Fighting Mr Fake


President of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte

Trump has a precursor – and maybe even a mentor – when it comes to waging war on media he does not like.

These days Maria Ressa, executive editor and CEO of Rappler, goes around the streets of Manila with police escorts. You can tell if she’s in her office by the police cars parked outside the tower block in the eastern part of Metro Manila.

At one point extra guards were also posted inside Rappler’s busy third-floor office. After President Rodrigo Duterte came into power in 2016, the online news outfit received threats from his supporters.

In Duterte’s regime, Rappler is the little boy who cried, ‘The Emperor has no clothes!’

The Duterte administration has tried everything in its power to discredit his critics. In Rappler’s case it’s harder due to the credibility the outlet has earned since its launch in 2012. Also, Ressa is something of a legend in the media world. She was Manila bureau chief of CNN for nearly two decades before setting up Rappler, and broke key stories on international terrorist links.

But the Duterte administration is relentless in its attacks. It has revoked Rappler’s incorporation papers, ordered an investigation into alleged cyber libel and tax payments, branded the organization a peddler of ‘fake news’ and banned its designated reporter from entering the presidential palace.


Catapulted to power in July 2016, Duterte has flourished in the shadow of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Trumpeting his love for his country, Duterte is charming, down-to-earth but also thin-skinned and does not hesitate to use everything in his power to silence his foes.

Last year his department of justice put his toughest critic, Senator Leila de Lima, behind bars for alleged involvement in illegal drugs. She is still there.

Her imprisonment sent a chilling message to his critics, but not everyone was cowed. Rappler continued to publish critical stories.

It was among the first to report on Duterte’s bloody ‘war on drugs’ by showing the victims of extra-judicial killings – the men, women and children who claimed innocence, and even the guilty who cried for ‘due process’ because there was none.

Rappler’s multimedia reports caught the attention of the foreign press and human rights organizations, which portrayed Duterte for what he is – a leader with total disregard for human rights.

Early this year, Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a Manila broadsheet, published a story about special assistant and long-time friend to the president, Christopher ‘Bong’ Go.

According to the report, Go was improperly involved in a $286 million warship procurement deal. This story, which resulted in a Senate investigation, was a big blow to Duterte who had fought on an anti-corruption platform.

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