Leila de Lima: Maria Ressa ’a real People’s Champ’

MANILA, Philippines – Detained Senator Leila de Lima on Friday, December 14, hailed Rappler CEO Maria Ressa as a “real People’s Champ” who has been fighting for Filipinos’ right to know the truth.

De Lima issued the statement from her jail cell in Camp Crame a few days after Ressa and several other journalists from different parts of the world were chosen as Time “Person of the Year.”

“It is a great honor to us Filipinos that Ms Ressa has been recognized as among the bravest and effective of these heroes.  It is an honor to us Filipinos, not just because she is one of us, but more importantly because she, along with her colleagues in Rappler, has been fighting for us,” the opposition senator said.

“She is not doing it for glory, or for money.  She does it simply because the Filipinos deserve to know the truth. She is, by any measure, a real ‘People’s Champ,’” De Lima added.

Aside from Ressa, the other journalists are slain Saudi journalist  Jamal Khashoggi, Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who are imprisoned in Myanmar, and the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. Time called them "The Guardians" "for taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts, for speaking up and for speaking out."

"Congratulations to Ms Ressa!  May you continue to fight the good fight. Someday the Filipino people will realize the debt it owes to every single honest-to-goodness journalist, who perseveres in bringing the Truth to the people, even at great personal expense," De Lima said.

The senator is a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody campaign against illegal drugs. Sge had been in jail for over a year for what she called trumped-up drug charges.

She said Ressa and the other journalists recognized by Time are "heroes" who "though they may not wear capes, they do wield powerful weapons in the form of their words and their endless commitment to truth."

"And these are the people that Time Magazine chose – very rightly – to honor as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year: a group of people that are simply labeled, “The Guardians,” i.e., the journalists who have been speaking truth to power, and who, as a result, have become victims of retaliation and suppression," she said.

"They face the scariest of villains for they are the most dangerous enemies of the public: the politically and economically powerful, who choose to wield their power and influence to subjugate the rest of humanity to further their own, already well-padded, interests.... Vampires who greedily suck the lifeblood of society. De Lima added.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJP) earlier said Ressa's Time honor was a "recognition of the resistance and tenacity of the Philippine press in upholding truth and fighting for the freedom of the Press and expression."

The string of cases filed against Rappler and Ressa – for alleged tax evasion – had been seen as an attack on press freedom. Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said that by pursuing the cases, the government showed that "the law, to them, is just another instrument to bludgeon and neutralize those who dare to speak the truth to power." (READ:[OPINION] A new weapon against press freedomRappler.com