When Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines in 2016, he waged a violent war on drugs that instantly caused deep divisions in the country. Some people agreed with his tactics, while many others considered his so-called war inhumane and unjust. Rappler, a leading digital-only news site led by Maria Ressa, was among those who reported about and spoke out against this drug war.
Who Is Maria Ressa?
Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa is the CEO and co-founder of Rappler. A long-time journalist, she was CNN’s bureau chief in Manila and then in Jakarta for more than a decade. She also held the position of senior vice-president of ABS-CBN’s multimedia news operations. Before Duterte orchestrated its shutdown, ABS-CBN was the largest news organization in the Philippines.
After working for CNN and ABS-CBN, Maria co-founded Rappler in 2012. Since then, Rappler has built a reputation for leading the fight for press freedom in the Philippines, with Maria at its helm. Because of Rappler’s criticism of the Duterte government, Maria has been arrested and charged with several crimes, including cyber-libel. This cyber-libel case and how Maria fought against it caught the attention of the world.
Nobel Peace Prize Among Ressa’s Growing List of Accolades
As Maria continues to spotlight press freedom and how the Philippine government tries to curtail it, her list of accolades continues to grow. She was Time’s Person of the Year in 2018. In 2019, BBC included her in its list of 100 most inspiring and influential women of that year. She also made the 2020 Bloomberg 50 list. And she was the subject of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival documentary, “A Thousand Cuts.”
In 2021, Maria was one of two journalists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The other journalist awarded is Dmitry Muratov of Russia. Maria is the first Filipino to win this acclaimed honor. It was given in recognition of her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” The last time a journalist received a Nobel Peace Prize was in 1935.
Ressa’s Court Battles Continue
Even today, Maria faces criminal charges in the Philippines. In June 2020, the Philippine courts found her guilty of the cyber-libel charge. However, the country passed its cyber-libel law long after Rappler published the article in question. She still has several tax and securities cases pending in local courts.
“I hope today’s Nobel Peace Prize 2021 award will remind the authorities in the Philippines, Russia, and around the world of the need to respect journalists and journalism. Independent journalism holding power to account has never been so important,” Maria said.
Recently, the Philippine Court of Appeals has granted Maria overseas travel after subjecting her to hold orders for the last couple of years. She will be delivering a series of lectures at the Harvard Kennedy School in Boston. However, she will return to Manila in December. To attend the awarding in Oslo, Maria would need to file new travel requests before the courts handling her seven pending cases.
As one of the newest Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Maria continues to inspire people around the world. Whether you see her as a journalist, a woman, or an Asian, her story is worth commending. How she fights for the truth and stands up to injustice demonstrates her strong character, worthy of our admiration.