MARIA Ressa, head of online news site Rappler, yesterday entered a not guilty plea during her arraignment before the Pasig City Regional Trial Court for tax evasion.
Ressa, who was convicted of libel last month and sentenced to up to six years in prison, said the case was politically motivated and meant to harass and intimidate.
The case before Branch 157 of the Pasig City RTC is one of five tax-related charges she is facing. The other four tax cases are with the Court of Tax Appeals.
In the fifth case, Ressa is accused of violating Section 255 of the Tax Code for failure to supply correct information related to Rappler’s VAT return for the second quarter of 2015, worth some P294,000.
The tax cases stemmed from Rappler’s Philippine depository receipts (PDRs) which the prosecution argued are taxable income that the online news outfit should have reflected in its return. Rappler insists that the sale of the PDRs is not taxable.
Ressa said the charge sheet was amended during the hearing to include Rappler Holdings Corp., which issued the PDRs, as co-accused, almost two years after the original information was filed and just before her arraignment.
“Substantial amendment to the information to add the company, Rappler Holdings, right before my arraignment-almost two years after it was filed. Kinda shows I was really their focus,” she said in a tweet.
“I was arraigned and pleaded not guilty. PS we’re given P1 million in travel bond for this charge for an alleged P200k tax violation. That was before today,” she also said.
Ressa said she is unfazed. “We will fight every step of the way because we will hold the line.”
Ressa, a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for fighting media intimidation, is facing several government lawsuits that have caused international concern about harassment of journalists in the Philippines.
“These charges are politically motivated, it is meant to harass and intimidate, it is meant to be a war of attrition to try to make us afraid to keep reporting,” Ressa said after she pleaded not guilty to the charges. “The best response to it is to keep reporting.”
Rappler has repeatedly challenged the accuracy of President Duterte’s public statements, has reported on alleged atrocities in his war on drugs, and probed what it says are massive, state-orchestrated social media hate campaigns against Duterte’s critics.
Duterte has publicly lashed out at Rappler, calling it a “fake news outlet” sponsored by American spies. – With Reuters