On the morning of Friday, Mar. 29, the Philippine government arrested Filipina journalist and Time Person of the Year Maria Ressa ’86 as she disembarked from her flight from San Francisco over an alleged violation of the Securities Regulation Code and an anti-dummy law.
Ressa was named Time magazine’s 2018 “Person of the Year” for her work as co-founder of Rappler, an online news outlet known for criticizing Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and exposing fake news.
The Philippine government, however, has recently accused Rappler — partially funded by U.S.-based company, Omidyar Network — of violating an anti-dummy law that prevents foreign companies from investing too heavily in Filipino news organizations, along with 11 other charges.
Ressa did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Princetonian.
Currently, Ressa is out of jail on bail and has continued her reporting, even tweeting photos while inside the police van that took her into custody.
Before departing from San Francisco, she had told CNN that she was expecting to be taken into custody upon her return to Manila. Earlier that same week, her managing editor and five other former and current board members of Rappler were also arrested.
In recent months, Ressa has had to post bail seven times. Her most recent arrest occurred a little over a month after she was previously arrested on Feb. 13 and charged with cyber-libel.
Ressa also had turned herself into the authorities in December 2018 to face charges of tax evasion.
International news outlets are in consensus that this arrest, and Ressa’s previous arrests, constitute anti-journalist harassment from the Philippine government.
University professor and former Washington Post reporter Joe Stephens expressed his concern about the respected journalist’s arrest.
“I think this campaign against Maria and her colleagues should be alarming to anyone who values democracy and free speech anywhere in the world,” he said.
“Obviously, Maria Ressa is a courageous woman, and she is a fearless journalist. This continuing string of charges and arrests looks to be a clear case of harassment and my immediate thought is that Filipino officials seem to be terrified of Maria and her colleagues and the power of a free press,” Stephens continued.
Duterte has regularly disparaged the media, especially outlets critical of his regime, going so far as to call journalists “spies” and declaring that they should not be “exempted from assassination.”
In the past, Rappler has been so concerned about the safety of their reporters that they considered using bullet-proof glass in their office.
Filipino student Agnes Robang ’22 and her sister Andrea Robang have always been aware of the restrictions on free speech in the Philippines.
“For people to be able to actually take advantage of their freedoms, they need to feel secure and safe in doing so,” Robang said.
Stephens encourages the community to take a stand against this infringement of free speech.
“Being clear and vocal, raising our voices in outrage about what is happening to Maria and that anyone who has any connection to the Philippines should do what they can to make it clear that this is not acceptable,” Stephens said.