‘We’ll fight back’, says Philip­pine jour­nal­ist

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

THREAT­ENED with prison and clo­sure of the news site she co-founded, Philip­pine jour­nal­ist Maria Ressa says there is one clear re­sponse to the gov­ern­ment on­slaught she faces – fight back.

The site, Rap­pler, has taken a crit­i­cal stand on Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s deadly anti-drug crack­down and now finds it­self the tar­get of grind­ing, un­re­lent­ing at­tacks from the au­thor­i­ties.

Ressa turned her­self in this week to face one tax eva­sion charge, but could still face ar­rest on four other counts that she in­sists were crafted to bring the site to heel.

“I have noth­ing to hide. We have done noth­ing wrong. I’m will­ing to chal­lenge the gov­ern­ment,” she said.

“I’m not afraid of what [the gov­ern­ment] is do­ing. In fact, I call them on these lies. We’ll fight them in court,” she added

She is due to be ar­raigned on Fri­day on the first case, which stems from al­le­ga­tions Rap­pler and Ressa did not pay taxes on 2015 bond sales that net­ted $3 mil­lion.

The in­vest­ments are at the heart of a case that led the Philip­pines’ cor­po­rate watch­dog to void the news site’s li­cence in Jan­uary. That case e is still pend­ing.

“They want to in­tim­i­date,” date,” she said. “The end goal l of all that is to [force us to] pipe down. Stop do­ing the sto­ries.”

The gov­ern­ment said this week Duterte had no hand in the charges, say­ing “we will never in­ter­fere with the func­tion of the ju­di­ciary.”

Rap­pler has been among a clutch of Philip­pine news out­lets that have ques­tioned the meth­ods of the pres­i­dent’s crack­down, which po­lice say has killed nearly 5,000 al­leged deal­ers and ad­dicts since 2016. Rights cam­paign­ers say the true toll is triple that and could amount to crimes ag against hu­man­ity.

Yet, the site and its roughly 30 jour­nal­ists, a ma­jor ma­jor­ity of whom are women in their 20s, ha has kept pub­lish­ing sto­ries on the drug war war.

Its most re re­cent se­ries quotes vig­i­lantes who s say they were paid by Philip­pine po­lice to kill drug sus­pects or crim­i­nals c un­der the ban­ner of D Duterte’s crack­down.

Ressa R in­sists the site is not anti-Duterte, ant say­ing it is just do­ing doi its job to hold the gov­ern­ment me to ac­count.

In do­ing so it has in­vited a stream of on­line vit­riol since Duterte came to power over two years ago.

Ressa’s po­si­tion at the head of the site meant get­ting, by her own es­ti­mate, up to 90 hate mes­sages per hour on­line at one point to­ward the end of 2016.

“I feel like Rap­pler has been un­der at­tack for two and a half years,” she said.

The at­tacks are noth­ing new, but with the fil­ing of crim­i­nal charges against her the stakes have now reached a new level of men­ace.

Her fate will be de­cided by a ju­di­cial sys­tem which is no­to­ri­ously re­spon­sive to pres­sure ap­plied by the pow­er­ful.

“I still be­lieve there are men and women in­side the gov­ern­ment who want to hold the line, who be­lieve in the val­ues of the Philip­pine con­sti­tu­tion,” Ressa said.

“We’re goi ng to f ig ht it i n cour t, but it looks a litt le bit stacked,” she added.

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