MANILA, Philippines – For international law and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the challenges that Rappler chief executive officer and executive editor Maria Ressa faces in her home country, the Philippines, “defines our times”—an era marked by persecution and violence against journalists across the world.
Clooney nominated Ressa as the Changemaker of the Decade for British daily newspaper The Guardian.
“Maria Ressa is 5ft 2in, but she stands taller than most in her pursuit of the truth. Like any journalist in the Philippines, she has two choices: toe the government line and be safe; or risk her life to do her job. She has chosen the latter, and we are all better off as a result,” Clooney wrote in her write-up of Ressa, which was published with other nominations on Saturday, November 23.
Case after case
The Duterte administration has been firing off case after case against Maria Ressa and Rappler after they critically reported on Duterte’s popular but bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign that has claimed at least 5,500 and at most, around 30,000 lives of mostly poor Filipinos linked to the use and selling of illegal drugs.
As of August 21, 2019, there were at least 10 probes, complaints, and cases against Rappler, its executives, and former researcher. Ressa now faces a sentence of up to 63 years behind bars. She has already been arrested and is currently out on bail.
Outside the courts, Ressa and Rappler employees have been harassed online by thousands of trolls who support the Duterte administration, bombarding them with insults and threats for their reporting.
Clooney, along with human rights barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, recently joined Ressa and Rappler’s legal team. She recounted why she took on the case.
“When she asked me to act as her lawyer, I asked whether there was any judge in the Philippines who could be fair and independent enough to acquit her. She was not sure. I asked whether anyone other than Duterte would have the power to pardon her? They did not. Despite these odds, she went home. And I took the case. Because, as Maria explained, she is ‘holding up the ceiling’ for anyone else who dares to speak,” Clooney wrote.
She added: “Maria is speaking truth to power. She is holding up the ceiling for others. If it comes crashing down, I will do all I can to get her out.” – Rappler.com