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Now it's time for HARDtalk.
Welcome to HARDtalk. I am Stephen Sackur. No-one better epitomises any
strongman style of leadership then President Rodrigo Duterte, of the
Philippines. He has a visceral dislike of independent journalism
and no-one knows that better than my guest today, Maria Ressa, founder of
the Rappler online news website. She has just been convicted of
cyberlibel in a manila court room, so, is President Rodrigo Duterte's
populism strangling press freedom?
Maria Ressa in Manila, thank you for joining HARDtalk.Thank you,
Stephen.Starting with your personal situation, earlier this month you
were convicted on this charge of cyberlibel, as they called it. Has
it change things for you?Aside from the emotional rollercoaster and the
fact we have crossed yet another divide, I think I'm on the same rate
I have been on for the last four years, which is really standing up
for my rights both as a Filipino and as a journalist.You are on bail and
I think your legal team said there will be an appeal. Do you, in any
sense, feel frightened right now? You know, Stephen, I have gone
through this. When you have been under attack for four years, as we
have been, there have been all the stages, like the stages of grief,
right? In 2016, we were pummelled on social media, exponential attacks
that are extremely visceral and take you by surprise. The viciousness of
it. The same narratives in 2017 come out of government 's mounds,
President Rodrigo Duterte himself then began to equate journalists
with criminals and then in 2018, 11 cases and investigations, I was in
and out talking to officials and 2019, the filing of the cases. I
have eight arrest warrants against me file that year. That was only
last year! I was arrested twice, detained ones. I feel like Alice in
Wonderland and I am down in a rabbit hole, going out and I will walk out!
This verdict that happened on cyberlibel, a story we publish
before the law we allegedly violated was even in effect! This cements it
now, right, that 2016, their journalists are criminals. In 2020
after the weaponisation of social media, the weaponisation of the law
and now I am convicted. That is the death of a thousand cuts of our
democracy.There is no doubt it is not just you that has suffered from
repressive tactics coming from government agencies. We can all feed
that. But, nonetheless, the notion that all sorts of freedom of
expression are now curtailed and eliminated in the Philippines,
surely is not right. If one looks at your country today, there is still a
multitude of diverse opinion across the spectrum of politics. In
different platforms on the media, not least Rappler itself, after all,
your website has not been shut down, it continues to this day. It has
millions of eyes on every single month. The Philippines is not North
Korea, nothing like.Who would want to be North Korea, right? In the
end, the Philippines is also living under a climate of fear and
violence. In fact, when I last interviewed President Rodrigo
Duterte, when he was a ready president, I was one of four
journalists each gave an interview to in 2016 and I asked him that
specifically, I said "Mr President, now that you are in charge of
protecting the Constitution, is it necessary to use violence? "And He
said yes, he said it is necessary to use violence and fear. So while you
see what looks like a multitude of voices, imagine that those voices
also have a sword hanging over their heads. During the pandemic, people
based on the post on social media, people were arrested. I think there
is a good veneer of legality for all of these but we certainly have felt
the walls closing in. In order to be able to publish as Rappler, look at
what I have had to go through! I am just a journalist.I understand. My
show is called HARDtalk so I have to take seriously the charges against
you.Absolutely.You have indicated that liability listed that you still
face allegations of four tax evasion, receiving money from the
CIA. You could be in court for years and years to come?Well, that's, the
only thing I can say is these charges, the eight criminal charges
I'm facing fall into three buckets. The first is cyberlibel. The second
is securities fraud, and in that we will throw-in for - foreign
ownership foreign control, something violating the anti-W law and the 30s
tax evasion. Again, just like the first case we were charged with tax
evasion about three months after we received an award from the
government for being a top corporate taxpayer. Then no more than six
months later we were tax evaders, pushed on social media and in
addition to that, to make this charge, that actually had to
redefine Rappler from a news organisation to a dealer in
securities. You know, so, sure, let's do HARDtalk! I feel like, as a
reporter, as someone running a news organisation, I give the government
and the president the respect that the office demands. I think, you
know. But the kinds of death by a thousand cuts that we have had to
absorb, just to do our jobs, just to continue doing investigative
reporting, I've never lived through anything like this and I've covered
South East Asia and the transition from authoritarian 1-man rule to
democracy, starting here in the Philippines in 1986!Maria Ressa, do
you think the Filipino public care about your fate and those of other
journalists in your country because one looks at the president 's
approval ratings, they are consistently above 80% approval, the
kind of figure that other leaders around the world could only dream
about and the Filipino public are well aware of what he is doing to
the press.There are two answers to the question. The first one is the
kinds of propaganda machine and how it uses technology to essentially
use it as a behavioural modification system and I can explain that more
later. The propaganda is exponential and it lifts when he President
Rodrigo Duterte is the best, the defender of the poor, even though it
is the poor and who are dying in the drug war. That is the first step.
The age of social media, statistical surveys have not been able to keep
up with the shifts. The second one is do people care? Yes. I can see
that based on what has happened and I think this in particular in 2023
things that happen. We have had a pandemic, the lockdown. We are in
our 14th week of a very security driven militaristic lockdown. A
lockdown that President Rodrigo Duterte has told Filipinos to
stay-at-home Andy told troops that if they come out, if we break
quarantining, and this is a direct quote, he said "Shoot them dead".
That did happen. Almost 60,000 people have been arrested during
this time. And because we're lockdown, I think there have been
more introspection. The second is... .I will stop you there if I may
because it is fascinating what you're saying but worries or
evidence? I look at the latest polling I can find in the
Philippines on this company, social weather stations, they are
respected, they suggest that the Filipino public as a whole approves
still of the campaign by the president of his campaign against
illegal drugs and they favour him despite all the controversy about
his anti- terror law, which you and others have described as a
fundamental threat to freedom of expression.That's the third one,
the antihero bill.You have to get really no way. Everything you say
about what President Rodrigo Duterte is doing is not deterring a really
big majority of Filipinos from giving him their backing.I think
you have to look at the surveys and actually talk to the people who do
the surveys and the biggest question you have to ask them is how do you
count for fear? Before we went to lockdown this was a question I asked
all the time because these surveys are done in the homes of people,
they have their numbers, they know who they are, they are normally,
their names are normally given by the village chiefs, the captains.
How do you account for fear? Not saying that President Rodrigo
Duterte is not popular because I think this home spun, this kind of,
the guy you want to have a beer with, the grandfather you want to
have the beer with easy narrative. That is appealing. Having said that,
how do you count for fear? Interesting question and I tell you
what, that plants in my mind a different idea about fear. Maybe for
you, and be honest, a relatively elite personality living in a nice
part of Manila with perhaps more security than most Filipinos, it is
easy for you to focus on the threats to freedom which you fee and the
fear you talk about but what about the other Filipinos his fear is much
more street level? More about the insecurity? Your Rappler website has
made a point of investigating the drugs war that President Rodrigo
Duterte has initiated for the last 3- four years but the drugs war
according to most Filipinos have made their streets safer. Yes, they
look at the fact that hardly any security personnel have been
persecuted - prosecuted for egregious use of violence but they
look at the fact that thousands of drug dealers have been taken off the
streets, and they like that. I think that is definitely the narrative but
if you dig deeper into the surveys, number one, this is based on the UN
report, one just released a few weeks ago, you can see that the
people who die in the drug war are the poor.And you can see that in
those surveys, not just the social weather stations, it is also polls
Asia, you can see that President Rodrigo Duterte support among the
poorest of the poor has dwindled significantly compared to the AB,
the people who are wealthy, he can cut the deals. I always say there
are three things that really characterise living under the age of
President Rodrigo Duterte. You have to do one of these three things, the
three C. Corrupt, coerce or co-opt and it is not the poor or do that I
would say that the poor suffer the most. If you look at the brutal drug
war, it depends on here talk to, if you talk to the police they will say
I well, maybe about 6000- 7000 have died. They admit to that. Then he
took to the human rights groups and they say it is tens of thousands our
own Filipino commission on human rights places the number at 27,000.
That was several months ago. No, I think you have to look much deeper
into the numbers, look at which of the demographics and look at who is
winning and who is losing.Let me ask you a personal question and be
brief if you can.Sure.Has a boss of Rappler, known for its
investigations including the drugs war, can you now think very
carefully before commissioning any reported that has dug into what has
happened into the streets. A man for the journals have been killed this
year. More than 100 journalists have been killed in the last couple of
decades in the Philippines. It is dangerous being a journalist. Are
you now fearful for your own staff? That is a really good question. In a
way we have been forged in fire and I think that the biggest lesson we
have learnt in the last four years is that when there is a thought
hanging over your head, if you let it affect you, then you have lost
it. What we have done is we have doubled down on the investigative
reporting, we know it's really important. We know we have to do
this now. So, I don't actually make out the assignments in Rappler but
when I see in our team is this renewed commitment. They are
tireless. We have a young team. Rappler is about 100 people, 63%
women, the median age is 23 years old. The reported that President
Rodrigo Duterte will lead, he basically faced her down, she was
like 26 years old! When he did that! So, no, I think that I don't have to
encourage Rappler to do investigative reporting. I think
they are doing it on their own and all I'm trying to do is keep the sky
from falling.
Let's talk about international reaction and response to what is
going on in the Philippines right now. We have international NGOs like
Amnesty international condemning what they call a policy of
large-scale murdering, murdering enterprise as they call it the UN
human rights office report saying there is near impunity offered to
Philippine security personnel, and we also see consistently over the
last four years, Donald Trump has referred to President Duterte as his
friend, we have seen a very close relationship developing between
Duterte and the Chinese government, and we see for example, that the
International Criminal Court, which appeared to be ready to investigate
what was happening in the Philippines has essentially been
neutralised because the Philippines has refused to recognise its
legitimacy. The international community frankly, has let you down,
hasn't it?I wouldn't say that. What I would say is that the Philippines
is punching above its weight in terms of determining the
geopolitical power balance. It really is, when President Duterte
took office by September, he took office in May 2016, by September
2016 he was in Beijing, and he announced a payment of the
Philippines, a key country in the South China Sea, what we call the
West Philippines see. He announced that the Philippines would permit
away from the United States to China and Russia. He tossed us in. What's
interesting is what happened when the United States pushed against
what was happening in the drug war. Last December, the US government
actually took away the Visa of the man who was carrying out the drug
war, the Philippine national police chief. He is now a senator but they
took away his Visa under law, and the Philippine government was so
upset that they cancelled part of the military bases that has gone for
a long time, this is a very strong relationship, in the past, to the
visiting forces, the government cancelled it, but here we go again.
Just this month, the Philippine government gave notice that they
were not going to cancel that and it is back up.My point, you are making
my point for me. Whatever the detail of difficulties geostrategic
difficulties in relationship between United States and the Philippines,
in the end, there seems to be a brotherhood feeling between Donald
Trump and Rodrigo Duterte you could argue they are populists of a
similar style. They have contempt for much of the media which we have
discussed, they both seem to see journalists as enemies of the
people, and they both, true to say, have found a way of communicating
through social media, through using Twitter and Facebook platforms in a
way that politically is extraordinarily successful.I would
agree with you, anything part of what is important, but let me first
answer that question you asked. Did it lead us down? No, absolutely not.
Understand the geopolitical power play at work here but it is very
similar to what is happening in many democracies around the world,
including in the UK. This is the role of technology. Facebook is
being in the Philippines, we spend the most time on the Internet, and
on social media globally, and I think it is the fifth year running.
We are social. What has happened is this kind of Astroturf ring of
manufactured consensus, the manipulation of the public as mass
scale, using Facebook, it has happened here in the Philippines.
Asked about the popularity of President Duterte, that is bubbly
going by a propaganda machine that we got clobbered for exposing in
2016.Maria, I would have to enter up because that is so what you are
suggesting is that democracy doesn't work anymore. If you are talking
about manipulating public opinions, then you are undermining and
delegitimising the notion that everyone has a right to choose a
government. If you say their opinions are fake or false, whereas
democracy?That's exactly what I am saying. Democracy is essentially
dead and part of what Gilded is a media platforms that are becoming
behavioural modification systems are. If you look at what has
happened all around the world, starting 2017, studies have shown
that cheap armies on social media are cutting down democracy, rolling
it back. In 2017 it was in 27 countries, in 2018, double, 2019 it
was up 70 countries, and these are different research studies.This is
dangerous territory. You are suggesting to me that President
Duterte, in the end, is illegitimate and doesn't have a mandate, when
painterly, on paper, this man has an extraordinary mandate.That not what
I'm saying. Festival he does not have an extraordinary mandate, he
was one of five presidential candidates, out of 62 million
voters, he had 16 million votes, that is what elected him. He won the
majority of the five. But beyond that, what I am saying is that the
new information ecosystem actually allows lies, laced with anger and
hate to spread faster than facts. When a lie is told a million times
in today's age, when I am attacked a million times, criminal criminal
criminal, it becomes a fact, and this is what is wrong. If you don't
have integrity of fact, you cannot have integrity of markets, and you
certainly can't tap integrity of elections. This is the problem with
democracy.A final thought than. Am very mindful that you return to the
Philippines from the United States after the people power revolution of
1986, and you made your life in the Philippines after that. There was so
much hope around then. It was a different kind of politics in your
country. Here is what one Filipino lawyer who moved to Australia
recently has written. He said in terms of corruption, the post-
people power government became indistinguishable from the Marcos
regime. The only difference was the rhetoric of human rights and
democracy, which people have increasingly come to regard as a
sham. Isn't that the truth was Mac Duterte is in power and quote
unquote, so successful because the post people power politics of the
Philippines simply failed the people.I think I would agree that
post people power was a failure, we had endemic corruption, replaced one
set of leaders with another, who then created their own, I mean we
have always had the eight oligarch families, but the difference is
this. The trickle-down effect didn't trickle down. There was a perfect
storm, and this happened globally, this is part of the reason you are
seeing a trend back to a form of I would say almost fascism. Because
liberal democracy didn't deliver its promise. Having said that, we should
not be moving the other direction, and that is the challenge to every
democracy here. Part of what is enabling that is social media. When
the gatekeepers, the journalists, news organisations used to be
gatekeepers, we kept the public sphere, we all agreed on the fact
that. Out of the gatekeepers are tech companies, the application of
that responsibility has had huge impact on what we're seeing now is
the of, all my gosh, I'm going to say fascism all around the world,
and this is scary for me, here in the Philippines, because we are one
of the first signatories from the UN declaration of human rights, and yet
I see Filipinos, things I would have thought would have been
unbelievable, Filipinos are saying it's OK to kill. Filipino saying
that you know, democracy doesn't work. Maybe it doesn't, but I guess
this is where I would like to see Filipinos way in. We should not look
away, we should make an act active choice, and when you see your rights
getting pushed back, and I saw my rights being violated, and when that
happens, are we going to accept that? That will fundamentally change
democracy.Maybe we should... We have to end, but I'm thinking, never
mind the threat of present now hanging over your head, you continue
this fight?It's not just about present. The journey is the battle
because I think there is so much more at stake. If it was just me, I
would be quiet, why not? But there is so much at stake for us right
now. I became a journalist in 1986 and I am a journalist today. At my
most senior. I want to make sure that I do the right thing for
democracy, for journalism.Maria Ressa, thank you very much indeed
for being on HARDtalk.
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evoe 發佈於 2020 年 7 月 27 日
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