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.
>> 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.