the law is bent to the point that it is broken. But that arrest is meant to be an example to you. It is meant to send a signal, ‘Be silent or you're next,’” said Ressa.
“And I think it is up to us, up to you, to take your power now, because over time, that power will diminish, that power will be harder to execise. That is a fundamental human right,” she added.
The Rappler CEO and executive editor also said press freedom is not just about journalists.
“Freedom of the press is fundamental to every Filipino's right to information, information to hold the powerful to account. That's what it is there for. That is what a healthy, robust democracy is like,” she said.
The awards were named after the late senator Jose “Pepe” Diokno, the father of human rights advocacy in the Philippines. His son Chel Diokno is the founding dean of the DLSU College of Law, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group, and is running for senator.
Vice President Leni Robredo delivered the keynote speech, while former president Benigno Aquino III also gave brief remarks during the ceremony. Also present were De La Salle Philippines president Brother Armin Luistro, DLSU Chancellor Brother Bernie Oca, as well as auxiliary visitor to the La Salle Brothers Brother JJ Jimenez.
Courage despite threats
Screenshot from Rappler
Bishop David’s acceptance speech focused on the threats he has been receiving under the Duterte administration.
Professor David said his younger brother had only informed him around midnight last night that he would not be able to make it to the ceremony due to the death threats.
“Even as I had given my word to the organizers that I was going to come, I hope you will forgive me for not being able to join you today. For over a week now, my phone has been buzzing with text messages written in screaming and intimidating capital letters tellling me that I was next in line for execution,” Professor David quoted Bishop David as saying.
“Well-meaning friends who worry for my personal safety had advised me not to take this threats to my person lightly. So I'm begging off from today's event. What was paramount is that I did not want to unnecessarily endanger the lives of those who would accompany me to this venue,” said Bishop David.
He shared high-ranking officials of the Philippine National Police have been trying to reach him to verify these death threats. The local police in Caloocan had even offered him protection.
But the bishop found this as “ironic,” since no less than the President himself – the police’s highest superior – had delivered a grave threat against Bishop David’s life. (READ: 'Kill bishops, all they do is criticize,' says Duterte)
"While thanking him for his concern, I told the local police chief, ‘I hope you understand my cautiousness. Now that you are offering help to my security as ordered by your superiors, it was your highest superior who wanted to pin it down as being [about ] drugs, all because as shepherd of my flock, I had publicly questioned the drug related killings, the illegal arrests, the human rights violations that have been happening in our slum communities for the past 3 years now,’” said Bishop David.
Bishop David, an internationally-educated Bible scholar who hails from Pampanga, has drawn the ire of Duterte for fiercely opposing his bloody drug war. (READ: Caloocan Bishop Pablo David: Shepherd of his slaughtered sheep)
Bishop David is the vice president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. – Rappler.com