Malacañang to U.N. expert: Don't politicize tax case vs Rappler, Ressa
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Saturday, December 8, said that the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression is "politicizing" the tax evasion charges filed against Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) and its president, Maria Ressa.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a statement said that David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur, should be "more circumspect" instead of downplaying the charges against RHC and Ressa.
"We expect the UN representative to be more circumspect instead of politicizing a crime and ignoring its gravity and assaulting the sovereignty of our country," he said.
Kaye released a statement on Thursday, December 6, calling on the Philippine government to drop its charges against RHC and Ressa. He called the charges "a serious threat" against independent and investigative journalism in the country.
On Saturday, Panelo hit the UN rapporteur for commenting on the issue "without the benefit of factual information," saying that a UN official has "once again barged" into the Philippines' legal and judicial processes.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) had indicted Rappler and Ressa with 5 charges of tax violations.
Four cases were filed before the Court of Tax Appeals for alleged failure to supply correct information in the Value Added Tax (VAT) returns for the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2015, failure to file an Income Tax Return for 2015, and evading tax for 2015.
Rappler and Ressa have also been charged at the Pasig Regional Trial Court with violation of Section 255 of the tax code, or the supposed failure to supply correct information in their VAT return for the 2nd quarter of tax year 2015.
Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 265 Judge Danilo Buemio on Friday, December 7, granted Rappler's motion to suspend the arraignment pending a ruling on RHC and Ressa's motion to quash filed before the court on December 4.
The December 4 motion asked the court to void the charges, if not remand investigation to the DOJ – or at least suspend proceedings while they avail of appeal remedies.
Rappler maintained that the slew of cases is a "clear form of continuing intimidation and harassment" and "an attempt to silence reporting that does not please the administration." (Read Rappler's full statement here.)
Not a press freedom issue?
Panelo on Saturday denied that the charges are attempts to repress the freeedom of the press, noting the gravity of tax evasion charges.
"The case against the media outfit has absolutely nothing to do with the freedom of expression. Being a media entity and a journalist cannot shield them from criminal prosecution when they violate the law," he said.
The presidential spokesperson said that the right to express "is very much respected" in the Philippines.
"The fact that Rappler and its reporters continue to publish articles of dissent against this administration is an eloquent testimonial. The fact that detractors and critics of the President continue to air their protests in various media platforms against our policies is another irrefutable proof," Panelo said.
He noted that critics can always seek redress at the courts if censorship from the Philippine government happened. But Panelo noted there are "no reports of such cases" against the government.
Several journalists, scholars, media groups and non-governmental organizations around the world have slammed the cases filed against Rappler, and have voiced out their support for the news organization. – Rappler.com