moment of truth

Manila, 14 June—Like many of us who are waiting anxiously for the decision on Maria Ressa’s cyber libel case tomorrow, June 15th, C and I managed to catch Ramona Diaz’s “A Thousand Cuts” on its limited YouTube run over the weekend, right before it was taken offline.

The documentary follows Ressa and her team at Rappler as they cover the drug war, Malacañang, and the 2019 elections. It also includes interviews with some personalities from the 2019 elections—Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, OWWA Deputy Administrator Mocha Uson and journalist and former Bangsamoro Transition Commission member Samira Gutoc.

My interest in the documentary is clear—Maria Ressa is one hell of a journalist. And the cases that the administration has filed against her and her news organization, one after the other, are no joke.

This primer by Rappler justice reporter Lian Buan is a must-read if you’re catching up on this issue; it also reminds us that, whatever the verdict, Ressa is still facing at least 7 other criminal charges in different courts. That’s… terrifying, honestly.

Mike Navallo for TV Patrol also does a quick summary of the background of this case and its legal implications here.

But I am not writing to comment or summarize this case; I write to register a few things that ran on my mind as I was watching “A Thousand Cuts” on YouTube. Film critic Richard Bolisay highlights a few things to ponder on in this thread:

I recognize that it’s a documentary primarily for an international audience, and that’s perhaps why it doesn’t seem /meant/ for us. As a friend also pointed out, we’re already all clued in on the context, so it’s natural to find it lacking. But I just couldn’t shake off some things I felt while watching.

For one, I had this general uneasy feeling that the POV of the docu ‘looked down’ on ordinary Filipinos as dumb voters—which may have been unintentional, but given the foreign crew that filmed it, was probably more ingrained than it should have been.

I understand that piecing together interviews is challenging—especially if it takes working with footage that span years. But given that the filming crew must have seen how, for example, Bato came out of nowhere prior to 2016, lorded over the drug war and the killings for most of 2016, then headed over to Bilibid after retirement and then ran and won a Senate seat in 2019 on the strength of 19 million votes—I mean. It’s also a context the international community would have needed.

Instead, the lenses focused on how he kept masa voters under his thrall during his sorties, how he memorized ONE Ed Sheeran song for all his engagements, how he could insult a horde of Bilibid inmates and still be applauded—without so much as building the context that led us here.

They touched on systems of disinformation—how it amplified lies through a network of social media hubs that included Mocha Uson—but did not really contextualize Mocha’s participation in it, other than the fact that she and TP repost each other on Facebook. I think it would have merited mentioning that Mocha was actually a Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary, at least, who earned a six-figure monthly salary powered by people’s taxes.

Also: On one hand, it seemed like they wanted to drive a point that slut-shaming Mocha is wrong, regardless of her participation in this disinformation network (and I agree, because her participation in the disinformation network IS THE POINT!) but the docu also had clips of them performing in the sorties, so… how.

Not gonna lie, it almost felt like they were also ‘taken’ with their administration-allied subjects—fascinated as they were by their antics. In the end, I felt the intention was to even generate some sort of sympathy for Mocha—the medschool dropout who had a falling out with her dad and who just wanted to serve the government, only to lose her bid for a seat in Congress. I mean: WHY? She’s been occupying government seats that she is not qualified to hold, all these years. Taking taxpayer money for what?

Contrast this treatment with the not-as-interested take on Samira Gutoc. If anything, it was painful to watch Samira’s sincerity, going to the market to campaign only to be met by blank, indifferent stares. C puts it more bluntly: They painted Samira as a desperate woman. The moments she was onstage, she was angry—and rightly so, I think, because if I were also a woman running for a Senate seat in 2019, against this giant misogynist administration, I would be mad, too.

But it doesn’t even mention that Samira was also a journalist like Ressa, the way it mentioned that Mocha was a medschool dropout who later reconciles with her dad (?!) Nobody mentions platforms, because of course the elections in the Philippines is ‘purely entertainment’—even the debates. They didn’t really want to know Samira, the way they wanted their viewers to ‘know’ Bato and Mocha, and for me, that’s just sad. A missed opportunity.

Another missed opportunity for me is to get a Man On Street POV. Kahit isa lang. We almost got one, a lola who wanted to be convinced that their otherwise comfortable life (Tumaas pa nga ang pensyon, hindi naman adik, etc) is also a part of this mess. What could have been a teaching moment instead ended with platitudes. Don’t get me wrong—I get this Holocaust poem, and it resonates with me, but you know this already. What we do not know is: Did it resonate with lola?

By asking these questions of this docu, I don’t mean to diminish in any way Ressa and Rappler’s efforts, of course; they’re doing the nation an invaluable service. Someone has to keep any eye on the government, regardless of the risks. Someone has to stand up to government and call them out, and that’s what the media is for. Fourth Estate and Watchdog.

But it’s also important to ask at this point how we can rally this country to take a united stand against injustice. How do we get our message out there, and how do we make it understandable and relatable to the people who need to hear it the most? I doubt if you keep on painting them as dumb voters summarily so taken with a one-trick pony, if they’re ever going to listen.