New Delhi: Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, the editor of Philippinian news website Rappler, has said that she keeps a prison “go bag” with cash for bail and even creates simulations of police raids with her staff amid her fight for press freedom in the Philippines. She had won acquittal on four tax-evasion charges on Wednesday. However, she said she is prepared for the worst with respect to three more outstanding cases that either could land her in jail or have her online news platform shut down.
Maria Ressa shared the Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov in 2021. She has been facing a series of cases that as per media advocates, were brought due to her criticism of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his drug war, which claimed thousands of lives, The Guardian reported.
“I think what President Duterte did there was, he created a climate of fear. And that’s for everyone: for journalists, for business, for institutions,” she told news agency Agence France-Presse in an interview. “And he made a point of making an example of people who stood up to him.”
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Her legal troubles began soon after Duterte’s election in 2016. Maria Ressa, the CEO and Executive Editor of online news site Rappler, said she had taken steps to prepare her reporters for situations of police raids on the Rappler office.
The drills have continued even after Ferdinand Marcos replaced Duterte last year.
“Yes, we have because who knows what will happen? When you’re on quicksand, you’re on quicksand,” Ressa said, as per The Guardian.
The country’s corporate regulator ordered Rappler to shut down in early 2018 and Ressa said that she gathered her young staff – 120 people with an average age of 23 years – and offered to help them find new jobs if they wished to quit.
Following this, Rappler has continued to operate while fighting the closure order in court.
“The best part of it is, I think, these six years – we’re coming up on seven actually – made us stronger. Nietzsche was right – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she said.
The 59-year-old said that she has kept an emergency bag with a change of clothes, sheets, and toothpaste after she was convicted of cyber libel in 2020.
“You have to pack a go bag in case you get arrested and you have to go to jail,” she said, as per the report. The Nobel laureate said she kept a bag ready even as she was granted bail while appealing against the verdict.
“There was a period of time when I carried bail money with me all the time because we didn’t know when we were going to be arrested,” she revealed.
The Rappler staff is also said to have dealt with online harassment and death threats.
“When we were planning what was going to happen today, the first thing we thought about was conviction, and then acquittal, right? Because this is the very first time since President Duterte took office that we have had a legal win,” she said, as per The Guardian.
Ressa also has a US passport but has insisted that she would never leave the country to avoid prosecution.
According to the Rappler CEO, she has seen a “shift” take place as shown by her tax acquittals, “because we held the line”. “I’m much more hopeful today than I was last night.”