Maria Angelita Ressa has walked boldly on the world stage since before she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. Though born in the Philippines, Maria’s mother moved to the U.S. soon after her husband died when Maria was just one year old. It took Maria’s mother almost ten years to bring Maria to the U.S. When she did, it was to Tom’s River, New Jersey, where she’d married an American man, Peter Ames Ressa, who formally adopted Maria, which is why she took his name. After earning her BA from Princeton University in 1986, she began a media career, beginning with a production job at the Philippines government station, PTV4. Soon after, she founded her own production company, Probe, in 1987 and was hired by CNN as bureau chief in Manila. Since then, she’s been working as an investigative journalist across Southeast Asia for over twenty years, much of it while employed by CNN. In addition to working with CNN, she headed up the news division of Philippines-based ABS-CBN and wrote for the Wall Street Journal. She’s authored two books focused on terrorism in Southeast Asia: Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center (published in 2003) and From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism (published in 2013). Then in 2012, she founded Rappler, an online digital media company famous for uncompromising journalism, of which she’s CEO and executive editor to this day. That’s an impressive list of accomplishments that can also be dangerous, particularly in the Philippines’ current authoritarian government.
Why They Made the Worthy 100: Even in the face of personal danger, she refused to modify her stance on terrorism and government corruption in the Philippines or leave the country when she heard that the government might arrest her. Unfortunately, that came to pass in 2019 when Philippine authorities detained her on cyber libel charges, accusing her of publishing a false story about a prominent businessman, Wilfredo King. Though Ressa and Rappler had been harassed and investigated by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte before, notably in 2018 when the government rescinded Rappler’s business license, the 2019 arrest also resulted in a trial and her subsequent conviction in 2020. This was condemned by many human rights organizations, including the Stabile Center of Investigative Journalism, whose director, Sheila Coronel, said that the conviction exemplified “how democracy dies in the 21st century.” Even after Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, the Philippine government refused to drop the charges, which means Ressa is currently facing up to six and a half years in prison and an $8,000 fine.