Maria Ressa battles for truth amid legal allegations


Pictured is Maria Ressa, Filipino journalist and co-founder of the investigative journalism platform Rappler

2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa continuously braves the wrath of powerful figures in the Philippines in an effort to protect free speech. Maria Ressa and her investigative journalism platform, Rappler, are currently battling criminal charges from Filipino President, Rodrigo Duterte.

As one of the Philippines’ most prominent journalists and a vocal advocate for press freedom, Ressa is the 18th woman to have won a Nobel Peace Prize. Ressa currently serves as CNN’s bureau chief in Manila, placing her at the forefront of political advocacy. She is also the lead founder of her digital media company, Rappler.

Rappler has exposed government corruption through researching the top political figures’ potential conflicts of interest. Ressa documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents, and manipulate public discourse. Presently, Ressa is closely monitoring and covering President Duterte’s violent anti-drug campaign through Rappler.

Ressa was found guilty of cyber-libel in June of 2020 as a result of her political efforts. According to the New York Times, President Duterte “has a complicated relationship with the news media. Like populist authoritarian leaders elsewhere, he alternately basks in the spotlight and dismisses reporters as peddlers of ‘fake news’.”

According to Washington Post writers Emily Rauhala and Sammy Westfall, the 2020 cyber-libel conviction targeted a 2012 article that cited an intelligence report linking Philippine business executive Wilfredo Keng to trafficking and drug smuggling written by Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr.

This case has many peculiarities, with the 2012 article under conviction published four months before a cyber-libel measure was signed into law in the Philippines. The Justice Department stated that “the article was republished” and thus had reentered jurisdiction. However, Santo’s article only had a typographical error fixed by a Rappler staff member — correcting the spelling of “evasion” — in 2014.

Since the 2020 conviction, Ressa and Rappler face multiple criminal charges due to their challenging statements towards President Rodrigo Duterte. The Philippine government has filed 10 arrest warrants against her, with seven legal cases still pending. Ressa and Reynaldo Santos face between six months to six years in prison and have been ordered to pay almost $8,000 in damages.

Following her official hearing Ressa stated, “To the Filipinos watching this, this is not just about Rappler. This is not about us. This is about you. Because freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen”.

Ressa sees these legal allegations as a pursuit to suppress free press and the publication of the truth. However Ressa’s allegations have not tainted her image, and she still received the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Dmitri A. Muratov.

When receiving her Nobel prize , Ressa described the award as “a recognition of the difficulties, but also hopefully of how we’re going to win the battle for truth, the battle for facts: We [journalists] hold the line”.

According to the Nobel committee chair, Berit Reiss-Andersen, Ressa received the Nobel Prize for her courageous fight for freedom of expression.

“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies, and war propaganda. Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations,” Reiss-Andersen said.