Rappler’s Maria Ressa cleared of tax evasion charges

The Philippines’ Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) acquitted Rappler CEO and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa of four charges of tax evasion.

The CTA’s First Division acquitted Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) in an 80-page decision “for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.” The case was filed by the Department of Justice in 2018 under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

Ressa’s acquittal ends over four years of trial that the Nobel winner described as a pattern of harassment. If convicted, Ressa would have faced 34 years in jail.

The Duterte government alleged that the RHC failed to file value-added tax returns and income returns for the third and fourth quarter of 2015. It also alleged that RHC evaded tax payments for the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts or PDRs to foreign investors North Base Media (NBM) and Omidyar Network (ON).

Yet the practice of issuing PDRs is commonly used even among media companies like ABS-CBN and GMA Network. The court also ruled that “there is nothing in the wordings of the PDR Instruments and the PDR Subscription Agreements that would show that the foreign entities NBM and ON will become owners of the shares of stock of RI upon the issuance of the PDRs.”

The veteran journalist spoke to reporters outside the courtroom after the promulgation was handed down and said, “Today, facts win. Truth wins. Justice wins.”

“These charges were politically motivated. We were able to prove that Rappler is not a tax evader.”

Ressa continues to face three criminal cases, including a cyber libel conviction, that is currently on appeal.