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“A Thousand Cuts”: Film Explores Duterte’s Drug War & One Journalist’s Fight to Hold Him Accountable

Web ExclusiveFebruary 10, 2020
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The new documentary “A Thousand Cuts” follows the incredible Filipina journalist Maria Ressa and her fight to hold Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to account. Ressa has repeatedly been arrested by Duterte’s government for the groundbreaking work of her news site Rappler, which has exposed the devastation of Duterte’s deadly war on drugs that has killed thousands. Duterte has long attempted to shut down Rappler, calling the site a fake news outlet. We recently spoke with Ressa at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, along with “A Thousand Cuts” filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz.

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StoryApr 26, 2019Filipina Journalist Maria Ressa Helped Expose Duterte’s Deadly Drug War; He’s Now Trying to Jail Her
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, Utah, where an incredible new documentary has just premiered. It’s called A Thousand Cuts, and it follows the award-winning Filipina journalist Maria Ressa and her fight to hold Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to account. Maria Ressa has repeatedly been arrested by Duterte’s government for the groundbreaking work of her news site Rappler, which has exposed the devastation of Duterte’s deadly so-called war on drugs, that has been responsible for the deaths of thousands. In February of 2019, Maria Ressa was detained in a cyberlibel case that was widely seen as politically motivated. She was also arrested in late March of 2019 for allegedly violating a ban on foreign media ownership. Duterte has long attempted to shut down Rappler, calling the site a “fake news outlet.” In this clip from A Thousand Cuts, President Duterte confronts a Rappler reporter.

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE: [translated] Look at your article. Are you happy doing that to your fellowmen every day? [in English] Just because you have the power of — what? Press freedom? You are a Filipino who is allowed to abuse our country. And you are an active participant of that. [translated] That’s the problem. [in English] In the name of the holy grail of press freedom. [translated] And your boss, what’s her problem? You’re all crazy. You reporters, [in English] you will be allowed to criticize us, but you’ll go to jail for your crime.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a clip from the documentary A Thousand Cuts that’s just premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

For more, we’re joined by the director, an award-winning Filipina-American filmmaker, Ramona S. Diaz, and the award-winning Filipina journalist Maria Ressa.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now! And, Ramona, it’s great to have you here for the first time. So, Ramona, let’s begin with you. We’re here at the Sundance Film Festival.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re the director. Talk about why you called the film A Thousand Cuts and why you decided to follow Maria Ressa.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Well, “a thousand cuts” is really a line in the film. Maria utters that line. She talks about a thousand cuts to the body politic. And if there are a lot of these cuts, eventually you will die, right? Or democracy will die. And that’s where we got the title.

And why did I choose to follow Maria? You know, when Duterte became president in 2016, I started seeing all these pictures of the drug war on my Facebook page, actually, and it’s pictures I couldn’t turn away from. So, I had this notion of making a film about President Duterte and the drug war, a very broad, really, notion. I didn’t really know who I was going to focus on. And then I met Maria. And so now the film is really about the Philippines under President Duterte through the experiences of journalism. So, necessarily, it’s about press freedom, and it’s also looking at the drug war through disinformation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Maria, talk about the founding of your — I mean, it’s the largest onsite Filipino news website, Rappler. Why you called it Rappler and how this, really, showdown between you and the president began? It began, of course, before he was president.

MARIA RESSA: You know, I’ve been a journalist — this is almost 35 years I’ve been a journalist. And after running the largest
news group in the Philippines, I realized that legacy media, we were getting left behind by the technology. So we embraced the technology. And that’s part of the reason we helped spread social media — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. We helped Filipinos come on board. We — I drank the Kool-Aid. And it was — actually, for Rappler, in a year and a half, we grew; we became the third top online news site, right? So —

AMY GOODMAN: In the world.

MARIA RESSA: Actually, just in the Philippines, in the first year and a half, when we had — we started with 12 people. Right? So I moved from managing a thousand people to 12 people.

AMY GOODMAN: And you called it Rappler because?

MARIA RESSA: It was a combination. And even that was difficult, because do news people, do journalists make up names? Right? It’s like we had this big debate. And, you know, I wanted to call it Ripple, because you ripple, right? And then, one of our other founders said, “Maria, but Filipinos will pronounce Ripple 'nipple.'” And I was like, “OK, that doesn’t work.” So, Rappler comes from —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, wait a second. Isn’t journalism the mother’s milk of a democracy?

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Wow! There you go. You should have maybe called it that.

MARIA RESSA: I won’t touch this one anymore. But it came out, you know, rappel, rappeller, rappelling, to climb up, climb heights, and to ripple. So it’s actually a combination of two words, to rap, the '80s, to talk, and then ripple, to have that go through. And the whole idea was to use technology to build communities of action. Some of the critics of President Duterte say it's Rappler’s fault that he’s president, because we covered him extensively. There were five candidates, and he understood the power of Rappler, because, essentially, Rappler helped launch him outside of Mindanao.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about that. Go to that key moment — it was 2015? — when you were the journalist who questioned Duterte. Set the scene, and then we’ll play the clip.

MARIA RESSA: There was a lot of back-and-forth. And I pushed him. I went to Davao City, and I just sat down with him. And it was almost an afterthought, because no one knew whether he was running or not. But he is an interesting personality. So, we sat down, and I just asked him, “Come on. Are you going to run or not?” And then, “What about the people you killed?” You know? And he admitted to killing three people.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, let’s go to that clip.

MARIA RESSA: People wanted to know whether you’re running for president, vice president. Yes, no? Finally, there’s a no, but maybe there’s a maybe. Where are you?

MAYOR RODRIGO DUTERTE: And I think that had my daughter agreed to have filed hers, COC niya, I would have considered myself retired from public office. That’s what I told people of Davao City.

MARIA RESSA: So, no qualms about killing killers?

MAYOR RODRIGO DUTERTE: Yes, of course. I must admit that I have killed. Three months early on, I killed, what, three people.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Maria Ressa questioning, at the time, Mayor Duterte, the mayor of Davao City, as she’s questioning him, Is he going to run? And he’s admitting killing people.

MARIA RESSA: Shocking and strangely refreshing. I mean, that was my reaction, because he said what he thought. And —

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who he killed.

MARIA RESSA: So, I’ll start with the Duterte — so, Davao death squads is something that is so connected to Rodrigo Duterte. He’s a strongman, on and off. He’s a strongman leader that has been mayor of Davao City since 1988. And part of the reason he keeps getting elected is he keeps the streets cleaned, which means vigilante killings. He’s been accused of human rights violations. He will always say he’s never been convicted. But if you look at, you know, every report, it’s there. So, DDS, this kind of shows you the impact of what they were able to do. DDS has long been associated with him as —

AMY GOODMAN: Davao death squad.

MARIA RESSA: Davao death squads. But within a few months of him being elected, during the campaign, the disinformation networks, the propaganda war began, where they turned DDS into “diehard Duterte supporters.” So something that is a negative gets transformed into something extremely positive. This is the impact of that. And that’s one of the other impunity. Like, we wanted to stop impunity in the drug war and impunity in the manipulation of Filipinos, impunity in the propaganda war.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about his attitude toward women reporters.

MARIA RESSA: Oh, I mean, your president, our president, I think they’re sexist at best, misogynistic at worst. And our reporter, Pia Ranada, a slip of a girl, she’s just turning 30. She’s not even 30 yet, right? He faced her down, after he had insulted women reporters. He catcalls, wolf-whistles. Pia was the only one who, in a press conference, actually asked him, “If you respect women, is this something that you should be doing?” And then he attempted to bully her, much later, some of these clips you’ll see in the film. And she just stands up and treats him with respect, as I do, because he’s the president of the Philippines, right? But this throws gender back to the Dark Ages in the Philippines. And this is a — we’re a country that’s had two female presidents.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as you’re looking at this from afar, and you’re going back and forth, Ramona, you’re deciding to make this film. Did you hesitate? I mean, you spent a lot of 2019 following your colleague Maria in the Philippines.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: But you also were living here. Why go back, when you see the dangers that journalists, and women journalists in particular, face?

RAMONA S. DIAZ: You know, there’s a scene in the film where Maria’s sister talks to Maria and asks, you know, “Why are you doing this?” basically. “How do you manage this in your head?” And she says, “You know, you think about it, and you just deal with it.” And I think that’s how I thought about it. I would have regretted not doing this film. Right? I mean, I’m a documentary filmmaker. It’s in front of me. And I thought, “OK, in 10 years, would I still be regretting it? Definitely.” So, sort of the the imagined regrets outweighed any fear. And then you do it. You know, it’s such an important story. It’s in front of me. I could not have not done it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the social media trolls, Maria Ressa. Talk about who they are and the real dangers that they pose.

MARIA RESSA: I think this is the tip of the arrow in the fight for democracy. And I think it is an existential moment. And it is ironic that the decay of democracy begins with American social media platforms. When you pound a lie a million times, it becomes a fact. And you create these alternative realities. And Cambridge Analytica has said this, right? They take a fissure in society and pound it wide open, hitting both sides, looking for the most vulnerable, microtargeting each of us individually for the weakest links, and then feeding the flames of anger and hatred, so that you create paranoia and create us against them. We’ve seen this play out in the Philippines. We’ve seen it play out in the United States. And according to Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project, democracy has been weakened by these cheap armies on social media in at least 70 countries around the world. So, this needs to stop, because if you don’t have facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. And that is the foundation of all of our democracies.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the two men that actually went into Rappler’s offices. Who were they, and what did they do?

MARIA RESSA: I think Ramona was able to capture a moment when these virtual attacks — and, for me, they were at one point — and I’ve told you this so often now, Amy — you know, 90 hate messages per hour. You think you’re insulated in the real world. But in this particular instance, they came into the — they came to our office, literally. They doxed us, asked people to come and demonstrate outside Rappler. This was the time when we began to ramp up security. I mean, you know, I didn’t think a Charlie Hebdo scenario was possible. But this was one of those times when —

AMY GOODMAN: And explain Charlie Hebdo, the satiric magazine, in —

MARIA RESSA: The attack on the people there and the kind of violence. I just — I didn’t think that this could reach —

AMY GOODMAN: This was in Paris.

MARIA RESSA: Yeah, I didn’t think this could reach into the real world. But then here’s the part that’s difficult. Once they came to the office, all of the feed started, you know, coming out with the attacks: “rape them,” “behead them,” “line them up like a firing squad and shoot them,” “kill them.” I mean, everything came through. And here’s the last part: We weren’t sure whether the police would protect us. So, we had to gear up very quickly. What do you do in a situation where you realize really how weak law and order is?

AMY GOODMAN: Ramona, talk about capturing this moment of the men coming into Rappler’s offices.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: You know, it’s one of those things I always say: What’s good for the film is not necessarily good for the people you’re filming. Right? It’s one of these golden moments. You don’t believe it’s happening, and then it happens. It was incredible to watch this unfolding story like in real time, because this was different. They came physically to Rappler. And really, they gathered, like right below the offices, and were calling people. And I think also the difference was that the government amplified it. The government radio station, online, were telling people to come to Rappler. So we had no idea what was going to happen. And then you ramped up security, like how many — I mean, tenfold, right?

MARIA RESSA: Yeah, yeah.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: That time. And also it was a time when you told people not to come into the office.

MARIA RESSA: Yes.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Because it was very dangerous. So everyone stayed home. That’s why you see a very empty office, and it’s only the founders and the security that came in that day.

MARIA RESSA: Security and lawyer.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: And lawyer, of course. Always the lawyer, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Maria, you were there.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Yeah.

MARIA RESSA: Yes, absolutely. I mean, you know, you can’t back down in these things, because bullies, if you get intimidated by a bully, you lose.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you resolve it?

MARIA RESSA: We faced them down. I wasn’t sure how many would come. I was telling Ramona, you know, “Is it going to be 10, a hundred, a thousand?” And then, how do we deal with them? There was — at one point, we thought, “Well, we should have our own protesters.” And I was like, “No. Where are we? Where are the lines here?” Right? There are no lines. And that’s when you figure, we’re in this very difficult new stage. It moved away from — I think, Amy, I was telling you how the new weapon against journalists, and women journalists in particular, were these attacks — right? — online. But when the attacks online move into the real world, it’s a whole different ball game. And we had already protected our reporters. We had already put in place protocols. But we weren’t ready for them to ride in the elevator with us and incite people to attack us. This should be a crime, right? It is a crime in the real world, but it certainly hasn’t been treated that way.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria, do you see Duterte’s relationship with pro-government media, like The Manila Times, similar to Trump’s relationship with Fox News, The Manila Times running articles that claimed that you were a part of a plot to overthrow the government?

MARIA RESSA: Worse, because The Manila Times chairman emeritus has actually been named the head of international public relations for President Duterte himself. So it’s a very direct link. And the —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, there’s a total direct link between Fox News and the — it’s a kind of revolving door —

MARIA RESSA: Yeah, that’s also true.

AMY GOODMAN: — the White House and people on Fox.

MARIA RESSA: I guess, yeah. So I suppose that’s true. And then you have your Cambridge Analytica, which performed similar roles in both our countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Cambridge Analytica. I mean, the fact that you have in the Philippines the most people spending their time on the internet. In the Cambridge Analytica case, where Cambridge Analytica, you know, that was one of the — this company that Steve Bannon helped to form, scrapes tens of millions of Facebook profiles, gets this information. Yes, the United States had the most compromised accounts, but the Philippines, much smaller country, had the second most.

MARIA RESSA: Absolutely. One of the Cambridge Analytica whistleblowers, Chris Wylie, said that the Philippines was the “Petri dish.” And that’s his quote. And he said that they tested these tactics of mass manipulation in countries like ours. And then, if they worked, they “ported” it over to the United States and to Europe. We’re the test case. Our dystopian present is your dystopian future. In fact, it’s happening already. The kind of experimentation they did and the microtargeting with the kind of data they had, this is unprecedented. And I think Americans really miscalculate when they don’t factor this into their politics, the role of social media in manipulating ordinary people, finding the weakest link, the people who are most prone to believe conspiracy theories, who are most prone to anger and hate, and then to be able to push them with these conspiracy theories that benefit Trump and Duterte.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who “Mocha” Uson is?

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Yes, she is a singer-dancer who had a considerable following on social media and, during the campaign of President Duterte in 2016, starting in 2015, brought all that, her entire audience — right? — to his campaigns, and so really campaigned fiercely for Duterte. She’s a fanatic. She really believes in him.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another clip from A Thousand Cuts.

MOCHAUSON: I never planned to be in politics. When I supported then-Mayor Duterte, it was just voluntary. I was just a volunteer.

We need an iron hand in dealing with criminals.

[translated] The reach of the “Mocha” Uson blog was 50 million people. The “Mocha” Uson blog contributed a lot to the Duterte campaign.

[in English] I entered the government helping with the information dissemination of different government agencies for social media. For a dancer like me, for an entertainer like me to be appointed in Malacañang, that’s really something big.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s another clip from A Thousand Cuts, that’s just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: And when he won, he sort of, you know, like he said, out of a debt of gratitude, gave her a position in government, basically taking care of his social media platforms. That’s “Mocha” Uson.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Mocha Girls?

RAMONA S. DIAZ: The Mocha Girls was like the Spice Girls. She formed the Mocha Girls. And, you know, they’re a dancing girl group. They sing and dance. So she was part — she was the founder of Mocha Girls.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who “Mocha” Uson’s father is.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: So, “Mocha” Uson’s father was a judge, a provincial judge who was assassinated because he was trying a mayoral trial, right? So, he was politically assassinated, too, as she tells you in the film. So, her belief in Duterte really stems from the assassination of her father. So she really believes that Duterte will sort of avenge her father’s death, because they never found who — the people who assassinated her father.

MARIA RESSA: Our data, though, shows that this is the account where a lot of the lies originate and get amplified. The way she defends herself against that is by saying, “Oh, I’m not a journalist.”

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to General Ronald, known as “Bato” dela Rosa, and his significance in what’s happening in the Philippines today and in shoring up Duterte’s power.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Well, General “Bato” dela Rosa — “Bato” means a rock, as well, you know, in Tagalog — was the Davao police chief when Mayor Duterte was mayor and then brought him to Manila, when he became president, and “Bato” became the Philippine National Police chief and really was — he was the implementer of the drug war.

MARIA RESSA: Architect of the drug war.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: He was the architect of the drug war. And that’s when the killings really rose, to like 20,000. And then he then became the Bureau of Corrections, the head of the Bureau of Corrections, of prisons. And then, in 20 — this year — last year, 2019, he ran for Senate and won, with 19 million votes, you know, backed fully by the president. And in the film, he was asked — you know, you can see me ask, “Why are you running?” He goes, “Well, you know, because, you know, the president told me to run.” And when he’s questioned about his role in the Senate, he — and he says, you know, “Well, I will kill for the president.”

REPORTER: What made you decide to actually run for senator?

BATODELA ROSA: [translated] I’ve been wanting to do it. At the same time, I was instructed by President Duterte not to run for governor, run for Senate instead.

REPORTER: But other people also see it as the way of the president to put loyal lieutenants in the Senate. That’s why supposedly he wants you there. And also, the ones who are loyal to the president to protect his interests, not just his agenda of governance.

BATODELA ROSA: [translated] Yes, I will kill for the president. Anybody who’d like to bring down the president, I’ll be there to stop you. I would kill for the president.

MARIA RESSA: Also, beyond that, the Global Magnitsky Act, right?

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Yes.

MARIA RESSA: He is — his U.S. visa, he admitted it’s been canceled by the U.S. government.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain.

MARIA RESSA: So, the Magnitsky Act was something that is supposed to be pulled against human rights violators, under area, under this law, because of his role in the drug war and in human rights violations — alleged human rights violations. He admits he kills, right? Just like President Duterte. Because of that, the United States has taken away his ability to enter the United States and could be in the process of taking away any U.S. assets right now. That’s ironic. And that development happened after she closed the film, which is, you know — so, this is moving forward. I mean, just at the —

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Still an unfolding story.

MARIA RESSA: Yeah. At the end of the year, the Budget Appropriations Act in the United States included this clause against potential human rights violators, which has sent a ripple through Philippine society, probably the most impactful for the Philippine government.

AMY GOODMAN: During his second State of the Union address, Duterte criticized Rappler, and you immediately responded. You tweeted, “He’s wrong.” Explain what happened next.

MARIA RESSA: So, all of this, lies on social media coming bottom up — CIA, foreign-owned — this happened a year before. It’s like fertilizer on the ground. And a year later, at the second State of the Nation address, the president himself repeats the lie. And he says that, you know, Rappler is 100% — it’s American-owned. We’re covering it. And so, of course, I just tweeted immediately, “Mr. President, you’re wrong,” which apparently he didn’t like. And then, a week later, we got our first subpoena. And within five months, the order to close Rappler down came down, in January 2018. 2018, in almost one case or investigation a month was leveled against Rappler. And we weathered it. I was arrested twice, posted bail eight times in 2019 — 2019.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: 2018.

MARIA RESSA: Shucks! 2019. This is what you have to do to be a journalist today.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about exactly what is happening in the Philippines in the so-called war on drugs? How many people have been killed? And do you fear each time you return to the Philippines, Maria Ressa?

MARIA RESSA: Wow! I think the first casualty in the battle for truth is exactly how many people have been killed. The Philippine police admit they’ve killed at least 6,000 people in a little less than three years. Right? That’s a huge number to admit. But human rights groups, including the U.N. and our own Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines, put the number at at least 27,000 people killed. That’s unheard of. I mean, you compare it to the number killed during the 21 years of Ferdinand Marcos’s rule, and you’re talking about a little more than 3,000 people, right? So, this is a different time.

Do I fear? Ramona knows this now, I think, you know? And I think every reporter knows this. You walk into a conflict area, you just prepare yourself for the worst things that could happen, and then you just barrel through. Right? So, I mean, the easy way is I say I hope for the best, but I’m prepared for the worst. But I’m not buckling down. I mean, we’re not going to duck. This is his — this is an important moment, right? Not just for the Philippines, for Americans. If we don’t stand up at this moment, then everything that — everything we’ve worked for or believed in, the standards and ethics, the mission of journalism, this is a time that matters.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the parallels you see between the Philippines and the United States? Duterte is admired by Trump. They are allies.

MARIA RESSA: It’s like having a dictator’s playbook, you know, and I think that they — it’s not just that. You throw in Putin. You throw in, you know, Orbán, Bolsonaro in Brazil. The parallels are right in front of us: the role of social media, the polarization of society. Again, I wish that the social media platforms would take a really hard look in the design that they put into this platform. It manipulates people at a core base and polarizes society. Regardless of what content is on that platform, it is designed to polarize. It is designed to appeal to the worst of human nature. We need to protect our democracies from this. That’s the first, I think.

The second one is — and it is both where we’re similar and different — how our institutions are being pounded by very strong executives. But in a country like the Philippines, our institutions collapsed within six months. We have the most powerful president we have ever had. In the United States, you’re still getting pushback, but look at what you’re going through.

And I guess the last part to look at this is — I’m going to quote a Russian, the former head of the KGB, and he became the head of the former Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov. He said, “Disinformation, dezinformatsiya, is like drugs. You take it once or twice, you’re still OK. But if you take it all the time, you’ll be forever changed.” Right? So we look at the origin of the drugs. Those are the lies. But when it comes into the system and you take it all the time, when you’re a drug addict, you become a different person. So, how do we fix this problem? We have to stop the drugs, and you have to rehabilitate the people who have become addicts. That’s our democracy. Those people who are most vulnerable have already been targeted. And Cambridge Analytica is only one of many groups around the world that are doing this. I’m sorry, I can talk about this a long time, because I think it’s extremely alarming.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, you’re going to be here with one of the directors of The Great Hack, speaking — The Great Hack, which really profiles what happened with Cambridge Analytica, talking about its effects and how it has harvested information.

MARIA RESSA: I think one of the — you know, what it didn’t show you is how the Global South feels it the worst, because our emerging democracies don’t have institutions that are strong enough to stand up against this. And our people aren’t educated enough or — I sound really bad when I say that, but we feel the worst effects of what Silicon Valley has done. And again, you look at what your institutions are doing in the United States. You have pushback. Ours just collapsed.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, most people are not very educated on these issues. I wanted to finally ask you about this, the verdict that has come down in the Ampatuan massacre. And if you can talk about the significance of this, what happened more than 10 years ago?

MARIA RESSA: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: And the number of journalists who were killed at this time? And what’s happened now?

MARIA RESSA: This was the worst case of election-related violence globally, 58 people killed in one chunk.

AMY GOODMAN: This is in 2009.

MARIA RESSA: In 2009, broad daylight, a convoy of cars, right? They were shot in broad daylight, buried in a mass grave by a government-owned backhoe. The police, the military, government officials were found. It was shocking. And —

AMY GOODMAN: This is in the southern part of the country, in the province of?

MARIA RESSA: In a place called Ampatuan. And the family is Ampatuan, in Maguindanao, this area. The town is called Ampatuan. On its face, you knew. In 2009, we knew. This is blowback — right? — to use that old term. It is, you reap what you sow. And essentially, this shows you how lawless the Philippines was and how the very people — it’s like you put the fox in charge of the henhouse. The very people who are supposed to protect the people are the ones who conspired to kill. Well, it took a decade to come to a resolution. And yes, some people were jailed, but others were released. And when they were found not guilty, they had already served 10 years in prison. So, justice delayed is definitely justice denied. And then the greatest irony of the fact that the very same thing is happening at a national stage was lost on us. When the verdict came out, everyone lauded it, including the president and the spokesman for the palace. Of course, many people forgot that the presidential spokesman was the lawyer for the Ampatuan family. The irony of history just boggles my mind.

AMY GOODMAN: So, 58 people killed at the time, 32 of them journalists. Why were there so many journalists in this convoy?

MARIA RESSA: Because the family, the Mangudadatu family, were going to register to run in the elections. And the journalists were going with them. Part of the reason they were there was supposedly to give them some form of safety. Obviously, it wasn’t enough.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you shown A Thousand Cuts in the Philippines yet?

RAMONA S. DIAZ: We have not. Of course, we will.

MARIA RESSA: Can’t wait.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: We will show it. But, you know, this was the premiere. So, there are plans to show it. Yes, we cannot wait. I’m really interested to see, because we’re really telling a story that people know — they know — but they haven’t seen it in this form. Right? And we’re really trying to make something invisible visible, right? Like disinformation. So hard to explain what disinformation is. So, yeah, I can’t wait.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s next for you?

RAMONA S. DIAZ: This. Sleep. No, we’ll probably have a really robust social impact and outreach on this film, and just rolling it out. This is it.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Maria Ressa, for you?

MARIA RESSA: You know, you asked me about this trial that took a decade. Well, let’s look at my trials. Our trials are coming up. And the spokesman for the Supreme Court, the former spokesman, is one of my lawyers in the cyber libel case. He’s the main lawyer. And he just said he’s never seen a trial move this quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what exactly you’re charged with.

MARIA RESSA: So many. I can talk about —

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Which one?

MARIA RESSA: — you know, three different buckets. The first is really securities fraud or foreign ownership. The second is tax evasion. And the third is cyber libel and libel. These are buckets. But these are all ongoing. There were times when I would go to court four days a week last year. I know lawyers really well now. But we expect a verdict coming soon, maybe in the first quarter. Again, unprecedented in the pace of it. So, I feel really special. And, you know, I’m glad we will shine the light regardless. And we’re taking bets on where it’s all going to go.

AMY GOODMAN: One of your lawyers is the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney?

MARIA RESSA: Yes. She’s been amazing, to see the world — and I guess this is — I’ve been talking a lot about how journalists are at the frontlines. Well, lawyers are at the frontline also, right? In a world that’s changing so fast, when the virtual world doesn’t take on the real world laws, and vice versa, when the U.N. has been extremely weakened, when nations have been weakened, where is rule of law? And this is part of what I think Amal is — what I’m learning in working with Amal and her team here in the United States. Covington has taken us pro bono, so thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: The law firm.

MARIA RESSA: Yes. And the real idea there is: Where is rule of law? If I lose all these cases, I could go to jail up to 83 years. On Christmas Eve, Amal emailed me, 20 minutes before Christmas, and said, “By the way, we found another 20 years that you could go to jail.” I’m like, “Thanks!” You know? How do we fight back? I think this is this moment where we have to pull out all the stops and tell people how wrong it is, where the lines are. And the destruction of our information ecosystem has already happened. What are we going to create to replace that? And who will be accountable for this?

AMY GOODMAN: And the importance of solidarity? I mean, you come to the United States. You win one award after another, journalistic organizations, human rights organizations. Amal Clooney, of course, is an international human rights lawyer. But clearly, one of your great protections inside the Philippines is to have solidarity outside.

MARIA RESSA: It’s the only. You know, and thank you for shining — helping us shine the light. The only defense journalists have is to tell the story, shine the light. And it’s the reason why I keep doing that. And hopefully, the — the level of fear, the kind of violence that we’re exposed to in the Philippines, look, it’s gone beyond Rappler now. The largest news group in the Philippines, ABS-CBN, they have their franchise coming up in March, and the president has said he’s not going to renew it, even though it’s the Legislature that’s supposed to do that, right? And there’s also — The Manila Times has reported that there will be a case to take away the franchise of ABS-CBN. So, I mean, they’re coming with a machine gun against the largest network. I hate to say it’s misery loves company, but I hope that the first level of solidarity must come within the news groups, the people fighting for facts. The old world where we compete with each other, this is gone. Truth tellers need to stand together.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both so much for being with us.

RAMONA S. DIAZ: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria Ressa is founder and executive editor of Rappler. Ramona Diaz is an award-winning Filipina-American filmmaker. She’s the director of the film that just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, A Thousand Cuts.

This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now!, broadcasting from Park City, Utah, from the Sundance Film Festival. Thanks so much for being here.

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