Exposing Rodrigo Duterte’s War on the Free Press – Hyperallergic

Posted: August 6, 2020 at 7:12 pm

From A Thousand Cuts (2020), dir. Ramona Diaz (all images courtesy David Magdael & Associates)

On July 10 of this year, the Philippines House of Representatives voted 70-11 against the license renewal for ABS-CBN, the countrys largest media network. Maria Ressa, executive editor of Rappler, another Filipino news outlet, has faced spurious charges of cyber libel and tax evasion. She sees this as retribution for her four-year crusade against the dictatorial President Rodrigo Duterte, as well as his ever-growing army of online supporters who cheer on his sexism, homophobia, and violence.

It is against this bleak political landscape that director Ramona Diaz sets her new documentary A Thousand Cuts, in which Ressa and Rapplers fight against Dutertes war on the press takes center stage. Diaz and Ressa sat down with Hyperallergic for an interview over Zoom. It started with me wanting to make a film on Dutertes war on drugs, Diaz explains. The global audience would probably look at that and think it to be something that was affecting only people in the Philippines. Marias was the loudest voice against Duterte. She was questioning the government-aided dissemination of disinformation and connecting it with Dutertes impunity. The issue of disinformation is very global, and I wanted people all over the world to take note.

It all goes back to Silicon Valley, Ressa adds. A Thousand Cuts follows the Philippines 2019 legislative elections, when for the first time in 80 years, the opposition failed to secure even a single seat. It illuminates the Duterte governments use of propaganda and social media to lie to their citizens, obscuring what many of them know to be the truth. This post-truth reality is one many people are now far too familiar with, even outside the Philippines. When Facebook sells our most vulnerable data to the highest bidder, we no more have facts to hold each other accountable by. Accountability from the tech companies is a prerequisite to claim our democracies back. You do not have democracy if you dont have facts, Ressa asserts. In one scene, Duterte tells a Rappler journalist, You will be allowed to criticize us. But you will go to jail for your crimes. I was immediately reminded of the likes of Gauri Lankesh and Vikram Joshi, journalists back home in India who were murdered for speaking out against the countrys Hindu nationalist government.

Diazs previous film, Motherland (2017), focused on the worlds busiest maternity ward in Manilas Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital. Its concurrent themes of womens bodies and the states multi-pronged control over them are carried into A Thousand Cuts. Dutertes government directly encourages rape threats and the sexist dehumanization of Ressa and her colleagues, such as reporter Pia Ranada. At the same time, the state uses the hyper-sexualized bodies of women like pop star Mocha Uson to titillate citizens into voting their way. We must never get used to it, Diaz insists. If every time he opens his mouth, something misogynist comes out, it should shock us every time. Ressa sums up the tragic virulence of this scenario when she responds, Which he are you referring to? As much as Dutertes jokes may shock, the women in his crowds hooting in approval deal the heaviest blow. Misogyny is infuriating, but its even worse to see who willingly serves as its foot soldiers.

In a scene at a rally, Duterte uses his microphone to demonstrate a vulgar joke about his penis. It inescapably brings to mind a president who was plainly recorded boasting about grabbing women by their private parts. Misogyny, fascism, repression of the press, and fake news go hand in hand, and this is not solely a Filipino problem. They surround people in so many countries so densely that we can become dulled to their effects. A Thousand Cuts is a firm refusal to let unholy intersectional fascism be normalized. During a Rappler holiday party, Ressa tells her colleagues, We cannot become monsters when fighting monsters. A Thousand Cuts is a document of journalistic resistance to monsters and their methods of seducing people into inertness. To finish her toast, Ressa says:And the only thing that keeps us from becoming monsters is love.

A Thousand Cuts opens in virtual cinemas August 7.

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Exposing Rodrigo Duterte's War on the Free Press - Hyperallergic

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