In her fight for press freedom in the Philippines, Nobel laureate Maria Ressa told AFP that she keeps a prison “go bag,” bundles of cash for bail, and plays out police raid scenarios with her staff.
The Rappler editor was cleared on all four tax evasion allegations on Wednesday, but she said she is still bracing for the worst because there are still three unresolved cases that could result in her going to jail or the closure of her online news organization.
Ressa, who in 2021 won the Nobel Peace Prize with the Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, has been fighting a number of legal battles that media activists allege were brought against her because of her criticism of the late president Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody drug campaign.
“I believe what President Duterte did in that situation was cultivate an atmosphere of dread. And that goes for everyone, including institutions, businesses, and journalists “she stated in an interview with AFP.
And he made a point of making an example of people who stood up to him.”
Since her legal troubles began soon after Duterte’s election in 2016, Ressa said she has taken steps to prepare her reporters for the prospect of police raiding the Rappler office to arrest staff, padlock the door and other unfortunate events.
The drills have continued even after Ferdinand Marcos was elected to succeed Duterte last year. “Yes, we have because who knows what will happen? When you’re on quicksand, you’re on quicksand,” Ressa said.After the country’s corporate regulator ordered Rappler to shut down in early 2018, Ressa said she gathered her young work force — 120 people with a median age of 23 — and offered to help them find new jobs if they wanted to quit.
Rappler has continued to run despite battling the closure order in court, but no one took her up on it.
“The nicest aspect, in my opinion, is that I believe these six years — we’re almost at seven, in fact — made us stronger. Nietzsche had a point. You become stronger by what doesn’t kill you.”
“More optimistic today”
After being found guilty of internet libel in 2020, Ressa, 59, claimed she prepared an emergency bag containing a change of clothes, bedding, toothpaste, and a pillowcase.
You have to pack a go bag in case you get arrested and you have to go to jail,” she said, adding she has kept a bag ready even as she was granted bail while appealing the verdict.