“Time of the what, Time of the magazine. Time -- “Woman of the Century,’ and all, inyo na yan (you can have it.”) -- President Duterte, on Time magazine’s choice of Persons of the Year
WHEN President Duterte answered the reporter’s question, he was apparently pretending he didn’t know much about Time’s selection of Person of the Year.
For 2018, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa of the Philippines was chosen along with:
• Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributor who was murdered at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul last October;
• Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuter journalists who were arrested a year ago while covering the killings of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar; and
• The journalists at Capitol Gazette in Annapolis Maryland, U.S.A. where five employees were murdered in a gunman’s attack.
Maria Ressa is the Filipina in the group of journalists who were targets of violence or persecution. She was indicted last month on tax evasion charges which, critics warn, could be “ part of a wider crackdown on dissent and free press.”
Collectively labeled by Time as “The Guardians” in the “War on Truth,” the journalists and the cause they waged “did the most, for better or for worse,” to influence the events of the year.
His critics say Duterte belittled the recognition given Maria Ressa who leads the controversial digital news site Rappler. Did they expect him to be happy and proud?
Here are the effects of the Time recognition:
• It mounts on a world platform the accusation that journalists are harassed and dissent is suppressed in this country in the guise of enforcing criminal laws.
• It taints the charges of tax evasion against Maria Ressa and Rappler with the suspicion that they are mainly intended to cow critical media into submission.
• Fear of reprisal will hound media even as legitimate enforcement of laws may be subverted.
Duterte has not forgotten that Time featured him on the cover in the story “Rise of the Strongman” last May. “Tang ina itong Time magazine na to, nilagay ako doon sa mga despot. Diktador ba ako, since when?” And the photo, he complained loudly, featured him as a monster.
Here’s the thing: Recognition of Maria Ressa, with the other “targeted” journalists, is in effect a public shaming of the respective countries’ leaders. No occasion for Duterte, or the Burmese military junta and the Saudi government, to be jubilant.
But it helps bring world attention to a problem that is here: growing, if not yet full-blown in the Philippines. The affected leaders may deny and deny that there is repression even as they use power of government to stifle dissent. The attempts and results though cannot be concealed, not for long anyway.
The hope among those concerned about the state of free speech and free press is that our democratic institutions and processes, despite the heavy assault that Time magazine sees, will continue to work.