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As Maria Ressa ’86 holds the line, we must act now

<h5>Maria Ressa ’86 visited The Daily Princetonian’s newsroom in 2019.</h5>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Maria Ressa ’86 visited The Daily Princetonian’s newsroom in 2019.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

On Monday, a Philippine judge found Maria Ressa ’86 — a world-renowned journalist and founder of the independent news site Rappler — and her colleague, Reynaldo Santos, Jr., guilty on spurious charges of “cyber libel.” Ressa’s conviction comes after four years of thinly veiled political persecution.

The Board is proud to stand with Ressa, and we condemn this shameful and illegitimate ruling in the strongest possible terms. Though her case is pending appeal, Ressa now faces up to six years in prison. As the government presses additional charges against her, she could be sentenced to 100 more.

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Since coming to power in 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has launched a national campaign of violence, repression, and terror. He bears the blood of the some 12,000 people murdered in his extralegal “war on drugs.” Ressa and her colleagues at Rappler, who have unearthed many such abuses, are guilty only of holding Duterte to account.

When the Philippine government charged Ressa in 2019, the Board wrote, “As Ressa’s own government violates her human right to free speech, we believe that journalists everywhere must express their solidarity.”

Today, that imperative could not be clearer. But it doesn’t end there.

We join the Washington Post Editorial Board in calling for the U.S. government to rightfully defend Ressa, a dual Philippine-American citizen. While Donald Trump professes admiration for Duterte’s authoritarian tactics, Ressa’s conviction has elicited nothing more than “a muted and belated expression of ‘concern’” from the State Department.

The Philippines has long benefited from astronomical U.S. military aid. This year alone, Washington will funnel some $342 million to Duterte’s undemocratic regime. As Ressa fights for her freedom, we urge the Trump administration, which has thus far failed Ressa, to exercise this leverage for good.

In a statement this week, Rappler’s management explained, “This is not just about Maria or Rey or Rappler. This is about fundamental rights of every citizen who refuses to be intimidated by the powerful who do wrong and whom they dare criticize and expose.”

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Ressa has met this moment with unflinching resolve and incredible bravery. Though she has often traveled abroad, including to Princeton last year, she has always returned to the Philippines, undaunted and undeterred.

At the University’s virtual Commencement last month, Ressa told graduates, “I admit that it took me more than a month to defang the fear of jail. I hated that the baton was passed to me at this moment in time, but I also knew I wasn’t going to drop it.”

Now more than ever, Ressa holds the line. We must join her.

144TH EDITORIAL BOARD

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Chair

Zachariah W. Sippy ’22

Members

Benjamin Ball ’21

Shannon E. Chaffers ’22

Rachel Kennedy ’21

Kate Lee ’23

Madeleine Marr ’21

Jonathan A. Ort ’21

Elizabeth Parker ’21

Emma Treadway ’22

Ivy Truong ’21

Cy Watsky ’21

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