LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018

As of July 20, 2020, there were at least 7 cases being tried in court against Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa as well as Rappler's directors and a former researcher. 

On top of this, the Bureau of Internal Revenue is investigating Rappler Inc and Rappler Holdings Corporation for alleged tax violations.

A second cyber libel complaint was also lodged in February 2020 against Ressa by businessman Wilfredo Keng before a Makati City prosecutor.

The number of active cases has been reduced from the previous total of 11 charges, complaints, and investigations against Rappler due to the following:

  • In October 2019, a Pasig trial court judge remanded to government prosecutors two previous cases against Ressa and Rappler's directors, saying they were filed in "due haste." Trial for these cases – now consolidated into one – was suspended.
  • In November 2019, a Quezon City prosecutor dismissed a libel complaint against Ressa and reporter Rambo Talabong for lack of probable cause.

Here's a list of complaints and cases filed against Rappler that started in January 2018, barely 6 months after President Rodrigo Duterte falsely claimed in his July 2017 State of the Nation Address that Rappler is "fully owned by Americans."

The string of cases against Rappler and Ressa started with the revocation of Rappler's license to operate through an order issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on January 11, 2018.

1. SEC vs Rappler at the Court of Appeals

This is the mother case where Rappler asked the Court of Appeals (CA) to invalidate the SEC's revocation order. The CA on July 26, 2018 denied Rappler's plea to reverse the commission's order. But it also remanded the case to the SEC for review.

While the court said that a clause in the Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR) issued by Rappler Holdings to one investor "would appear tantamount to some foreign control," it stressed that the revocation of Rappler's certificate of registration as a penalty should have been the "last resort." (READ: What you should know about the Court of Appeals' decision on Rappler)

The CA noted that the parties to the PDRs appeared to have acted in good faith and that the clause in question was "never exercised." The court told the SEC that the donation of the PDRs to Rappler's Filipino managers seems to have permanently removed the alleged "negative foreign control" which the SEC found objectionable.

Thus, the CA directed the SEC to review the revocation order and evaluate it given the donation of the PDRs to Rappler's Filipino managers.

Status as of July 20, 2020. The SEC has yet to announce the results of its review. In its partial motion for reconsideration filed with the CA on August 17, 2018, Rappler asked the court to declare that the PDRs did not amount to any semblance of foreign control. In March 2019, the CA rejected Rappler's motion and reiterated its order remanding the case to SEC.

2-5. Tax cases against Maria Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation at tax court 

There are 4 counts of tax violations against Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation at the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA). These were pursued by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on the theory that the PDRs that the SEC had questioned generated taxable income that Rappler Holdings Corporation did not declare. The Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the charges.

The 3 counts are for violation of Section 255 of the Tax Code or failure to supply correct information in the Income Tax Return (ITR) for 2015, and Value Added Tax (VAT) returns for the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2015, and the 4th count is for tax evasion.

Ahead of any warrant against her, Ressa on December 11, 2018 was allowed to post bail for P204,000 for the 4 counts.

The CTA denied on February 7, 2019 the motion of Rappler Holdings Corporation to quash the case. On April 3, 2019, Ressa was arraigned in the 4 cases and pleaded not guilty.

During the May 29, 2019 hearing, CTA Presiding Judge Roman del Rosario recused himself from the cases after he expressed his view that RHC as an entity should be arraigned, a stand that the two other justices disagreed with. Justice Catherine Manahan was asked to preside over these cases.  

Status as of July 20, 2020. The CTA dismissed the motion of Ressa and Rappler to file a demurrer of evidence, or to quash the case outright. The defense presented its first witness last January 22.

6. Tax case against Maria Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation at Pasig court

The 5th count of tax violation was part of the set that the DOJ approved for charging, but it was filed by the prosecutors at the Pasig Regional Trial Court (RTC). The DOJ argued that because the 5th count – related to the VAT return for the 2nd quarter of 2015 – amounted to P294,258.58, it does not meet the minimum amount required for CTA cases.

A provision in the CTA’s law says that the tax court must have original jurisdiction over all cases under the tax code “provided however that..the principal amount of tax involved exclusive of charges and penalties claimed is one million pesos or more.”

Ressa filed for a motion to quash the case on December 4, 2018.

Status as of July 20, 2020. Acting Presiding Judge Maria Paz Reyes-Yson rejected Ressa's motion on March 16, 2020. Ressa's arraignment was set for July 22, 2020; the court is now presided by Judge Ana Teresa Cornejo-Tomacruz.

7. Cyber libel at Manila court 

Ressa, Rappler, and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr are charged with cyber libel at the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 headed by Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa.

Ressa was arrested on February 13 and was only allowed to post bail for P100,000 the following day. Santos posted the same amount on February 15.

The DOJ approved the charges even though the article in question was published in May 2012, or 4 months before the Cybercrime Prevention Act was enacted into law. The article written by Santos said that the late former chief justice Renato Corona was using certain SUVs, one of which was traced to businessman Wilfredo Keng, the complainant. Ressa had no editorial involvement in the story. 

Keng filed the complaint only in October 2017. This complaint was dismissed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in February 2018 due to the lapse of the one-year prescriptive period for libel, only for it to be revived in March of the same year. (WATCH: Rappler's cyber libel case in a nutshell)

In their complaint with the DOJ, the NBI included, aside from Ressa and Santos, members of Rappler Inc's Board of Directors (Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, James Velasquez) as well as its corporate secretary, Jose Maria Hofileña.

The DOJ eventually decided to bring to court only Ressa and Santos.

DOJ prosecutors said that due to the multiple publication rule, typographical edits made in 2014 put the article under the coverage of the law. The DOJ also said that the prescriptive period for cyber libel is 12 years and not one year.

On February 26, 2019, Ressa and Santos, through their lawyer Theodore Te, filed a motion  to quash the complaintJudge Montesa junked the motion on April 12, 2019.

Ressa and Santos were arraigned on May 14, 2019. On May 28, 2019, Ressa and Santos attended mediation proceedings with Keng's lawyer, as mandated by the court.

In July 2019, the prosecution on July 23, 2019 presented its first two witnesses. Read the story about that hearing here.

Status as of July 20, 2020. Judge Montesa on June 15, 2020 convicted Ressa and Santos of cyber libel. Both filed a partial motion for reconsideration on June 29.

In the trial's last hearing prior to the verdict, Rappler presented on the witness stand investigative head Chay Hofileña who edited the story in question. Keng's lawyers still tried to pin down Ressa, who was not at all involved in the story. Keng's lawyers asked Hofileña for the source of the intelligence on their client, but lawyer Ted Te invoked the Sotto law, which allows journalists to keep the identity of their sources.

8-9. Alleged violation of the Anti-Dummy Law and the Securities Code

This stems from the original complaint filed by the NBI that's still related to the issuance of PDRs by Rappler. Before he resigned, former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II ordered the NBI to investigate Rappler for any possible violation of "other laws." On the basis of this order, the NBI conducted an investigation and found that Rappler purportedly violated the nationality requirement on mass media. Based on this finding, the NBI filed a criminal complaint with the Pasig prosecutor.

In September 2018, the Pasig City prosecutor subpoeanad Rappler Inc's board of directors at the time of the issuance of the PDRs – Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Glenda Gloria, James Bitanga, Felicia Atienza, James Velasquez – as well as then-corporate secretary, Jose Maria Hofileña. (See list of Rappler's current Board of Directors here)

On March 26, 2019, the  Pasig Prosecutor's Office charged the directors with violation of the Anti Dummy Law and the Securites Regulation Code. The complaint against Hofileña was dropped. Both cases were raffled off to Pasig Branch 265 Judge Acerey Pacheco, who later on decided to re-raffle the securities case to a commercial court, also in Pasig. For both cases, the board directors posted bail amounting to P216,000 each.

On April 10, 2019, Ayala, Nolledo Gloria, Atienza, and Velasquez were arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the anti-dummy charge filed at Branch 265. Ressa was arraigned on May 2, 2019 in the same court, and pleaded not guilty to the same charge.

A separate case stemming from the anti-dummy complaint was raffled to Pasig Branch 158 under Judge Rowena San Pedro. On April 1, 2019, San Pedro found probable cause to charge the directors with alleged violation of the Securities Regulation Code. Each director posted bail of P128,000.

Ressa and the rest asked for a deferment of arraignment and for the court to remand the case to the office of the prosecutor.

In May 2019, Judge San Pedro on May 28 inhibited herself from the Securities Code case due to her friendship with Ressa. The case has been transferred to Judge Elma Rafallo-Lingan of RTC Branch 159.

Status as of July 20, 2020. Judge Lingan consolidated the two cases into one and remanded to the Pasig City prosecutor the case alleging violations of the securities code, saying it was filed in "undue haste." Pending the prosecution's review, the trial on the anti-dummy case was also suspended.

10. BIR administrative proceedings

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is determining whether Rappler should be assessed for tax deficiencies, following allegations in the criminal cases filed at the CTA and Pasig RTC.

Status as of July 20, 2020. It's pending at the BIR.

11. Libel complaint vs Ressa and reporter Rambo Talabong

Former interior undersecretary, now agrarian secretary, John Castriciones filed a libel complaint with the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office against reporter Rambo Talabong over a series of reports on conflicts among officials and employees at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in 2017.

Castriciones also filed a libel complaint against Ressa, who, again, did not have editorial involvement in Talabong's reports.

Status as of January 30, 2020. The complaint was dismissed in November 2019 by the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office. 

Ressa and Rappler have said these cases constitute a clear pattern of harassment against independent media and are meant to intimidate the organization.

More on Rappler's cyber libel case:

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.