After confirming that Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is a US citizen who only became a citizen of The Philippines as recently as 2004, journalist and former diplomat Rigoberto Tiglao has authored a detailed piece which paints a substantial timeline of Ressa’s career in broadcast and print media. One of the most important revelations in Mr. Tiglao’s piece is how throughout her career, Ressa attempted to advance her professional status by attempting to develop friendly relations with wealthy and influential foreigners, almost all of whom were white, but who nevertheless were often less than generous to her because she was not white.
Rigoberto Tiglao further writes that by 2010, Ressa’s career may have been at the end of its tether, but then she was thrown a lifeline. Mr. Tiglao writes the following about the sudden sift in Ressa’s otherwise sinking fortunes:
“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”.
Thus, a picture begins to appear in which similar powerful moneyed interests to those behind Rappler’s defamatory campaign against the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, are today, employing the same methods against an even bigger target – President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
It was in fact in 2016 that Rappler was not only losing its reason for being, but it was also losing a great deal of money. Again, Rappler was thrown a lifeline and this time around, the particular lifeline was one which lead to many scandals that saw Rappler on the wrong side of Philippine law. Mr. Tiglao writes:
“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”.
And thus, just as Rappler’s original Yellow benefactors helped to foment an anti-Corona editorial line, once Rappler’s new foreign benefactors became known to Philippine law enforcement, President Duterte and his supporters became the go-to targets for Rappler’s character assassination style of “journalism”.
In all of this, Duterte, like Corona before him, has not effected Rappler’s fortunes, but instead he has been and continues to be scapegoated in order for Rappler to propagate the big lie that it is the victim rather than the consummate aggressor. Rather than obeying the law, Rappler has aggressively and arrogantly flaunted Philippine law. Rather than accept that the Yellow politics has fallen out of favour with a vast majority of Filipinos, Rappler attempts to distort this reality and portray it as some sort of grand conspiracy which has covered up the “fact” that deep down, most Filipinos still support the Yellows, even though only someone who knows nothing about Philippine politics (westerners in most cases) could believe such an absurd conspiracy theory. Finally, Rappler has displayed a tendency to disproportionately attack foreigners and naturalised Filipinos who are honest about their non-Filipino ethnicity and/or citizenship, whilst as Mr. Tiglao exposed earlier this week, the only person who has tried to conceal foreign connections and citizenship is none other than Maria Ressa.
The picture that is consequently painted is most certainly an ugly one. Rappler has mercilessly scapegoated President Duterte whilst attacking and defaming some of his biggest advocates – all the while hiding behind western sounding platitudes in order to obfuscate the reality of the situation. The clear goal of Rappler and its backers is either to force Duterte into a humiliating climb down in terms of his policies or otherwise, to continually agitate for his removal from his legally held political office.
Many other men or women in Duterte’s position would have long ago surrendered the national dignity of The Philippines, allowed Philippine law to be broken and exploited, and would have then kowtowed to wealthy foreigners in a futile attempt to regain a neo-colonial stamp of approval from rich Americans, Canadians, Australians and Europeans. Had Duterte humbled himself like a slave before Ressa’s foreign supporters, some deal could have been cut whereby even the likes of George Soros might agree that “it’s more fun in The Philippines” – aka, “it’s more fun to exploit the Filipino people”. Meanwhile ordinary Filipinos would be forced to endure crime, terrorism, a stagnating economy and international humiliation at the hands of rich, powerful and overwhelmingly white westerners.
Instead, Duterte has held fast to his principles and in so doing, he has demonstrated that not only can Philippine sovereignty and dignity be upheld in the face of foreign bullying from the super-rich, but that there is now an international model whereby developing nations the world over can stand up to mega-rich western bullies. It has been said that “if you don’t run, they can’t chase you”. By refusing to run scared from the enemy, Duterte has towered high over the political minefield that is the current political landscape in The Philippines. As such, his country, ASEAN and those the world over who yearn for freedom from the tyranny of disinformation, are the better for it.
In standing up to those who seek to subjugate The Philippines to a neo-colonial reality, President Duterte has done for a developing country what many leaders of wealthy countries have not been able to do. By simply allowing existing laws to be enforced, whilst refusing to cut political deals with the enemies of The Philippines, President Duterte has shown that he cannot and will not be intimated.
While some can be bought, Duterte is someone who is the first servant of the Filipino people and as such, he is an inspiration for the underdogs in every society to stand up to the rich, the powerful and the craven. A bully only wins if they are not challenged. By maintaining his principles, Duterte is giving the bullies the fright of their miserable lives.