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Maria Ressa: Patriotic or Rebel?

Maria Ressa
(Photo by Esquire Philippines)
Straight Talk
by Nimfa L. Estrellado

“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” - Thomas Jefferson

Throughout the darkest annals of human history, there are those courageous few who defy the odds against them and emerge in the midst of oppression as champions of freedom. In the aftermath of these monumental struggles, and through the lenses of time and hindsight, we attempt to attach descriptive labels to affirm or reject the deeds of those who participated in these affairs. Hero or tyrant, patriot or rebel - we tend to have an insatiable desire to define our history in a grandiose fashion that appeals of our cinematic imaginations. Yet for those whose lives we attempt to confine to appealing adjectives, the issues at hand were far more straightforward and serious; namely, in the face of oppression - fight or submit or die. In the case of one woman faced with this choice, Maria Ressa decided to fight. And fight she did; not for glory or fame, but rather for those values we all hold so dear; press freedom, journalism, liberty and the pursuit of truth. Thrust into circumstances not of her making, Maria Ressa embodied the same spirit and determination as those stalwart individuals who launched Philippines’s own revolution for freedom. In this vein, the appropriate appellation that applies to Maria Ressa is a patriot.

The Wikipedia entry on Ressa is an American Filipino journalist and author. She is best known for co-founding Rappler as its chief executive officer. She previously spent nearly two decades working as a lead investigative reporter in Southeast Asia for CNN.

Ressa was included in Time’s Person of the Year 2018 as one of a collection of journalists from around the world combating fake news. She was arrested for “cyber libel” amid accusations of various instances of falsified news and corporate tax evasion on February 13, 2019. Ressa has since posted bail while the lawsuits are now pending in regional court. As an outspoken critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, her arrest was seen by the international community as a politically motivated act by the government.

It is in this context that the legacy of Maria Ressa becomes a matter of perspective, and defined according to ones particular view of the events that shaped her subsequent actions. Was Ressa a hero or a villain? Government viewed the aggressors as terrorists.

I’m a writer. I am myself a dissenter. As a community newspaper publisher, I am overly sensitive to issues involving press freedom. I’ve always believed that a press that is free to report the news is the pillar of a democracy. Without a free press, nothing else means anything. I condemn imprisonment from producing journalism and art that protests against government. The lingering onslaught on media freedom threatens everyone’s rights. Around the world, more and more journalists are being silenced, prosecuted or even killed. These days, threatening of journalists makes that belief seem naive. We are not helpless against disruption of our nation’s peace, but we must all break out of our echo chambers and act against it.

For teachers and academic institutions, the challenge is to instil fact-checking and to sharpen each student’s ability to make informed judgments. For journalists and media organizations, threats should spark an honest reflection on our practices and purpose. Onslaught is a real threat to freedom of speech and of the press, because it has started to compel political leaders to turn to draconian legislation in an attempt to fight back. All this is not about special privileges for the news media. Long experience shows that when a free press is trampled, it’s part of a much broader assault on everyone’s rights.

The arrest served against Maria Ressa, most famous journalist in the Philippines, CEO of Rappler, is an obvious violation of press freedom which should be denounced by all the heads of States and governments which can exercise influence on Rodrigo Duterte. Press freedom isn’t dying. Good journalists are. True patriots believe, I may disagree with you and your ideas, but will fight to protect your right to state them! No one is above the law, not even the President! Whether one supports or opposes the current government, it’s important to recognize, and consider, the impact, doing any harm, to any rights or freedoms, does, in the longer term!