A thousand cuts on all Pinoys
“Death by a thousand cuts” seems to be a favorite phrase of Maria Ressa’s these days, and with good reason. For what she’s going through, starting with her and former Rappler colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr.’s conviction for cyberlibel last Monday, is indeed or can seem to be a long drawn-out execution.
The “thousand cuts” refer to the ancient Chinese torture method called “lingchi” which, by administering a series of shallow slices into the flesh of the subject, aims to inflict “long, slow punishment, intended to see how many cuts a person could withstand before dying, or simply losing consciousness.”
Monday’s court decision has to be the biggest, deepest cut yet to the prolonged persecution of Ressa and Rappler. But there’s no doubt that even longer, deeper, more lethal slashes await. To date, eight charges have been filed against Ressa and the news portal of which she is CEO and executive editor. One down, seven to go, and already Ressa has paid more in bail than Imelda Marcos, she of the seemingly bottomless resources and far more heinous crimes.
But, as Ressa told colleagues in the industry during a press conference held right after Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa handed down judgment, this is a time for holding the line. “This is a pivotal moment for the Philippines,” she asserted. “Are we going to lose freedom of the press, will it be death by a thousand cuts, or are we going to hold the line so that we protect the rights that are enshrined in the Constitution even if power attacks you directly?” Ressa said.
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“A Thousand Cuts” is also the title of a documentary by Filipino-American filmmaker Ramona Diaz. At the start, Diaz said at a forum at the Sundance Film Festival, she wanted to focus on the drug war being waged by President Duterte and on the coming midterm elections.
But the figure of Maria Ressa, who in the course of the making of the documentary was arrested and detained on the libel case and on other complaints, loomed ever larger on the horizon. Besides, added Diaz, she felt an affinity for Ressa, with whom she shared milestones like immigrating to the US and struggling to fit in in an environment alien in language, customs, even looks.
Part of the film takes place in the midst of the senatorial campaign, with focus on three candidates: now-senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, social media figure Mocha Uson, and opposition candidate Samira Gutoc. Mr. Duterte makes cameo appearances, glancing with hooded eyes in one-on-ones with Ressa.
But it is when “A Thousand Cuts” turns a more intimate, personal lens on Ressa that viewers gain some insight on what motivates the award-winning journalist. We drop in on a warm “consultation” between Maria and a sister of hers on Maria’s outfit for an awards ceremony. There is the side trip to a beach in New Jersey where Maria takes part in a reunion with her high school classmates. Certainly not scenes that come to mind when one remembers the battles Maria has had to fight and the brave front she presents to the public. The film contextualizes the environment in which this battle for press freedom and journalistic integrity takes place: the bloody drug war that has bathed our land in the blood of the poor and power-
less; the arrogance of people in power beginning with the President; and the appeal that populism holds for ordinary Filipinos drawn to the machismo and misogyny that the leadership exemplifies.
And so yes, while Monday’s court decision impacts press freedom and the freedom of expression of everyone who posts anything on social media, it is also ultimately about the fate of the Filipino nation, and Lord knows how long we will survive the thousand cuts inflicted on us these dire days.
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Are we on the road to a “better normal”? Or are we doomed to fall like lemmings down the cliff’s edge of business as usual?
Answers will be provided this Saturday at the virtual Demo Day when students from the Asian Institute of Management’s Master of Science in Innovation and Business program cap off their 15-month-long course by presenting their projects to the public.
The event is hosted by AIM’s Aboitiz School of Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship with the theme “A Better Normal through InnoVision.” Guests are requested to register at go.aim.edu/demoday to claim their event pass.
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