By Jun Ledesma

Ressa hates Duterte as much as she hates PH

MARIA Ressa headlines herself on Rappler where she is the executive editor: “AFTER VERDICT ON MARIA RESSA, THE WORLD PUTS DUTERTE ON TRIAL”. For the past days screaming headlines about Maria Ressa’s conviction were posted by Rappler and only those in the sanctum sanctorum know who’s drafting the story. But you can make your guess.

We took note that the verdict exonerated Rappler as it has no corporate involvement in the cybercrime of libel. For now, she makes use of Rappler as her platform to picture herself as the Joan of Arc of the press and a living martyr of freedom and democracy. And she unabashedly claims and warns in Rappler’s Facebook posts of the demise of press freedom and democracy because of the guilty sentence the court meted on her.

It’s all in the character of Maria Ressa. She ascribes her conviction on the cybercrime on her criticism against Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte. She made it appear that the cybercrime law was passed as an instrument to stifle her rights and to indict her. For foreigners who read her accounts on Rappler, they would likely swallow hook-line-and-sinker how she tweaked her guilty verdict as the handiwork of her pet peeve - Pres. Rodrigo Duterte. My gosh, I covered Duterte for almost three decades. He had been maligned by his political adversaries who did not stop at filing charges against him before the Ombudsman. He and even his family members were subjects of scurrilous black propaganda from paid hacks of his political enemies. Duterte never ever filed a single case of libel against his detractors. He won all the trumped-up charges filed against him in Court and when he became President, forgave his political enemies.

Remember this. The complaint filed against Ressa and the cyber law was passed during the term of ex-Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III. In another case which involved the probe done by the Security Exchange Commission on Rappler, Maria was questioned for accepting foreign investments amounting to $1.5-million from the controversial Omidyar Network. Foreign ownership, either partly or wholly, is not allowed under the Philippine constitution. Ressa simply shuts back saying it was Duterte’s way of suppressing her press freedom. She skipped the fact that the members of the SEC that pried into her records were, again, appointees of Aquino. To wiggle out of the case ON declared that it is donating the amount to the Ressa and the rest of the 14 staff members of Rappler. So there you are.

I can dismiss the wily moves of Maria Ressa including how she extrapolated the number of deaths she claimed were victims of Duterte- instigated extra-judicial killings. I had suspected then that it was her style to indulge in exaggeration and speculation. She started off with 1,200 plus victims of EJK perpetrated by the mythical Davao Death Squad, then added Sen. Leila De Lima’s estimate of 7,000 “innocent” victims of Duterte’s drug war during a senate hearing. When finally Ressa spoke to the American media the figure blazoned to 27,000 EJK victims. (On the eve of the ASEAN Forum in Manila, Amnesty International reported that 30-million Filipinos were victims of EJK).

Maria Ressa exudes eloquence with an impeccable American accent. And alas, the western media believed her tales and proceeded to prize her citing her travails in the Philippines. And she was a sought-after-guest in western media outlets which gobbled her story. She was a celebrity!. CBS wanted a first-person account of what was obtained in the Philippines under Pres. Duterte. In the program "60 Minutes", she described hosting Bill Whitaker that “the environment is worse than being in a war zone. It is far worse than any war zone that I’ve been in,” she blurted without batting an eyelash. She went on to say that “we’ve been living through three years of this kind of hell”. Oh, how easily she could conjure a scenario and tells her foreign audience she survived it through.

Whitaker and CBS must have believed they got a scoop from a “ be-medaled war correspondent”. In fact, it was a grand tomfoolery. Against Ressa’s claim Philippines credit rating was upgraded by Fitch, S&P and Moody’s as investment-grade under the administration of Duterte. Two weeks ago Japan Credit Rating Agency raised that to “A-“ and stable. Oxford Economics placed the Philippine among the top 10 countries in the world that are investment-worthy. Duterte, who has been the target of an incessant tirade by political opposition and its black propaganda machinery that includes Ressa, enjoys an unprecedented trust and approval ratings across every segment of society. In the last midterm elections, the political party of Duterte trounced all the senatorial bets of the opposition, which included an Aquino. Is this the kind of country that is a war zone? Is this the kind of leader that Ressa belittles and so detests?

The media in the Philippines is one of the freest in the world. The industry does not revolve in Rappler, CNN, or ABS-CBN as westerners may be of the impression. There are thousands of national and regional newspapers, television and radio stations operating nationwide.

Libel? What’s so threatening with libel? On a personal note, I have been sued four times, twice during martial law, indicted in each but I put up a defense and got exonerated. The only difference between me and Maria is that I was accused by politicians who felt maligned by my articles, while she demeaned a private person. Too, it is strange why she did not put up a defense except by telling the court that it was her subordinate, Rey Santos, who wrote the libelous story. As an editor, she knew she is accountable.

But why does Maria Ressa think that the Philippines is worse than any war zone?

“Like hell” she asserts. She has dual citizenship - American and Filipino. But she opted to stay in the Philippines where she had been living in style and comfort. As often as she wants she flies out of the country any time she wishes. She is free as a bird. It is therefore absurd why she described the Philippines in a state of war? She tells her American audience in every opportunity and klieg lights that she has been in the receiving end of threats from rapists, hate calls, and warning of being beheaded. I don’t know who the beast would attempt to rape her. Thousands of hate calls? I doubt whether there are 10 people outside her circle who would know her number. Beheading? Only the Abu Sayyaf and Maute ISIS terrorists would do that. Paranoia? I doubt if she is suffering from a serious paranoid personality disorder. So who is directing her in assailing Duterte and destroying the image of my native land?

Maria Ressa studied at Princeton University where she took up molecular biology and theater. She must not have been told that to malign a person, especially a private individual, constitute libel, and to tarnish the image of her motherland partakes of treason.



About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.