The last time I saw my old boss María Ressa, about three years ago in New York, she was not worried about being arrested on her return to the Philippines. Her friends and family had told her to consider staying in the United States, as she has dual citizenship after growing up in New Jersey. But she believed it was her duty to return to Manila and continue to do her job as CEO of the independent news portal ‘Rappler’.
This time she was not arrested for her participation in the ‘Rappler’ update of an old article that a judge retroactively found defamatory. But she was arrested in February 2019 on the same accusation, and again a month later for allegedly violating the prohibition on media ownership by foreigners. Maria was released on bail both times, but his problems with the law did not end there.
In June 2020, she was convicted of cybercrime, and now faces up to 100 years in prison by virtue of a very lax and retroactive interpretation of the law, which has been described as an attack on the freedom of the press.
During years, Maria has fought dozens of court cases designed to silence her and ‘Rappler’ for exposing the truth about President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs and corruption within the administration. She almost always manages to impose herself, but to her and to ‘Rappler’ it costs them energy, time and money, not to mention personal sacrifice.
The truth is that it has an almost unlimited energy. When I was working on ‘Rappler’ a decade ago, we joked that Maria was like the famous Energizer rabbit from TV commercials. It didn’t matter how hard the day wasShe was always at her small desk, chatting with her trusted managing editor, Glenda Gloria, furiously typing on her laptop or talking to a source on the phone, and consuming her usual diet of pandesal and Diet Coke. Always smiling. And laughing, especially when he gets carried away a bit at ‘Rappler’ parties. But it can also be very harsh.
Must have a lot of guts to challenge an aspiring dictator that he has ordered his policemen and soldiers to kill thousands of people. Especially when you’ve made it personal. Duterte once claimed that Maria was part of a CIA plot to remove him from power. He has turned social networks into a weapon and continues inciting her followers on Facebook to threaten her with raping and killing her.
Carlos Santamaria *
But the most important thing is that Maria is fair. She and ‘Rappler’ gave Duterte a chance, even when it seemed like a mayor of loudmouth provinces he had no chance of becoming president in Manila. But the relationship soured when ethe corpses riddled in the streets began to accumulate, and Patricia Evangelista, from ‘Rappler’, was in charge of writing about it all.
Working in a country long recognized for its freedom of the press, ‘Rappler’ has done with the Duterte regime the same as with its predecessor. And what he will do with the next Philippine administration: hold you accountable and report when he does not comply or abuse his power. “My example serves as a lesson for journalists,” Maria told Ian Bremmer shortly after her conviction at GZERO World. She is also an inspiration, and now a Nobel winner.
The question is: will Duterte let him travel to Oslo to receive the award?
* This article was originally published in English on GZERO Media. If you are interested in international politics, but you want someone to explain it to you, subscribe to the Signal ‘newsletter’ here.
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María Ressa was my boss before receiving the Nobel and I have seen her fight against giants