Ahead of warrant, Maria Ressa posts bail at Court of Tax Appeals

Lian Buan

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Ahead of warrant, Maria Ressa posts bail at Court of Tax Appeals
The Rappler CEO and Executive Editor pays P204,000 at the tax court over 4 counts of tax cases

MANILA, Philippines – Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) president Maria Ressa on Tuesday, December 11, posted bail at the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) over 4 charges of alleged violation of the Tax Code.

Ressa posted P204,000 (about $4,000) worth of bail Tuesday morning over the 4 charges. She posted bail ahead of the issuance of warrants of arrest.

The CTA First Division is handling the 4 charges, which were filed on November 26 and 28.

“In view of the voluntary surrender of the accused Maria A. Ressa before the Court, the Cash bond in the amount of P60,000 posted for her provisional liberty is hereby accepted and approved,” the court said in one of the 4 resolutions issued on Tuesday.

The same resolution was issued for the 3 other cases.

A bail of P60,000 ($1,100) was recommended by the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors for each of the 3 counts of violation of Section 255 of the Tax Code or failure to supply correct information in the Income Tax Return (ITR) for 2015, and Value Added Tax (VAT) returns for the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2015.

A bail of P24,000 ($500) was recommended for the last charge, which is violation of Section 254 or tax evasion.

The resolutions were signed by Presiding Justice Roman Del Rosario, and Associate Justices Esperanza Fabon-Victorino, and Catherine Manahan.

Since Ressa has submitted herself to the jurisdiction of the court, she will now have to seek court permission whenever she has to travel abroad.

Her arraignment was set on January 23 next year at 8:30 am. (READ: Maria Ressa back in PH: Don’t let the gov’t cross the line)

The charges 

The 4 CTA charges are part of a set that stemmed from Rappler’s Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), a mechanism with which Filipino companies can have foreign investments.

Rappler has maintained the company is owned fully by Filipinos, that PDRs are valid and legal financial means to fund Philippine companies, and that the cases that have been hurled against it are part of government efforts to silence independent media. (READ: Journalists, media groups and advocates slam attempt to ‘silence’ Rappler)

The DOJ interpreted the issuance of PDR’s to foreign investor Omidyar Network as selling securities, from which the justice department alleged Rappler earned taxable income which resulted in deficiencies.

Rappler lawyer Francis Lim has repeatedly said PDRs do not make Rappler, or any company, a dealer of securities. They also do not generate taxable events, Lim said.

Rappler and Ressa’s lawyers said they intend to file a motion to quash.

According to the DOJ, Rappler allegedly earned a taxable profit worth P181.658 million ($3.3 million) from the PDRs issued to Omidyar and North Base Media.

The taxes allegedly evaded are worth P162,412,783.67 ($3,095), which they computed by subtracting Rappler’s P19.25 million ($362,588) worth of aggregate book value of underlying stocks from the P181.658 million ($3,462) alleged taxable income from PDRs.

Ressa is charged for a 5th case, which involves the 2nd quarter of 2015, and which DOJ filed separately at the Pasig Regional Trial Court (RTC).

A warrant from the Pasig RTC has been issued, but Ressa has already paid P60,000 bail there. Her arraignment was reset because the lawyers filed a pleading questioning the court’s jurisdiction.

‘A clear case of persecution’

In the motion to quash pending now at the Pasig RTC, Ressa called the tax charges “a clear case of persecution.”

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)

Two more complaints are pending with the DOJ – one for alleged violation of the Anti-Dummy Law, and one for cyberlibel. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.