Among the numerous seriously unpleasant men leading countries in the world today, Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, must be included. Perhaps his most odious policy is his support for the extrajudicial killings of “undesirables.” When mayor of the city of Davao, he was accused by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights of involvement with death squads that murdered hundreds of drug users, petty criminals and street children.
This is a very dangerous politician. But one intrepid journalist has taken him on. Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of the Philippine online news website Rappler, has been Duterte’s nemesis.
She first tangled with the president when he was mayor of Davao, conducting an interview in which he confessed to killing three people. After his election to president, she began spotlighting his promotion of fake news stories and human rights violations, publishing stories about police abuses sanctioned by him.
Duterte has retaliated. Ressa has been subject to a host of investigations and was convicted of cyber libel in a case that has been described by journalists as “a shameless act of persecution by a bully government.” Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated Ressa’s arrest “must be condemned by all democratic nations.”
Ressa has received a long list of awards for her journalism and involvement in international initiatives to promote press freedom. In 2018, she was included as one of the journalists in Time magazine’s Person of the Year for combating the “War on Truth.”
She has now been awarded the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) annual press freedom prize. According to UNESCO spokesperson Marilu Mastrogiovanni, “Maria Ressa’s unerring fight for freedom of expression is an example for many journalists around the world. Her case is emblematic of global trends that represent a real threat to press freedom, and therefore to democracy.”
She works in a dangerous business. According to Reporters Without Borders, about 50 journalists a year are killed in connection with their work. Last year, 84 percent of those were knowingly targeted and deliberately murdered.
So kudos to Maria Ressa, a true hero. Democracy needs the truth and the truth needs people like the courageous Philippine journalist.