Maria Ressa posts bail for tax case at Pasig court

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) president Maria Ressa on Monday, December 3, posted bail at Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 265 for alleged violation of the Tax Code.

Ressa posted a bail of P60,000 after the court found probable cause that RHC (the holding company of Rappler Inc) supposedly failed to supply correct information in its Value Added Tax (VAT) return for the 2nd quarter of tax year 2015. The court said this is in violation of Section 255 of the Tax Code.  

Ressa posted bail without waiving her right to question the jurisdiction of the Pasig court over this case.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Ressa said, "We verified that an arrest warrant had been issued on the basis of what we believe are politically-motivated charges. I surrendered to the court this morning, went through the process of what a criminal would go through, and filed bail without surrendering my right to question the Pasig court’s jurisdiction over this tax case. This is a clear case of harassment."

The case at the Pasig court – filed on November 14 – is just one of the 5 tax cases the Department of Justice has filed against RHC and Ressa, who received two major awards from international organizations in November. 

These were the 2018 Knight International Journalism Award given in Washington, DC, for Rappler's innovation and exposés on corruption despite the obstacles thrown its way, and the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, which the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) gives “to an individual who has shown extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom."

The DOJ filed 4 tax cases before the Court of Tax Appeals on November 26 and 28. But Rappler’s lawyers discovered on November 29 that a 5th case was separately filed before Pasig RTC Branch 265. The filings came despite the motions for reconsideration filed before the DOJ on November 22.

The accusations. The DOJ accused RHC of earning taxable income worth P2,452,154.87 ($46,693) for the 2nd quarter of 2015, therefore “resulting in deficiency value added tax in the amount of P294,258.58 ($5,608), exclusive of surcharge and interest, to the damage and prejudice of the government.”

The charge stemmed from RHC's issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), a mechanism that allows Filipino companies, including other media networks, to have foreign investments. Rappler Holdings issued PDRs in 2015 to foreign investor Omidyar Network Fund and NBM {North Base Media] Rappler, L.P.

In January 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered the revocation of Rappler’s license. The Court of Appeals, however, did not uphold the ruling, saying Omidyar’s donation of the PDRs to Rappler’s managers cured the issue. The CA then remanded the case to the SEC for review. (READ: DOCUMENT: Court of Appeals' full decision on Rappler's SEC case)

The Pasig RTC case cites the alleged failure of Ressa to report the "total quarterly sales receipts coming from the issue and sale by RHC of...PDRs, as a dealer in securities, to NBM Rappler L.P..."

The information was signed October 2, 2018 by Assistant State Prosecutor Zenamar J.L. Machacon-Caparros and approved by officer-in-charge Prosecutor General Richard Fadullon.

After posting bail, Pasig Judge Danilo Buemio signed her release order. Her arraignment was set for December 7 at 8:30 in the morning.

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Pattern. Aside from the 5 tax cases, the DOJ is also investigating Ressa for cyber libel and alleged violation of the anti-dummy law.

Ressa denounced these moves as the government's desperate efforts to harass and silence independent media. (READ: Journalists, media groups slam attempt to 'silence' Rappler)

CASES. Rappler CEO Maria Ressa arrives at the NAIA Terminal 3 on December 2, 2018, a day before posting bail at the Pasig City Regional Trial Court for one of 5 tax cases filed by the Department of Justice. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

CASES. Rappler CEO Maria Ressa arrives at the NAIA Terminal 3 on December 2, 2018, a day before posting bail at the Pasig City Regional Trial Court for one of 5 tax cases filed by the Department of Justice.

Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

Upon her arrival Sunday evening, December 3, Ressa told waiting reporters, "I’m going to challenge the process and I’m going to challenge the charges...I will continue to hold the government accountable." 

Earlier, after receiving the CPJ press freedom award, Ressa said, "We continue to tell the story of the nation. These cases will not intimidate nor distract us from holding public officials to account through our stories." (WATCH: Maria Ressa receives International Press Freedom Award)

Rappler has been subject to harassment and intimidation by the Duterte administration. President Rodrigo Duterte himself had made repeated false allegations against Rappler, including being supposedly funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Its reporters and correspondents have also been barred from covering all presidential events in and out of the country. – Rappler.com