Maria Ressa makes sure that the world learns about everyday life in the drug war in the Philippines. This endangers her life. Just like nine other journalists we present here.
When Maria Ressa stopped counting, she had reached 90 messages. Some senders made fun of their appearance; others threatened to rape her – or even kill her. 90 threats were received by Ressa, in one minute, on Facebook alone. Apparently they came from supporters of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Since his election in 2016, he has barred journalists from his events, denounced them as "spies" and "whoresons", threatened, sued and detained them. Because Duterte is at war. Against drugs – and against media denouncing arbitrary killing. Especially Duterte has it on the online medium Rappler and its boss Maria Ressa.
Ressa, 55, is one of the most renowned journalists in the Philippines. She researched Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia, led CNN's offices in Manila and Jakarta, wrote books, and worked for the nation's largest news channel ABS-CBN. In 2012 she founded Rappler with several colleagues. The name is composed of the English words "rap" and "ripple", ie "discuss" and "make waves". In fact, the website, which employs mostly women, has been making waves. Rappler did not stop when more and more people fell victim to the drug war. The editors got together with Duterte, and thus with a man who also likes to threaten journalists that they are "not exempt from assassination attempts." Most of all, Rappler chose Facebook, the medium most Philippinos use to get their news. There, however, hosts of anonymous users quickly came forward, deliberately spreading false reports. When Facebook did not respond, Rappler put pressure. When a reporter from the Malancañang Palace – the Philippine presidential seat – was banished, it was an incentive. Rappler became a loud voice in a country where many closed their eyes to the obvious: slipping the young democracy back into an autocracy , Thanks to Ressa and her colleagues, the world learned about the cruel everyday life of Dutertes drug war.
A few weeks ago, Ressa was on the cover of the US magazine Time as "Person of the Year", along with Jamal Khashoggi, the two Myanmar-arrested Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and five journalists killed in an attack on the US local newspaper Capital Gazette were killed. An important recognition for Ressa's work, but also for the price she and her colleagues pay: daily verbal abuse and threats, including from the President. He publicly warned Rapper reporter Pia Ranada to travel to his hometown of Davao. "Something bad will happen to you." In a country like the Philippines, that's not just saying it. Since 1992, 80 journalists have been murdered, according to the US non-governmental organization Committee to Protect Journalists. Almost all cases are still unclear.
"I'll blame the government for calling me a criminal."
Today about 90 men and women are still working for Rappler, many have gone because of the risk. The Philippine authorities have recently launched several cases against Rappler and his doers, also for alleged tax offenses and allegedly false information on ownership. Above all, a donation from US Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar is in focus. Ressa therefore turned herself in November 2018 to the authorities; She was released after a few hours. She has always rejected all allegations. "I will hold my government responsible for publicly calling me a criminal," she announced.
She was temporarily arrested again in February. This time around alleged slander, the Philippine Union of Journalists spoke of a "shameless act of persecution by a rabid government." Maria Ressa does not let that scare her away. She and her team would go on, she wrote SZ, "To be silent now can lead to the death of our democracy."