THE recent legal victory of the Rappler media website is also a win for Philippine democracy and its institutions. Maria Ressa, co-founder and chief executive officer of Rappler, shot to global fame for portraying former president Rodrigo Duterte as a dictator and for saying that Philippine democracy, like many others around the world, had been broken by Facebook. She won a Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign against Mr. Duterte, whom she accused of clamping down on free speech. She wrote about it in her new book, How to Stand Up to a Dictator.
That outcome might not have been possible if Ms. Ressa was truthful about the state of democracy in this country. But it seems doubtful she will correct her misimpressions of the Philippines given that her legal problems are far from over.
Ms. Ressa has other cases pending in court. But with her victory in the Court of Tax Appeals, she has a better than average chance of winning most of them.
Perhaps the more challenging case is the libel charge filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng against her and a Rappler researcher. They allegedly defamed the businessman by portraying him as a seedy character associated with the late chief justice Renato Corona. The Senate sitting as an impeachment court ousted Corona from the Supreme Court in 2012, but last year, an anti-graft court dismissed the case against the late Mr. Corona who was charged with allegedly having undeclared assets.
Ms. Ressa often says that the lawsuits filed against her were politically motivated, mostly blaming Mr. Durterte who became president only in 2016. She cherry-picks the truth by rarely mentioning that the complainant is a private individual. In fact, the government is not a party to the case.
In 2020, Ms. Ressa and the researcher were convicted of libel. Last year, the Court of Appeals denied their appeal, and the defendants went to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on their petition.
Not surprisingly, the Nobel laureate was disappointed by the appellate court’s decision. She delivered another broadside against the government after the ruling. “This is a reminder of the importance of independent journalism holding power to account,” she said in Rappler’s story.
She also said, “As we elevate our case to the SC (Supreme Court), our fight against intimidation and suppression of freedom continues. We still believe that the rule of law will prevail.”
Indeed, the rule of law should prevail. Mr. Keng would probably like that, as well.
If Ms. Ressa wins that case, she will likely praise the judicial system, and act as if the negative things she had said about the Philippines to global audiences no longer exist. The country and Mr. Duterte do have flaws, many in fact. But Ms. Ressa’s portrayal of them is colored by her political bias.
Should she lose, her tone might change. She will likely play victim again and will probably have unflattering things to say about the Philippines, perhaps how oppressive it is to journalists. But it may be harder for her to blame Mr. Duterte, who is now a private citizen living far from the seat of power in Davao City. Apparently in Ms. Ressa’s world, dictators willingly leave office after their term and peacefully transfer power to the next elected leader.
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