Ressa on July 6, 2011
Maria A. Ressa
October 2, 1963
|Citizenship|| United States|
University of the Philippines Diliman
|Known for||Co-founding Rappler|
Maria A. Ressa is a Filipino journalist and author, best known for co-founding Rappler as its chief executive officer. She previously spent nearly two decades working as a lead investigative reporter in Southeast Asia for CNN.
Ressa was included in Time's Person of the Year 2018 as one of a collection of journalists from around the world combating fake news. She was arrested for "cyber libel" amid accusations of various instances of falsified news and corporate tax evasion on February 13, 2019. Ressa had since posted bail while the lawsuits went pending in the Regional Trial Court. As an outspoken critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, her arrest was seen by the international journalistic community as a politically motivated act by the latter's government. Ressa is one of the 25 leading figures on the Information and Democracy Commission launched by Reporters Without Borders.
Ressa was born in Manila and grew up there until the age of 9, when her parents relocated to Toms River, New Jersey. There, she spent the rest of her childhood and adolescence, where she graduated from Toms River High School North.
Ressa studied molecular biology and theater as an undergraduate at Princeton University, where she graduated cum laude with a BA degree in English. She then was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for political theater, with which she completed her master's at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
Ressa's first job was at CNN where she worked for nearly two decades, serving as Manila bureau chief from 1988 to 1995 and as Jakarta bureau chief from 1995 to 2005. As CNN's lead investigative reporter in Asia, she specialized in investigating terrorist networks. She became an author-in-residence at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) of Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
From 2004, Ressa headed the news division of ABS-CBN, while also writing for CNN and The Wall Street Journal. Her eventual departure from ABS-CBN came in 2010 after being given a "resign-or-be-fired" offer for moonlighting for CNN. Ressa's contract stated she was an exclusive talent. In an open letter dated October 11, 2010, Ressa noted that she would not renew her six-year contract with ABS-CBN.
She is the author of two books concerning the rise of terrorism in Southeast Asia: Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda's Newest Center (2011) and From Bin Laden to Facebook 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism (2013).
She established the online news site, Rappler in 2012. It started as a Facebook page named MovePH in August 2011 and later evolved into a complete website on January 1, 2012. The site has since been a major news portal in the Philippines, receiving numerous local and international awards.
On January 22, 2018, Ressa appeared before the Philippines' National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), to comply with a subpoena over an online libel complaint. The subpoena was issued on January 10 to Ressa, together with former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, and businessman Benjamin Bitanga. The subpoena was filed in October 2017 by a Filipino–Chinese national, Wilfredo Keng, after Rappler published a story on Keng's alleged lending of his sports utility vehicle to now-deceased Chief Justice Renato Corona as a bribed form of favor.
In November 2018, the Philippine government announced that it would charge Ressa and Rappler's parent company, Rappler Holdings Corporation, with tax evasion and failure to file tax returns. The charge concerns the investment in Rappler by the Omidyar Network in 2015. Ressa has denied wrongdoing, originally claiming that the foreign money was "donated" to its managers, later claiming the investments were in the form of securities. Rappler issued a statement denying any wrongdoing. The Philippines' Bureau of Internal Revenue, after a study of Ressa's explanation, ruled that Rappler's issuance of securities-generated capital gains, were taxable. It was concluded that Rappler evaded such payment amounting to P133 million in taxes.
On February 13, 2019, Philippine judge Rainelda Estacio—Montesa of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch #46 issued the arrest warrant for "cyber libel" against Ressa. The officials of the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation fulfilled this warrant filed under the charge of cyber libel. The charge was contested by Ressa pertaining to the efficacy of a law limiting the article in question. Rappler, instead of taking down the article, released instead an update to the same story on February 2014. The arrest was live-streamed by many of Rappler's senior reporters on Facebook to vent their protest.
Due to time constraints, Ressa was unable to post bail amounting to ₱60,000 ($1,150) resulting in her arrest and confinement within the (holding) board room office of the NBI building. A total of six lawyers, two pro bono, were assigned to work on her case. On February 14, 2019, at the executor proceeding of Manila city Judge Maria Teresa Abadilla, Ressa gained freedom by posting bail at ₱100,000 ($1,900).
Ressa's arrest was criticized by the international community. As an outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, many viewed the arrest as being politically motivated. In contrast, the official spokesperson for the Malacañang Palace denied any government involvement in the arrest, asserting that the lawsuit against Ressa was set forth by a private individual, the plaintiff Wilfredo Keng.
Madeleine Albright, a former U.S. Secretary of State, issued an opinion stating that the arrest "must be condemned by all democratic nations". Similarly, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called it "a shameless act of persecution by a bully government".
The National Press Club, an organization accused of having close ties to the Duterte regime and with a long history of criticising the Rappler organization, has stated that the arrest was not harassment, and that Ressa should not be relegated to "the altar of press freedom for martyrdom". It also warned against politicizing the issue.
Ressa's trial on charges of cyberlibel began in July 2019. In a statement she made on the first day of her trial, Ressa said: “This case of cyberlibel stretches the rule of law until it breaks.”
Over the duration of her journalism career, Ressa has won the Overseas Press Club Award for Best Documentary, the National Headliner Award for Investigative Journalism, an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Investigative Journalism, the Asian Television Awards, TOWNS – Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation's Service (Philippines) and TOYM Philippines.
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