Court of Tax Appeals Acquits Rappler and Maria Ressa
Over 4 years since the hasty filing of tax evasion charges by the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) against Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) and its CEO, nobel laureate, Maria Ressa, the Court of Tax Appeals has now acquitted the Filipino online news website and its president. The verdict marks a victory for press freedom and fair business standards under the rule of law. “It feels like the world is slowly turning right side up” Ressa stated as the independent news website reasserts their mission never to yield from instruments of intimidation and to continue holding truth to power.
Ressa stated how the charges were “politically motivated” meant to cripple their operations; “a brazen abuse of power meant to stop journalists from doing their jobs”. The charges have been among several concerted efforts from the Philippine government, initiated during former-president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, to shut down the online news website after they began to publish investigative stories critical of Duterte’s flagship war-on-drugs campaign.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom - Philippines celebrates this win with Rappler and affirms its continued support to the organization. FNF advocates for rule of law and the role of media in making sure that institutions are working and are independent of each other. To deprive the role of journalists in their service to defend democracy would be to allow instruments of tyranny, such as disinformation and deception, to cause harm and malfeasance through undue influence.
Ressa hails the verdict as “a victory for every Filipino who has ever been unjustly accused”. While the CTA’s acquittal provides much needed hope for several journalists and outlets who are faced with similar obstruction, there still remains three active court cases against Maria Ressa and Rappler. Rappler has asserted that the company is owned fully by Filipinos – the primary target of the mother case that remains, and that PDRs are valid and legal financial means to fund Philippine companies.
Before the final judgment, Rappler and Ressa released a memorandum to the CTA stating that “This case exemplifies how the power of taxation can be used as a tool to cause a thousand cuts to our democracy. Rappler Inc., which has been at the forefront of providing independent journalism in the Philippines, caught the ire of the Duterte Government. As a result, and for the first time in Philippine history, the BIR classified a holding company that issued PDRs as a dealer in securities and required the payment of income tax and VAT,”. Francis Lim, Maria Ressa’s attorney and former president of the Philippine Stock Exchange, stated that if PDRs were to be declared taxable income all in an effort to convict Ressa and Rappler, it would generate several ramifications for every business seeking to raise capital.
Two years ago, following a series of black propaganda against the media meant to add pressure from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), Ressa stated “The only reason we can think of why a government entity tasked to combat the communist insurgency would wage a propaganda offensive against media persons and outfits is if government now considers us the enemy”. After the CTA decision 2 years later, Ressa affirms "Today, facts win, truth wins, justice wins".