'Person of the Year' choice shows the dangers of being a journalist today — Ressa

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) — Maria Ressa, President of Rappler Holdings Corporation (parent firm of online news website Rappler), said it's high time for journalists to take positive action in protecting the country's democracy.

Ressa was among the other international journalists hailed as 2018 Person of the Year and dubbed as "guardians on the war on truth" by Time Magazine. The list also included Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributor who was killed at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October.

Speaking to CNN Philippines on Wednesday, Ressa said the inclusion only shows how dangerous it is to be in her profession— not only in the Philippines but also around the world.

"What's very clear about the choices is that it shows you how dangeous it is to hold the line, how dangerous it is to be a journalist today," Ressa told CNN Philippines News Night.

"Just by naming the guardians is raising the alarm that it is time for us to actually take positive action in protecting democracy. We are actually the front line in protecting democracy. That is the mission of journalism," she added.

Ressa noted she's still optimistic for the future of journalism, especially with the entry of the younger generation of passionate journalists.

"It's not rational what we do as journalists. If you want to make money, you wouldn't be a journalist. Who wants to hold to account the powerful? In a sense, this is mission-driven."

'Time's prerogative'

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Wednesday said Malacañang remains unfazed by the recognition of Ressa, who had covered President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial war on drugs.

In a media briefing Wednesday, Panelo said it is the magazine's prerogative to choose the individuals deserving of the plum.

"Whether we agree or not it doesn't matter," the spokesman told reporters. "That's the call of the awarding organization. It has it basis. Certainly, we cannot intrude into that. It's not our turf."

Ressa recently made headlines when she was slapped with five tax evasion charges in November.

The Justice Department accused the company and Ressa of failure to file income and value-added tax returns in violation of Sections 254 and 255 of the National Internal Revenue Code.

A separate tax case was also filed before the Pasig Regional Trial Court in the same month.

Ressa had posted bail amounting to ₱264,000 for the charges.

"The tax evasion case says we are a "dealer in securities." Hindi kami nahanapan ng butas (we were not searched for irregularities), they made it up. We are not a dealer in securities, we are a news group," Ressa told CNN Philippines.

READ: Rappler's Maria Ressa posts ₱204,000 bail for four tax evasion cases

In Wednesday's briefing, Panelo also addressed the issue of press freedom in the country.

The spokesman insisted the freedom of expression in the Philippines remains "robust."

"Nobody has been prosecuted for criticisizing the administration. Those who have been charged were in connection not with freedom of expression but for commission of crimes which the courts have found probable cause," Panelo said.