Dissent through art in the time of media clampdown

Iya Gozum
Dissent through art in the time of media clampdown
Filipinos use art to express dissent following the cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino artists expressed their dissent over the cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa and former Rappler researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr through their creative artworks.

On Monday, June 15, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 convicted the journalists of cyber libel in a case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng in 2017.

Following the conviction, many artists made digital artworks of Maria Ressa featuring a favorite quote or slogan. Some of the artworks showed Ressa’s mouth taped shut, a metaphor for the silencing of critical dissenters and the press.


Ressa and Santos’ conviction was seen by many as a threat to freedom of expression, one of the tenets of the Philippine Constitution and democracy. 

One of Ressa’s most quoted lines from A Thousand Cuts – a documentary that followed press freedom under the Duterte administration – was used in the artworks as inspiration. In the documentary, Ressa talked about the death of the nation by “a thousand cuts” – the little cuts that weaken dissent.


Freelance journalist Aie Balagtas See and her 13-year-old sister, meanwhile, produced “statement masks” with the words “Stand with Rappler.”

These masks were produced under their initiative, Project Busal, which aims to express the common sentiments of Filipinos amid the current political climate and the coronavirus pandemic. 

See said in a Facebook post: “The name is a play on words. Busal is Tagalog for gag and stifle, mask is another term for hide, while unmasking means uncovering and exposing.”


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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum is a member of Rappler's digital communications team. When off the grid, she’s either a hundred/thousand meters above sea level – or dreaming about it. You may email her at iya.gozum@rappler.com.