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TOWNS back Maria Ressa, Patricia Licuanan: ‘We will not be intimidated’

MANILA, Philippines – Awardees of the Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) condemned the “assaults” of the government against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, resigned Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Patricia Licuanan, and other women standing up to President Rodrigo Duterte.  

“We take note of the frequency of acts of harassment and intimidation against citizens – women leaders in particular – who are doing their jobs with competence, dignity, and integrity. We stand with them in the defense of our rights and freedoms,” said the TOWNS awardees in a statement released on Saturday, January 20. 

“We will not be intimidated. We invite other women – and men – of conviction to stand with us in condemning these assaults on our democracy,” they added.

They condemned the “unceremonious dismissal” of Licuanan, who resigned last week after Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told her to do so. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Former CHED chair Patricia Licuanan on her resignation)

Duterte wanted Licuanan to resign as early as August 2016 along with other appointees of former president Benigno Aquino III. But she stayed on as her second term in CHED ends in July 2018.

Weeks before her resignation, Licuanan faced several corruption accusations – from her allegedly excessive foreign trips to the delayed allowances of government scholars

“Patricia Licuanan is a tireless advocate of excellence in higher education, whose efforts at raising Philippine education to international standards have borne fruit. Her unceremonious dismissal on dubious charges smacks of putrid politics, not to mention bad governance,” said the TOWNS awardees. 

They also called the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) order for Rappler to shut down as a “harassment by government for Rappler’s truthful reporting on the actual state of the nation.”  

“This unprecedented move by the SEC is an attack on freedom of expression, one of the inviolable freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution (Article III, Section 4), along with freedom of religion, speech, and association. Such action is unconscionable and is anathema in a democratic society,” the awardees said. 

The SEC accuses Rappler of violating constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership and control of mass media entities. But Rappler had long debunked these lies

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre has also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct a case buildup against Rappler, which slammed this probe as a “fishing expedition.” 

The TOWNS awardees explained Licuanan and Ressa are not alone, given the intimidation tactics the Duterte administration has been employing against other powerful women.

These include the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the “unjust” detention of Senator Liela de Lima, the impeachment threats against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, and the sidelining of Vice President Leni Robredo.

“In a series of disturbing moves, the Duterte government has shown its real purpose: To intimidate the public into submission. It is not accidental that his worst assaults have been against women, strong women who speak their mind and stand their ground,” said the TOWNS awardees.

“We are Filipino women leaders, members of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service, and we decry these assaults on our democratic freedoms,” they added.

The TOWNS' statement was signed by the following awardees:

– Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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