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MANILA, Philippines – The international legal team representing Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa welcomed her latest acquittal and that of Rappler Holdings Corporation.
Amal Clooney, in a statement on Tuesday, September 12, said Ressa and Rappler’s court victory is also a win for other journalists in the Philippines.
“Today’s acquittal is a victory not only for Maria but for all journalists in the Philippines who have been targeted by the government through the courts. But Maria still faces over 30 years in prison on outstanding charges, and these must also be dismissed if press freedom and the rule of law are to prevail,” Clooney said.
Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, meanwhile, said despite Ressa and Rappler’s acquittal, the challenges that journalists face remain.
“But the Philippines’ war on press freedom continues. Ms. Ressa still faces decades behind bars for her journalism. The authorities must end this once and for all, drop all remaining charges and concede Ms. Ressa’s cyber libel appeal,” the lawyer said.
Gallagher also noted how laws were weaponized to attack Ressa and her newsroom for their hard-hitting journalism: “Our brave client Maria Ressa has been a victim of ‘lawfare’ for doing her job – for being a journalist. The law has been wielded as a weapon against her in multiple ways, as the authorities have attempted to criminalize her and Rappler for years of hard-hitting reporting holding the powerful to account. These baseless, politically motivated tax evasion charges were part of that wider pattern.”
Clooney and Gallagher lead the international team of lawyers that also represent Ressa. The group also includes Can Yeginsu, Claire Overman, and Alice Gardoll.
On Tuesday, Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 157 Presiding Judge Ana Teresa Cornejo-Tomacruz acquitted Ressa and Rappler of tax evasion charges, their fifth and last tax case. The court ruled that Rappler did not evade tax payments when it had Philippine Depositary Receipts transactions, laying to rest the allegations of the Duterte government.
This is the second legal victory in a row and fifth acquittal secured by Rappler. In January, the Court of Tax Appeals acquitted Ressa and Rappler in four tax cases.
So far, Ressa and the newsroom face two active cases pending in courts: (1) Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr.’s cyber libel appeal before the Supreme Court, and (2) Rappler’s appeal before the Court of Appeals over the closure order from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The case decided by the Pasig court was filed two months after the SEC issued a closure order against Rappler based on the claim of the Duterte administration in 2018 that the company is foreign-owned. However, Rappler is a 100% Filipino-owned company – a point asserted by the newsroom in its appeal against the SEC order pending before the CA. – Rappler.com