MANILA, Philippines >> She runs one of the hottest blogs in the Philippines, and her work has never been more in demand. The country’s leading newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, named her one of the Filipinos of the Year for 2017.
But there has been more trauma than celebration for Jover Laurio, a 38-year-old law student who runs the Pinoy Ako Blog. She has had to quit her day job, and her boyfriend walked out. In public, armed bodyguards now keep watch over her.
That is because she is one of the most steadfast critics of the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, chronicling extrajudicial killings and dissecting false claims made by him and his circle.
Until a few months ago, Laurio was able to do it anonymously, even as the blog gained dedicated readers. It has well over 130,000 unique followers, and is growing quickly.
But during a Senate hearing last year on criticism in the media, Duterte’s social media team exposed Laurio as the force behind the blog. Within days, the president’s supporters were making threats against her and publishing her personal information, including her home address and where she studied.
“I wrote behind the cloak of anonymity, because when you write something against the government, about the children who are orphaned in this war on drugs, and if you call out the administration for false claims, you receive hate from the government’s army of trolls,” Laurio said in an interview, during an event for the release of a book based on her blog. “But the threats are not enough to invalidate the issue that I am trying to point out: that the government lies.”
Still, she is worried, despite having the bodyguards whom her friends are helping to pay for. And there is cause.
On Monday, the government revoked the license for Rappler, an independent news outlet that has been a leading reporter of deaths and abuses in Duterte’s drug war. One of Duterte’s backers has directly taken aim at Laurio, accusing her in a lawsuit of online libel. She has countersued.
Another sent her an online message in which he threatened to smash her face with a baseball bat the next time he saw her — suggesting he was watching.
Through all that, Laurio’s posts on the Pinoy Ako Blog, written in Tagalog, have lost none of the dark humor and sarcasm that made the site so popular to begin with. Her admirers say her work has been brave and vital.
“I think PAB filled in a particular niche quite effectively, providing real-time, punchy and resonant attacks against a real and perceived purveyor of so-called fake news,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political analyst who wrote the book “The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt Against Elite Democracy.”
The attention given to Laurio and other outlets that are critical of Duterte speaks volumes “about the shift of information warfare” to the social media landscape, Heydarian said.
Maria Resa, the veteran journalist who runs Rappler, has long been a target of such warfare. In a particularly bad time, Laurio used the Pinoy Ako Blog to come to her defense.
A wave of online harassers, many of them openly from the armed forces, were attacking Resa. Laurio publicly called on the military chief to rein in his troops, and published several posts about soldiers discussing Resa’s looks and whether they would have sex with her.
The military later apologized, and Resa credited Laurio’s blog for giving her “a sense of justice.”
“I realized that I had stopped defending myself, and here was someone I didn’t know pointing out the horrors of what social media had become and the values it was rewarding,” said Resa, who has documented the weaponization of social media by Duterte loyalists.
Long before she was dragged into the public eye, Laurio experienced one struggle after another.
She was orphaned at an early age: She was 10 when her mother died of appendicitis, she said, and her inconsolable father turned to alcohol and quickly followed suit. She was passed among a series of relatives, mostly on the central Philippine island of Masbate, until she turned 16, when she was officially adopted by an aunt.
She decided to go to Manila to study law, she said, because she wanted to help those who cannot afford legal help.
Her online critics have attacked her credibility by saying she suffered a breakdown a decade ago and tried to commit suicide. Laurio was ready with an answer: She not only bluntly confirmed it, she went deeper, saying she has struggled with repressed anger since being molested as a child.
Then there have been the political accusations, among them that she was being paid by the political campaign for Duterte’s closest rival in the 2016 election, Mar Roxas, to smear the president.
She acknowledges volunteering for the Roxas campaign during the election, but insisted that she took no money for her work there.
One of her first popular blog posts, posted on Facebook three months after Duterte was sworn in, was a list of 10 reasons she could not support the president. She noted the sharply increasing number of victims in his war on drugs, as well as his unabashed support for the family of Ferdinand Marcos, the former dictator.
That post was shared at least 28,000 times on social media. Shortly afterward, threats flooded her social media accounts, and her Facebook page was suspended repeatedly because of complaints from Duterte supporters. She decided to move the blog to a dedicated website.
The site now has double the number of followers it had when Laurio was identified as the author late last year.
Asked for comment, a spokesman for Duterte, Harry Roque, discounted Laurio’s blog. “I don’t read her,” he said.
Laurio credits her blog’s popularity to a sense that ordinary Filipinos are growing more impatient with the government. Many have also been struck by her courage since government officials identified her. In naming her one of its Filipinos of the Year, the Philippine Daily Inquirer said Laurio “stood out for her patriotic daring.”
It has been difficult, though. Her higher profile made it impossible to continue her work at an Australian call center. And her boyfriend, an avid supporter of Duterte, distanced himself after Laurio went public.
They have since reunited, having agreed to avoid talking about politics, and to unfollow each other’s social media accounts. They’re planning their wedding for 2020, she said.
She acknowledges that she has thought at times about quitting as the threats have piled up. But an outpouring of support from friends and online followers has kept her going.
“The situation that we have right now is not acceptable,” Laurio said. “Our countrymen are dying on the streets each day. At the same time these politicians feel that they can just do whatever that they want.”
“Right now, I am jobless. But still doing the same thing — exposing and fighting the spread of fake news,” she added. “My love for this country is greater than the fear that I have about the administration or my detractors.
“Every day, my mantra is: ‘I inhale courage and exhale fear.’”