ON TUESDAY, Philippine journalist Maria Ressa was named as part of Time magazine’s Person of the Year , along with murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis and two Reuters reporters imprisoned in Myanmar. The accolade was timely, as well as well-earned: The same day, she was forced to meet bail to avoid being jailed on tax charges she says are trumped up.
Ms. Ressa returned to Manila this month despite the risk of imprisonment in a courageous demonstration of resolve to resist harassment and intimidation of her pioneering online news outlet, Rappler. She told reporters on her arrival: “The people who know me know that I am not radical, but government actions like this, it forces me to speak. I think all have to speak. . . . This is the time to fight. This is the time to tell people, here’s the line and you have to make sure that our government doesn’t cross it, ’cause when it does, we’re no longer a democracy.”
Rappler has pursued hard-hitting reporting to expose the abuses of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has conducted a violent campaign against suspected drug dealers and users, often with vigilantes and extrajudicial methods. Thousands of people have been killed, many of them summarily shot on the street. Mr. Duterte has picked up President Trump’s lingo of distrust and called Rappler a “fake news outlet.”
The government filed five cases claiming tax law violations by Rappler in raising investment funds through Philippine Depositary Receipts in 2015. This is a vehicle that allows foreigners to invest without ownership. Under the Philippine constitution, ownership of a mass media outlet must be all Filipino. The government’s indictment claims that the funds raised were income and Rappler failed to declare it.
Rappler says the use of the investment technique was legal and the tax charge is bogus. Ms. Ressa told The Post, “What the tax evasion charges did is to treat an investment like it was income. We’re not a dealer in securities. We’re not a stock broker.”
Ms. Ressa, a former CNN bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta, Indonesia, on Nov. 8 received the 2018 Knight International Journalism Award from the International Center for Journalists and on Nov. 20 received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, where she delivered a clarion call for our times:
“You don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight to defend it. Then every battle you win or lose, every compromise you choose to make or to walk away from — all these struggles define the values you live by, and, ultimately, who you are. We at Rappler decided that when we look back at this moment a decade from now, we will have done everything we could: We did not duck, we did not hide. We are Rappler, and we will hold the line.”