While Ressa and Diaz congenitally break up via video chat, they don’t appear to be our last line of defense against the pervasive spread of fascism, however. The two women share a friendly and warm dynamic that began under warmer conditions in 2004. Diaz had just completed his first feature film, a documentary Imelda Marcos that led the former first lady and political heavyweight to sue for its representation. Diaz’s distributor had set up a handful of interviews while in the Philippines to defend herself, including one with a pre-Rappler Ressa, then CNN’s face in Southeast Asia.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, Maria Ressa wants to talk to me!’” Diaz recalls. “But someone warned me, ‘Actually, she doesn’t really like the movie. I said, “So I don’t want to talk to him!” I wanted to discuss the case, but I didn’t want to plead my film. I was very tired and under siege. Fourteen years later, I’m in her office asking for permission and hoping that she doesn’t remember. Of course, she remembered it. Why she gave me permission is a question for her.
Ressa has a locked and loaded response. “If Ramona had denied that 2004 moment when she came back to meet me, I don’t think I would have let her in!” It was a good call, face it. You have passed the test! ”
Following what Diaz describes as “a long negotiation,” Ressa allowed the film crew rare access to Rappler’s internal operations as well as her own life at home. (“Ramona walked in, we knew we couldn’t document this ourselves, and I didn’t want to have to pay for it,” Ressa laughs.) For Diaz, getting into Duterte’s inner circle turned out to be a lot. simpler. She received special clearances beyond those of the Philippine press, with approval coming before Rappler even got on board. Her film spends a lot of time with tertiary figures such as Bato, Duterte’s right-hand man, and so-called ‘fake news queen’ Mocha Uson, both of whom saw their participation as an opportunity to leverage their profile. public to their advantage. .
“I wanted to have a great ensemble, you know, Robert Altmanesque,” Diaz says. “Getting Duterte’s supporters on board really came down to people still seeing themselves as the hero of their own story. No one thinks of himself as a bad guy. Mocha is highly publicized, she understood the power of history. I think they both said yes to be able to participate in shaping this story. They think they have the power of persuasion, that at the end of the process you will see how they see it.
Having successfully integrated his production on both sides of the issue, Diaz had a big picture of a large-scale democratic rupture. His film begins with the savage mass executions carried out by Duterte’s officers under the guise of a war on drugs, and only gets scarier as he mounts an offensive to justify them. Ressa stands out as one of its harshest critics, with each article drawing harsher grievances from the government. While she exposes the various hypocrisies and cruelties of Duterte’s administration, he constantly defames her as a liar, and this is one of her less personal epithets. In a memorable speech, he demeans his enemies by detailing the fullness and frequency of his erections. Other flashes of the bizarre – Bato karaoke a John Legend ballad, the glamed-up Duterte Dancers performing a Chicago exercise routine at one of his gatherings – also liven up the footage of Diaz.
“Politics in the Philippines has always been about spectacle,” says Diaz. “It’s entertainment, interrupted by a few speeches, then back to entertainment. These events are more of a spectacle than a political rally. People show up for food, then enter karaoke, it’s Bato who tells how he’s going to kill drug addicts. So the day a president talks about his private parts, people can laugh. Imagine having to translate this to our filmmakers, from Tagalog. “The president says this or that war on drugs, corrupt journalists, as usual, and then, oh, he talks about his penis.” They thought I was joking with them. Even they got used to it! That’s the danger, in how quickly it can be normalized.
For Western audiences, this tale will be disturbing in its familiarity. “There are many parallels between Trump, Duterte, Bolsonaro, Orbán,” Ressa explains. “This is a trend that I felt at the start in 2014, with the election of Modi in India while I was in Indonesia to cover the election of Jokowi. [Joko Widodo, the current president]. The world had become so complex that people just wanted to live their lives. They say, “Please someone make these decisions. I see this even with my conservative parents in Florida. There is a yearning for something less complicated. Adding technology to this mix changes what would typically take several years and speeds it up. The pendulum swings much faster. “
Diaz and Ressa share a focus on the deleterious power of social media, a soapbox Rappler has been on since a vivid 2016 article on the impact of Facebook’s algorithms on democratic republics. “The biggest news distributor in the world used to be news agencies. People could debate, take polarized positions, but the facts were never in dispute. When you introduce social media – essentially, a behavior modification system – it puts those facts into debate. Technology has done a lot of damage to democracy, ”says Ressa,“ and that’s why I think Silicon Valley has to take responsibility. This cannot be resolved until they do. ”
Free opinion for all around the clock and on Twitter and other platforms has been Duterte’s most effective weapon against anyone who stands in his way. His legions of trolls descend on Ressa and Rappler by the thousands, leaving the journalism industry with no choice but to toughen up.
“We live on social networks and we know them intimately,” says Ressa. “When the hatred increased, dehumanization began and the targeting of alleged critics came with it. I didn’t really consider myself a critic, and I wouldn’t have spoken as bluntly as I do now if my own rights hadn’t been violated. In a way, the Duterte administration forced my growth. I had to define what would be important to me, draw lines that I would refuse to cross.
Diaz artfully weaves the global significance of Ressa’s recent tribulations with her inner toll. We bear witness to extraordinary grace under pressure as she holds her head up high and moves forward in search of truth no matter what the cost. Although it can be steep; with seven cases still on her record, she received a guilty verdict on the first count of cyber defamation, which she is currently appealing.
“I don’t know where I’m going to end up, and it’s fine,” Ressa said with a shrug. ” I agree with that. Lawyers say that cumulatively all charges could total 100 years. So yes, it is real. But at the same time, I know that half of it makes me feel good with where I am right now. I embrace that. The reality of this will be determined by how I maintain my values now. I can control this, and that is the reason why I have no doubts.
She is less concerned with herself than with the good people on Earth. Whether in the Philippines, the United Kingdom or the United States, it is above all committed to maintaining a free democracy. Before signing, she leaves this writer with a chilling warning for the future.
“You’re in New York, aren’t you?” Your elections are approaching. Good luck. “