FRONTLINE

S2021 E1 | CLIP

Maria Ressa and Ramona Diaz on Amanpour and Company

Christiane Amanpour hosts a roundtable conversation about the new documentary “A Thousand Cuts” with director Ramona Diaz and film subject Maria Ressa, a prime target in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on the press.

AIRED: January 08, 2021 | 0:15:15
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TRANSCRIPT

>> I'm Christiane Amanpour in

London. Thank you for joining us for

this special "Frontline"/ "Amanpour and Company"

collaboration. The film that you've just seen,

"A Thousand Cuts," is a searing look at the threats posed to

democratic values and to the journalists who are fighting to

uphold them. Much has happened since filming

concluded in 2019. So joining me now is director

Ramona Diaz and Maria Ressa, the C.E.O. of Rappler.

Welcome, both of you, to the program.

Maria, you're an old and longstanding colleague of mine

from your days and years at CNN. Ramona, good to have you here.

Let me just ask you, Maria, you know, you're not known as a sort

of a cult-of-personality journalist.

How did it feel for you to have yourself followed and for you to

be the, the center character in this story on film now?

>> Difficult at the beginning, until I realized that my rights

were... My rights were being abused and

that I needed to stand up for myself.

So a lot of things happened simultaneously, really.

A shift in thinking from our old way of thinking of journalism,

which is to take yourself out of the picture.

I was in it, and then the second one was, what do I do to protect

my rights? That's also unfamiliar.

>> Okay, so that's really interesting.

Let's bring Ramona in. Ramona, I wonder whether you

also feel potentially a bit of that burden and responsibility,

that putting out Maria's story and the story of Rappler is also

telling the world and putting the world on notice that we have

her back. Whatever happens to her will not

happen in darkness or in silence.

>> Hi, Christiane. Thanks for having us.

Um, I always feel the burden of responsibility because I am a

Filipina American. I film a lot of Filipino stories

and basically what I do is I unpack or decode what's

happening in the Philippines to the rest of the world.

So I always feel that anyway. But more so in, you know, "A

Thousand Cuts," because it was life unfolding before the lens.

I had no idea where it was going to go, but neither did Maria.

So that was sort of this joint exploration, joint journey.

But you do, you feel it. You, you know it's happening on

the ground, and you know that you are also...

I also had, like, a first role to history in a way, like I

always do, but more so with "A Thousand Cuts."

>> You know what, it's really interesting that you identify

for everybody as Filipino American.

Because, also, you are, as well, Maria.

And I guess it must be harder to be a, you know, a resident of

the country that you're reporting on so bravely and, you

know, in a form of sort of opposition.

Maria, you, since this film was completed, are appealing what

was, what is known as a cyber libel conviction.

You have several other cases pending against you.

You were denied your, your request to leave the Philippines

to visit your mother in the United States and your

relatives. Tell me where your legal status

stands right now. >> Uh, ongoing.

I mean, the court cases continue.

There are eight when the film was going on, and just on

November 27, I had to post bail for a ninth case.

That's a ninth criminal case. So it's a new cyber libel case,

this time for posting a screen grab of a newspaper article.

Tweeting it. So now I'm facing another

charge. Nine criminal cases.

Where is it going to go? Um, Christiane, you know,

it's... I just keep doing my job, and I

put one foot in front of the other, and I know the, the way

this will play out will depend on how well I do my job now.

>> Maria, in an interview several years ago, when Duterte

was still mayor, before he was president, he admitted to you

that he had killed. I mean, it was quite startling.

And you are at his throat now for what you call, and what many

in the international community call, extra-judicial killings.

When he made that statement to you, then, what was going

through your mind? >> Shock, but disbelief.

And then, you know, as a, as a reporter asking the questions,

just... Kind of like watching a car

crash, right? You can't believe that you were

looking at this and listening to it, uh...

Refreshing in a weird way. Uh, but of course, after four

years of this, and we see this every day, we live through the

kind of impunity, um, that you've seen in the film, and it

gets worse, so we know what's at stake.

And I guess... I told you, you know, I feel

like I'm fighting for my rights. That's only the first part.

I feel like, um, we have to hold the line, because if we don't,

uh, our democracy will fundamentally change.

It will... It's dying in front of our eyes.

It's... the crash happened in plain view.

So can we resuscitate it? Can we uphold our rights?

And that's a lot of responsibility.

And I guess that's part of the reason the fight is worth it.

>> And I guess... As you say, your democracy looks

like it's dying in front of your eyes.

That's the, that's the point of using the title "A Thousand

Cuts." Each cut is another cut into

the, into the muscle and the brain of democracy.

So, Ramona, I know you don't talk about Trump in this.

And, of course, Trump is moving on into the sunset as we speak

right now, but it has been a period of years when

democracies, even in the Western world, have been under threat.

And I found it really fascinating how you found two

main characters who were very passionate Duterte supporters

and who... You know, they were, they were

lobbying for him and they didn't seem to equate the risk to their

democracy, or they, or they equated it as him, him

upholding it. >> Oh, definitely.

I mean, they really bought into it, but I don't think...

You know, for people like the general and Mocha, they have to

believe in something good, right?

They have to believe that what they're doing is good for the

country, and because it's... And that's why I really, I

thought it was important to have them in the film, because no

one thinks of themselves as anti-heroes.

No one thinks of themselves as the ones that will destroy

democracy, so they think of it as the opposite, as the, the

ones who will uphold democracy. And I, I just, I, I found them

fascinating, especially, I think, with the general.

He was both, uh, he's... He's also a jester, like, he

does karaoke, he sings. But he's also menacing, because

underneath all that joking, you know, is, like...

He says, "Well, if you don't clap for me, you're a drug

dealer," right? There's always that threat.

And I thought that contradiction in Bato was what, what was,

what was very interesting. And, of course, Mocha.

Obviously, I knew she had a personal story she, she couldn't

have had. Everyone has a personal story.

I wanted to know what it was for her that kept her very loyal to

Duterte, right? She put, I mean, she had

considerable following on social media, and she put all that, um,

you know, to campaign. She, to support the president in

the beginning, she was one of the first ones, and he paid her

handsomely for it by, by offering her a spot in the

administration. And, and, of course, she has her

personal history. Her father was a judge who was

assassinated. So she saw Duterte as someone

who would, um, you know, avenge her father, her father's death,

because she felt like no one ever did.

>> And it's also interesting, because one of Maria's

investigative reporters, she is quoted in there, Patricia

Evangelista, who's saying about Duterte's popularity during that

campaign, "He offers not just change, he offers revenge."

I do think it's an incredibly interesting case history in

what's kind of become known as the, almost the victimhood of

politics. Everybody is a victim.

Everybody's looking for their savior, and everybody, you know,

adjusts the truth or facts to suit their narrative.

Maria, talk to me about that desire for revenge among

people. >> It's the haves versus have-

nots, right? I mean, there's...

The gap between the rich and the poor in the Philippines, for

example, has always been large. And this is the decades of

liberal democracy that hasn't trickled down far enough.

And that's part of what President Duterte appeals to.

>> You know, the Philippines is unusual, in terms of, it offers

one six-year presidential term, not a re-election.

Do you think that Duterte, from everything you've seen and

everything that he's shown himself to be, will step down

after the six-year term? He's got a couple of years left,

at least. >> I mean, what we've seen

during the pandemic, we've had the longest lockdown, right?

We still haven't really come out of the first one.

And during this time period, the Duterte administration

consolidated power. A lot of power.

Shut down the largest broadcaster, lots of attacks

against the press, and they are gearing up for presidential

elections. So even though it may not be

President Duterte running, his proxies are all in place.

Uh, candidates. His daughter is a potential

candidate for president. Um, the man who is a close aide

who's become a senator also now seems to be putting his hat in

the ring. You know, power consolidates

power, and this is still about power and money.

And this administration has amassed a lot of that.

>> Ramona, you did put a clip of President Duterte's daughter in

the film. And you've spoken about her.

I want to know what you make of her.

What is she like? Is it like the apple, you know,

dropping from the tree? Is she different from her

father? What is the realistic

possibility of, of Duterte's daughter?

>> Sara Duterte is Sara Zimmerman Duterte.

She is, um, biracial. She is, her mother is Jewish

American, actually. She's like her father, because I

think she's tough, you know? She is known as "the Slugger,"

because she, she punched the sheriff once for not doing her

bidding. And she loves that story.

She tells that story all the time, and she goes around Davao

in her Harley. She is, so she has this tough

image, but she doesn't have the dirty mouth of her father.

She has a very clean... you know, she, she stays away from

that, but I think she will be as tough.

And she has already laid the groundwork.

>> Let's talk about what's really at the heart of all this

crisis, and that is an inability to separate, you know, truth

from fiction, um, an inability to separate real news from

what's on social media. The Philippines, along with

parts of India, along with Myanmar, are notable for the

fact that news equals social media.

It's almost like your newspapers or television stations, news

stations, just have zero impact whatsoever.

In fact, Reporters Without Borders ranks the Philippines

136 out of 180 for press freedom, but it is called...

Back in 2018, even Facebook called the Philippines Patient

Zero in the global spread of misinformation.

So this applies to the United States.

It applies to Europe. It applies to many, many parts

of the world. Tell me why it is so destructive

in a country like the Philippines.

Or is it just the same as it is in the U.S., Maria?

>> Absolutely. The same-- more destructive in a

country like the Philippines, because our institutions are

weaker. Look, jumping off your

conversation about Sara Duterte, Facebook on September 22 did two

takedowns of influence operations, one of them from

China, the other from the Philippines that was linked to

the police and the military. The one from China that was

also creating fake accounts for the U.S. elections was also

campaigning for Sara Duterte for president, right?

If we don't deal with this, news organizations, any real

human endeavor will become impossible if you cannot tell

fact from fiction, and that is unfortunately the reality we

have. Regardless of whether Biden

wins, that system, the world's largest distributor of news,

can't tell the difference between fact and fiction.

>> One of the great moments that Ramona captures is you just

before an event, where you're with your sister in a hotel room

in the United States. And she's trying to convince you

to wear this special dress that she had picked out, these

glittery high heels. But you were being, also, you

didn't want to do that. That wasn't what, your look.

But you also were trying to reassure her about how you have

made your peace with the possible danger, not to mention

the possible long-term sentences you might receive.

Just end us with how you make your peace with this.

>> Uh, I... The way I've dealt with the last

four years is to prepare myself for worst-case scenarios.

It's like going on coverage, right?

You think of the absolute worst thing that can happen, and then

you prepare for it. And then everything else that

happens is actually gravy compared to this worst thing

that you're prepared for. Um, look, I...

Strangely enough, despite my anger, you know, once the

vaccine is out and we can go out again, um, the world is

fundamentally different. And the exciting part about this

time period is that it matters, right?

What we are doing, fighting for our rights, fighting for our

democracy, fighting for the facts.

I mean, Christiane, this is... This is an important time, and

then beyond that, to be part of helping create a new world, a

better world-- that's an incredible privilege.

That's what I look forward to. >> Well, and everybody can see

it in "A Thousand Cuts." Maria Ressa, Ramona Diaz, thank

you both very much for joining us.

>> Thank you for having us. >> Thank you for joining us for

this special "Frontline"/ "Amanpour and Company"

collaboration. For more, please check out both

programs on YouTube and Twitter, and stay with us.

"Amanpour and Company" is next on most PBS stations.

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