By Rigoberto D. Tiglao
IF not for Maria Ressa and Rappler’s vilification campaign against President Duterte and the Philippines, and her success in getting foreign media entities to portray her as a heroine of press freedom, her journalism career would have crashed years ago.
Ressa is, therefore, unlikely to give up her portrayal of herself as a victim of the suppression of the press in a country which, she says, has a media that has been cowed.
In the description of her by Rappler and other foreign award-giving sites, she is portrayed as a distinguished journalist who has been given more than seven awards by international media outfits, including one as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.”
This were all given only in 2018 after Ressa, with the help of Yellow forces, managed to portray internationally as instances of Duterte’s alleged authoritarianism the actions of two state agencies in upholding our rule of law.
First, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s ruling that it had violated the constitutional ban on foreign money in media. And second, the National Bureau of Investigation decided to pursue a private citizens’ libel charge against Ressa.
That is, in just a year of her efforts in portraying the Philippines as under authoritarian rule, Ressa got at least seven awards and international acclaim (or sympathy). In contrast, she couldn’t get a single such award in her 16 years with CNN.
(The Wikipedia entry on Ressa reports that she received an Overseas Press Club Award for Best Documentary and the National Headliner Award for Investigative Journalism, presumably before 2018. The two awards’ websites, though, do not report her receiving such honors.)
I had admired Ressa for her audacity in going into broadcast media which, especially in the US, has three elephants in their news studios, which would have quickly trampled her.
First is its bias against non-whites. Second is the bias for staff whose physical features conform to Anglo-Saxon notions of beauty. And third is the bias against women. A cursory research makes this point obvious. CNN has about 200 anchors and correspondents. How many are black females? Two. How many of Asian descent? Three. How many aren’t Anglo-Saxon lookers? None.
This is not my opinion but the result of numerous scholarly studies on US media and its biases. US media outfits’ rush to defend Ressa, I suspect, is an instance of their hypocrisy and their collective guilt for their bigotry.
Ressa managed to stay long at CNN because a major concern of US and its media minions had emerged: The outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the Philippines and in Indonesia. CNN exploited her: Ressa’s looks and her family links in the two countries (one parent is Indonesian, I was told, but cannot confirm) made it easy for her to access sources among terrorists and government.
Despite her coverage though, the three elephants in CNN’s news studios eventually got to kick her out. I was told that she was given that “resign-or-be-fired” kind of message by CNN early in 2003, when she was Jakarta bureau chief. And she thought she could be CNN’s next Christiane Amanpour, her career idol. Did you notice that CNN as an institution didn’t issue a statement in support of its former staff?
Resign or be fired
ABS-CBN recruited her in 2004 to head its news division, the idea of its president then, a purportedly marketing genius, Freddie Garcia, who argued that Ressa would give the oligarch-owned station the “CNN sheen” of excellence. Chairman Gabby Lopez was said to have been delighted that he would be seen as the Philippines’ Ted Turner.
Ressa, though, proved to be a big headache for Lopez, insiders in the network reported. (See for instance https://www.thedailysentry.net/2018/10/a-scandalous-mess-that-maria-ressa-of.html?m=1)
Did you notice that neither ABS-CBN, nor its media bigwigs like its president Charo Santos, Luchi Cruz-Valdes, Karen Davila and Charie Villa have spoken a word in defense of their former colleague, a “kabaro” at that? Yellow leader Mar Roxas – if not for his wife Korina Sanchez – would have raised a howl over Ressa’s “persecution,” but didn’t.
All these women despised Ressa, for various reasons, and bugged Lopez to fire her. Many in the network, even Lopez’s conservative relatives, were allegedly also scandalized over Ressa’s open lesbian relationship with Lilibeth Frondoso — married but separated — who became some kind of power in the network because of her closeness to the controversial news head. Gabby’s mestizo executives and friends incessantly asked him: “Are you really comfortable with Ressa being the face of ABS-CBN?”
Gabby Lopez, I was told by insiders, got the excuse to give Ressa the “resign-or-be-fired” message when he got undeniable proof that she was moonlighting, that is, giving interviews, for a fee, on Philippine developments with CNN and other US media outfits (whom she would later tap to raise a howl against the libel charge against her). Her services to ABS-CBN were exclusive, according to her contract.
End of career
That would have been the end of Ressa’s career in broadcast media. The Philippine broadcast industry is a small, gossipy world, and no other media enterprise — even Manuel Pangilinan’s new Channel 5 to whom she sent feelers to join — would take her in. Al-Jazeera, which had been pirating CNN broadcasters, was run by British executives and had the same three elephants of bigotry in their studies.
While her work in covering terrorists in the Philippines and Indonesia got her to be a consultant in academic and intelligence institutions in the US, her expertise in Islamic jihad became gradually doubted because of her exaggeration of the extent of the network of the Islamist jihadists in Southeast Asia, and her conclusion that these were all directed by al-Qaeda.
For instance, in her 2012 book Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center,” Ressa claimed that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was really a part of al-Qaeda, and that its Camp Abubakr was a sprawling training camp for the Bin Laden terrorist group.
She even stridently criticized former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for undertaking peace talks with the insurgent groups, and even reported claims that her military sold arms to the MILF. In a self-serving way since she had covered two countries in the region that had Muslim terrorists, Ressa’s thesis was that Southeast Asia — because Indonesia had the biggest Muslim population while the Philippines was weak in fighting terrorists — would be the center of Islamic jihad in the world.
Obviously, subsequent events — the peace agreement with the MILF and the decline of al-Qaeda as well as Bin Laden’s killing — made Ressa’s expertise passé, if not inaccurate. The US and the West’s main concern became the rise of the Islamic State, which was far, far beyond Ressa’s world of Southeast Asian jihadists. Her narrow field of expertise in journalism, Islamic jihad in Southeast Asia, became useless.
That would have been the end of Ressa’s journalistic career, which would have been devastating for her immense ego described by those who have worked with her, compensated for her diminutive size and looks.
She found a new career when the Benigno Aquino 3rd camp, after he assumed power in 2010, had the brilliant idea of setting up a news website to control the emerging world of social media, and to form a tag team with the Philippine Daily Inquirer the Yellows had their thumbs on.
The plan became urgent when Aquino decided to undertake the unprecedented project of removing the Chief Justice, Renato Corona. It was his clan’s last-resort move to control the Supreme Court so it would rule that the agrarian-reform compensation for his clan’s Hacienda Luisita would be P10 billion, not the P200 million the Agrarian Reform department calculated it should be.
Rappler officially went online Jan. 1, 2012, a few days before Corona’s impeachment trial started, with even its first major story — symbolically? — a false one that claimed that the chief justice cheated to get his PhD, which is still posted by the website.
As my colleague Yen Makabenta wrote yesterday: “Rappler served as cheerleader for every sordid turn in the impeachment trial up to the very end; it said nothing when the prosecution was caught manufacturing evidence, and when Aquino was exposed in his bribery of the senator-jurors.”
Vicious, false articles
Rappler competed in posting having vicious, false articles that demonized Corona with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
It was, in fact, Rappler’s enthusiasm in vilifying Corona to justify its existence to its Yellow overlords that got it into trouble
It reported in May 2012 that Corona was using an SUV owned by a Filipino businessmen involved in “human trafficking and drug smuggling.” Of course, that angered the businessmen so much he has pursued a libel case against Rappler.
Ressa has cried to the world that it was just Duterte wanting to suppress Rappler.
Given its huge technology expenses to build a big audience in cyberspace and its above-industry salaries for Ressa and his gang, Rappler got to the brink of bankruptcy, especially when the Yellows lost power in 2016. The Yellows had difficulties bankrolling it either covertly or overtly such as through contracts with the Tourism department. (Because of its success in portraying Duterte as an authoritarian though, Rappler appears to have been recently infused with new Yellow money: Its two new board directors were with Cory Aquino’s high officials, Solita Monsod and Fulgencio Factoran.)
An American, Ressa tapped her contacts with the help of Yellow supporters in New York, and got two US outfits, Omidyar Network and North Base Media to invest P100 million in the website to save it from going under.
As an American, Ressa probably had never read the Philippine Constitution with its ban on foreigners in media, or she had such a culture of impunity that she thought she could ignore the laws of this puny nation. The Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that, indeed, Rappler was in violation of the Constitution and must be dissolved.
Ressa panicked and claimed first, that the foreign money was donated to its managers. When that proved impossible (the managers told her they couldn’t pay for the taxes for such gifts), she claimed that the investments were in the form of securities, the kind PLDT and ABS-CBN use to go around the constitutional ban on foreign money in media.
Oops! The Bureau of Internal Revenue read about her explanation, studied it for months, and ruled that Rappler’s issuance of securities generated capital gains, which, therefore, must be taxed. Rappler evaded such payment of P133 million in taxes, the BIR concluded. The Justice department had to agree with the BIR and filed a tax evasion case against Ressa and her executives.
Ressa cried to the world that she is being persecuted. Ressa has vilified her country of birth for her egoistic ambitions.
American media are automatically biased against a Third World leader who doesn’t pay obeisance to the US, and after all, this puny country is not that important to fact-check the lies a fellow American tells them.
**The original copy of this article appeared in The Manila Times and was re-posted here with the authorization of the Author ***
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