Rodrigo Duterte walked down the aisle of a packed auditorium at De La Salle University in downtown Manila, shaking hands and waving to nearly 2,000 college students snapping photos of the rising political star. At the front of the hall, waiting for him in a sharp red jacket, was Maria Ressa, co-founder of the Philippines’ largest online news site, Rappler.
Ressa, something of a journalistic legend in her country, had invited five candidates for the 2016 Philippine presidential election to a Rappler forum called #TheLeaderIWant. Only Duterte showed on this January afternoon. So, after the crowd stood for the national anthem, Ressa introduced the lone candidate and his running mate. “The stage is yours,” she said to applause.
For the next two hours, Duterte, under bright lights, sat in a white leather chair as Ressa lobbed questions that had been crowdsourced on Facebook, the co-sponsor of the forum. This was a peak moment for both interviewer and subject. While the event elevated Ressa and her four-year-old company, it also gave the then-mayor of Davao City, known as “the Punisher” for his brutal response to crime in the southern Philippine city, an exceptional opportunity to showcase his views. It was broadcast on 200 television and radio stations, and viewing parties on more than 40 college campuses across the Philippines tuned in as the event was live-streamed.
The Philippines is prime Facebook country—smart