In the foreword to How to Stand Up to a Dictator, Maria Ressa’s high-profile lawyer, Amal Clooney, who has been kept busy dealing with her client’s ten (and counting) arrests, writes: ‘when you think of a superhero, you may not imagine a five-foot-two-inch woman with a pen in her hand’. But, as she points out, Ressa’s small physical stature belies her enormous courage. The Philippines’ only Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ressa has been fighting not only a terrifyingly oppressive government but also the social-media giants, primarily Facebook, which she sees as the most important enablers of regimes that thrive on lies and cyber harassment.
I first came across Ressa in the late 1980s, one of the more benign periods in the Philippines’ turbulent history. Cory Aquino, wife of the assassinated Benigno Aquino, had been installed as president. It was a benign period in the sense that the Aquino government was not engaged in mass assassinations or incarceration of opponents, though it did face numerous coup attempts by would-be dictators.
Ressa was the go-to person for a visiting foreign correspondent because she knew everyone, seemingly worked round the clock and was generous in sharing her knowledge. She often did so in an admirably precise and staccato manner that she retains to this day. It works better in speech