"Let's all continue to work."
Eleven live cases, seven times to post bail, and two arrests within the span of a little over a year. Wow. Ordinary mortals subjected to this kind of experience will most likely have wrecked nerves due to stress and tension by now. But Maria Ressa is different. She has nerves of steel, stainless steel even.
Coming home from a brief trip to San Francisco early morning of March 29, Ressa was arrested inside the airport for alleged violation of the Anti-Dummy Law. According to reports, the case was raffled off to Regional Trial Court Branch 265 of Pasig City on March 27, and by the following day, an Arrest Warrant against Ressa was already issued by Acting Presiding Judge Acerey Pacheco.
Ressa, the Chief Executive Officer and executive editor of Rappler.com peacefully went with the arresting officers to the Pasig Court. She was accompanied by her lawyer. She posted bail and is now free.
Her co-defendants in this case are members of Rappler’s 2016 Board of Directors and Glenda Gloria, another well-known journalist, and the company’s managing editor. They all posted bail a few days earlier even before any warrant for their arrest was issued.
I met Maria Ressa through common friends at a dinner in her house many years ago when she was still with CNN and making the big decision to leave her stable career there to come back and practice her vocation here. I remember asking her why she would do that when she already had what many journalists here could only aspire for. Her answer was clear: She was making the move because she felt she could do more in her own country. And as they say, the rest is history.
We have seen each other on-and-off the past years but managed to stay in touch. We even had coffee to discuss her plans to set-up Rappler. At that time, she believed there was space, and need for more responsible practice of journalism that could help bring about real change in the country.
Under Ressa’s helm, Rappler has come a long way and has become one of the, if not the most influential media outfits in the country. It is also a known critic of this administration. It is common knowledge that President Rodrigo Duterte and his people do not like being criticized. Thus, critics are being silenced through threats and harassment.
Look at what they did to Senator Leila de Lima. She remains in jail for fabricated drug-related cases. Senator Antonio Trillanes is another critic who faces criminal charges. Former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, she who refused to be stymied by Duterte, was removed from position by her peers via a questionable quo warranto petition filed by the Solicitor General himself.
The media is also targeted, especially those perceived as anti-Duterte. A leading television network is still waiting for its franchise to be approved and Duterte is on record as having said that he will not allow this to happen. Also, a leading broadsheet has been the subject of tirades by the President. However, Rappler seems to be this administration’s “favorite” whipping boy with the 11 court cases it faces, and Maria Ressa’s frequent trips to different courts to post bail.
It appears that there is a pattern to intimidate, harass, and silence media practitioners critical of the President. In Ressa’s case, our courts seem surprisingly efficient in issuing warrants of arrest, and the police and other arresting officers are real quick in acting out the arrests.
Compare this with how slow the process is when it comes to killers of the thousands of innocent Filipinos murdered in connection with the war on drugs. Compare this with how slow corrupt government people are brought to justice.
I repeat, Maria Ressa faces 11 court cases, has been arrested twice, and posted bail seven times all within a period of a little over a year.
The Filipino people should know that the repression of the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of the press does not only concern media outfits and journalists. It concerns everybody because a controlled press cannot be relied upon to report real news. Censorship will be the norm and our media will be the government’s propaganda arm.
Thus, the people’s access to information, particularly on governance and how those in power are performing, will be extremely limited. It will be like the dictator Marcos’ time all over again. Since our knowledge about what actually happens in the country will be limited, it will be hard for us to form contrary opinion and critical thinking will also be suppressed.
The way journalists are harassed sends a chilling effect on ordinary citizens. As it is now, I know some friends who are being very careful with what they say especially on social media. One asked me, what if I also get targeted for being too critical? This is already happening. Our freedom to think freely and express ourselves is beginning to be compromised.
People should take inspiration from Maria Ressa. I keenly watched all her interviews during and after this last arrest. I looked for signs of being rattled, embattled, but did not see any. She remains cool, collected, articulate, sharp, and in control in the middle of the very stressful situation she is in. Her words continue to be direct and pointed. Her smile, voice, and tone were the same as many years ago during the dinner when I first met her.
Her last line in an interview after posting bail was, “Now, I will work. Let us all continue to work.” No, I do not see Maria Ressa defeated. I have a hunch she will even grow bigger in the eyes of Filipinos, and the world.
Often, she says, “We will hold the line.” It is time for all of us to #HoldTheLine and #DefendPressFreedom. After all, this is not just Ressa’s fight but OURS.
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