The intrepid Inday Espina-Varona is undaunted by attacks. (Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP)

Philippines

Two brave women

By Ted Alcuitas

Two  Filipina journalists have been recognized for their bravery in holding governments to account amidst persistent threats.

Social media campaigner Inday Espina-Varona won the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Awards on November 8, 2018 in London.

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa received the 2018 Knight International Journalism Award on November 9 in Washington, DC, for Rappler’s innovation and exposés on corruption despite the obstacles thrown its way.

Just as the award  was announced, Rappler was slapped with tax-evasion charges. Reesa called the new charges ‘intimidation’.

Sexist attacks

Veteran journalist Espina-Varona is from Bacolod City and comes from a family of journalists. She is the daughter of the late journalist Rolly Espina and brother Nonoy Espina is also a journalist.

The  hard-hitting Espina-Varona runs her blog- Scarred Cat and is a contributing Editor/Writer at ABS CBN Integrated News & Current Affairs, former editor-in-chief of Philippine Graphic Publications and former executive editor of The Manila Times.

She founded a social media women’s rights campaign in response to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s comments on women.

“After a particularly hard-hitting column, I find 50 to 80 private messages calling me a liar, an ugly woman, and mostly these are sexist attacks,” she told AFP.

“The slurs don’t really bother me but the threats that say ‘we know where you live, we’ll see if you are as brave as you think’ — that bothers me because it also happens to other journalists.” 

She won the Prize for Independence, awarded to reporters for resisting pressure in carrying out their work.

“Independence is very important for citizen journalism. I teach young people to be critical minded and I hope this award will inspire them,” she said.

Full text of Espina-Varona’s acceptance speech:

Thank you, Reporters Without Borders for this honor. I share this with embattled Philippine colleagues: the 185 killed since the 1986 restoration of a fragile, perpetually threatened democracy, 12 of them in the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s rule. 

This is also for colleagues who face death threats, vilification campaigns, and revocation of access to coverage, for doing what journalists are supposed to do — questioning official acts and claims, especially on issues of human rights and corruption.
Other threats are more insidious — like having journalists becoming witnesses to cases filed by cops in the aftermath of raids, practically a quid pro quo for continued access to police operations.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has launched ta campaign to repeal the law that fuels this practice. We hope you can all support the NUJP in this struggle.
There is another grave problem we face: the proposed draconian changes to the law that would make terrorists of practically all critics of the government and make journalists and media accessories whenever we give voice to persons and groups the government deems “terrorist” — practically all dissenters.
I am proud of Philippine journalism, of colleagues who probe not only the effects of growing autocracy, but also the roots of social woes that allowed a false messiah to bedazzle our people.
If I am independent, it is because there are colleagues and fellow citizens who fight for rights and freedoms, who refuse to be silent in the face of thousands of murders and other injustices, who fight on despite threats, arrests and torture, whose words and deeds speak from beyond the grave.
Filipino journalists a

Reesa’s acceptance speech:

(Photo: Rappler)

Thank you for recognizing our work at Rappler.

It comes at a crucial time when our organization and Philippine democracy are fighting to survive.

We’ve written a lot about our two battle fronts: a brutal drug war, tens of thousands killed; and, the exponential lies on social media to incite hate and stifle free speech.

We battle impunity from the Philippine government and Facebook. Both seed violence, fear, and lies that poison our democracy.

Those lies on social media formed the basis of the government’s legal cases against us.

They tried to shut us down at the beginning of the year, alleging we’re foreign-owned (we’re not), that we’re tax evaders (months after the tax agency recognized us for being one of the corporate taxpayers), along with other more ridiculous charges. I’ve run out of synonyms for the word ridiculous.

Why should you care?

Our problems are fast becoming your problems. Boundaries around the world collapse and we can begin to see a kind of global playbook. When President Trump banned Jim Acosta last night, he followed President Duterte’s actions against our reporter Pia Ranada and me. I haven’t reported but I’m also banned from the Palace from early this year. Of course when Trump called CNN and the New York Times fake news, Duterte also called Rappler fake news.