Days before Rappler founder and CEO Maria Ressa was arrested after she arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport for the 7th case against her she was giving a talk in San Francisco on the challenges that media faced in the Philippines.
“When I come home to Manila, I expect seven arrest warrants on criminal case on anti-dummy. I hope that is not the case but that is what my lawyers told me to prepare for,” Ressa then shared.
In addressing her mostly young Filipino American audience earlier this week at the jam-packed standing-room-only Bayanihan Resource Center in San Francisco, Ressa believes that On Tyranny author Timothy Snyder was spot on in saying that there are four steps in ripping the heart of democracy while going after the facts as what modern authoritarians do: 1) lie all the time; 2) say that it is your opponents and the media who lie; 3) everyone looks around and says,” What is truth? There is no truth.”; and 4) then resistance is impossible and the game is over.
“The global phenomenon that we are all facing is that social media changes reality because a lie repeated a million times is the truth. And then when you take power and they use the podium of power to reinforce what they are saying that is the truth. That is the alternative that becomes reality,” Ressa asserts. “A state-sponsored online hate and harassment campaigns to silence and intimidate called “patriotic trolling” is moving away from the old idea of censorship. In this day and age it is about pushing out so many lies false news and information that people have no idea what to think.”
Ressa also disclosed that women are found to have been targeted more in social media by as much as ten times more in the Philippines than men have and that a propaganda machine is being used in the Philippines to spread fake news.
“There are also three steps in spreading fake news in the Philippines: 1) attack credibility like alleging corruption repeatedly and exponentially until people will believe it; 2) use sexual violence, inflame biases, fuel misogyny, and degrade that person as a sexual object just like what was done to Senator Leila de Lima; and 3) if you want to arrest them, trend using hashtags like #ArrestLeiladeLima and #ArrestMariaRessa a few weeks before the actual arrest,” Ressa cited.
Ressa also mentioned efforts being done towards historical revisionism that started during the 2016 election campaign when the President Duterte campaign machinery supposedly started to work with the campaign machinery of former Senator Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr who ran for the vice-presidency.
“Dark narration and full twisting of the part of history is blamed on the media that together with historians made it all dark. Leaving that doubt in the next generation is enough to change the history. Historical revision is in front of our eyes,” warned Ressa who also reminded that all these propaganda efforts and attempts for historical revision are made possible by the so-called “terrorist network of disinformation”. “This network spread lies usually not conducted by a real person but a job for somebody posting anywhere from 47 to 80 times in a day on Duterte and Marcos campaign pages employing a cut and paste account.”
Ressa reiterates that, “This is the time to fight. This is the time to tell people here is the line and you have to make sure that the government does not cross it because when it does, we are no longer a democracy.”
The other panelists in the press conference and panel discussion Reclaiming the Truth: Fighting Fake News How Trolls and Bots Fuel the Rise of Fascism were Nurj Kaalim of Migrante Northern California, Malaya Arevalo of Malaya Movement, and former Kabataan Party-list Representative Raymund Mong Palatino Bayan Metro Manila with veteran journalist Vivian Zalvidea-Araullo as moderator.
During the question and answer portion, Ressa advised everyone to organize to counteract the efforts towards historical revisionism and the efforts of the propaganda machinery in spreading lies and fake news.
“The problem that we see right now is that it has polarized our societies. How do we deal with the disorganization of those trying to deal with the accountability of power? Organize online to activate your network and fight back. We will fight as long as we can fight, as long as our system of government affords us our rights. The battle is here. The battle is now,” Ressa emphasized
On her advice to aspiring journalists in the midst of fake news and fake reporters who feed in the population, Ressa asks the youth not just those aspiring to be journalists, to push the U.S. government to stand by its values of love, hope and democracy and assert its place as the beacon/leader of human rights and press freedom globally.
“There is no better time to be a journalist than today because you are to find what journalism would become in this time of created destruction. Your idealism is what is needed that will infuse the mission of journalism and rightly I hope seep It into technology that will differentiate between truth and lies, fact and fiction. We need to reclaim that back. At some point the social media platforms will have to figure out that spreading lies weakens the fabric of our democracy,” exhorted Ressa.
When asked whether People Power is dead in the Philippines, Ressa emphatically answered no but clarified that its old concept has lost its sting because it was a tried and tested script in 1986 that has lost its meaning. She added that this generation needs to find its own brand of People Power.
“Where are we today? How do we show we care? How do we show our values? Do you agree that Filipinos want to kill the poorest of the poor and do not care about due process? If you do not agree with any of these things, where is your voice?” Ressa wonders. “The old form of People Power is dead and Filipinos are far more cynical than we used to be in 1986. As you find your identity, infuse your knowledge and idealism back to the Philippines. That is the reason I went home. I chose to be a Filipino.”.
Ressa underscored that her journalistic mission has never been as important as now and she, together with her Rappler staff will live up to their line to build community on action.
“For me it was about impact to the real word. The more we speak, the weaker these attacks become. You can lend your support by making your voice heard while we still have a democracy to protect. Abuse of power is abuse of power and we will call it out. we will continue doing those stories. Don’t let us down. Help us,” Ressa appealed.
Palatino came all the way from Manila to attend a human rights conference in the U.S. when he decided to attend the press conference to hear Ressa present the networks of disinformation and also highlights the systematic attack on freedom of expression.
“In this election, the candidates should speak out against the attacks and harassments on mainstream and alternative media, priests, and others with opposing view with the government and affirm their commitment to press freedom.,” Palatino wished as he applauds the young students who came to hear Ressa speak.
Among the schools and universities represented in the discussion were City College of San Francisco, CSU East Bay, San Francisco State University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, among others with students also from Galileo High School, Mission High School, Lowell High School, Balboa High School, and John O’Connel High School also joining in.
Former beauty queen and visual artist Maria Isabel Lopez who is also aligned with Gabriela and a staunch human rights supporter attended the forum to show her support for press freedom that Ressa espouses and has currently become a symbol of.
“We need more voice in the country. We need more people not to be afraid. And right now movie actors and filmmakers are being harassed every time they come up with a film critical of the administration and this is a challenge to our creativity. As creative people we should stand for what we believe in,” underscored Lopez.
Captions: all pictures are mine
A standing-room-only Bayanihan Resource Center served as the venue for the talk of embattled Rappler co-founder and CEO Maria Ressa
Maria Ressa towered over everyone else in the venue as she gave a talk on the status of press freedom in the Philippines.
The speakers in the press conference were (from left to right) veteran journalist Vivian Zalvidea-Araullo as moderator, Maria Ressa, former Kabataan Party-list Representative Raymund Mong Palatino Bayan Metro Manila, Malaya Arevalo of Malaya Movement and Nurj Kaalim of Migrante Northern California.
Beauty queen and visual artist Maria Isabel Lopez