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Nobel Prize Winner Maria Ressa ‘Being Shut Up’


By: Bob Boyer


The news organization Rappler is once again in danger of being closed down. To paraphrase one observer, Rappler is being “shut down and its editor Maria Ressa is being shut up”. The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission chose the end of President Duterte’s term, two days before his ally Marcos’ term begins, to make the announcement. Fortunately, as Rappler’s lawyer pointed out, the SEC’s ruling must be implemented by the courts, where the decision will be contested, again. Still one would have hoped for better treatment from the Philippine government toward the country’s first and still only Nobel Prize Laureate, Maria Ressa.

This past December (2021) my article started by congratulating Maria Ressa, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize. The article then noted that Ressa and Rappler regularly criticized President Duterte for his violent drug war, attacking addicts rather than Drug Lords. I then offered a summary of the recent Ressa and Rappler versus Duterte struggle. The following is the article as it then appeared, starting with the title,

“Maria Ressa, Nobel Peace Prize 2021, Co-Winner

“Senators hail Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize Award” (John Eric Mendoza, “,” October 09, 2021). The world press has, understandably, celebrated the selection of journalist Maria Ressa, editor of the online newspaper “Rappler.” Since I have written several times about Ressa and her rocky relationship with President Duterte, I’ve decided to share pertinent excerpts, with a minimum of editing and without commentary, until the end, from the following four “VIA Times” columns.

1. “Philippine News Highlights of 2020,” Dec., 2020 “Maria Ressa found guilty of cyber libel” (John Eric Mendoza, “The Manila Times,” June 15, 2020). I attached the following note when I clipped this news item: “ouch!” I had read about the coming trial a few weeks earlier. The consensus at that time was that Ressa, editor of Rappler, and her news researcher would be acquitted of the libel charge because of flimsy evidence. The sentence was a shock; a minimum of six months to a maximum of six years in prison, as well as a substantial fine. Ressa and her researcher are both out on bail, pending an appeal.”

2. “Maria Ressa, Duterte, and Freedom of the Press on Frontline,” Feb., 2021 “Maria Ressa is co-founder and Executive Editor of “Rappler,” a prominent online newspaper centered in Manila. She first interviewed Duterte when he was Mayor of Davao, Mindanao. They initially had a reasonably good rapport, according to Ressa, which the “Frontline” documentary shows in the Ressa-Duterte interview about then Mayor Duterte’s plan to run for president. She asked how he would conduct his War on Drugs on a national scale. They argued, but civilly, almost friendly.”

“Ressa became increasingly critical of Duterte as president, in particular for his encouraging of large-scale extra-judicial killings of drug addicts. She quickly became a target of Duterte’s public attacks.”

3. “Ressa vs Duterte,” March, 2021

“My February column introduced the “Frontline” public television documentary (“A Thousand Cuts”) and the “Fresh Air” public radio interview with Maria Ressa, both presented in January, 2021.”

“Ressa and Duterte have a history together. “Frontline” shows a tape of their first contact. Duterte was still Mayor of Davao but had become a likely presidential candidate for the 2016 election. Ressa had followed his successful terms as mayor and was intrigued. She also knew of his controversial “War on Drugs” and asked if he would bring that with him to Manila if he were elected. She clearly did not think that was a good idea. They disagreed, but respectfully, even friendly.”

“On Fresh Air,”Ressa spoke about her second meeting with Duterte, which was in 2016, after Duterte had been inaugurated as president. Duterte invited her to the Presidential Palace for an hour-long interview, clearly a high compliment. Still, Ressa recounts, she told him that he “threatens people into obeying the law.” Ressa told the interviewer, “he leads by violence,” and the poor are the “casualties” of the War on Drugs.” The body count of the “extra-judicial” killings was already in the thousands. (The government later stopped an official count at about 5,000; some current 2021 estimates are as high as 30,000.)”

4. “A Report Card on Corruption,” September, 2021

“I have written a number of columns about how Maria Ressa, editor of the online newsmagazine “Rappler,” has attacked both Duterte and the police for widespread “extrajudicial murder” and for blatantly ignoring standard legal and humane standards. In retaliation, Duterte and his allies in government have repeatedly and publicly attacked Ressa. Perhaps even more vicious have been the attacks by a large online population now referred to in the press as “Duterte’s Trolls.”

Maria Ressa and her “Rappler” staff of investigative reporters have endured enormous pressures from the attacks by Duterte, his allies in the government, and his online trolls. The Nobel Peace Prize, the first Nobel Prize awarded to a Filipino, may, I think, salve the wounds.”

This concludes the December 2021 article about Maria Ressa, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The hope (“salve the wounds”) has obviously not been fulfilled. And that speaks sadly for the Philippine government. “Duterte’s Trolls” may well become “Marcos’s Trolls”.

Before the announcement of the Philippine SEC’s order for “Rappler” to shut down, which gained headlines in both the “New York Times” (June 29 Asia Pacific and June 30 US editions) and “The Wall Street Journal” (June 30) I had planned to write about Former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. Family and friends recently celebrated a memorial marking his first death anniversary. His obituary in “The Guardian” (July 6, 2021) referred to him as the “President of the Philippines who revived his nation’s economy and fought corruption.” A worthy legacy indeed. Bob

Boyer welcomes your comments and questions at Robert.

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