BIR files tax evasion complaint vs Rappler Holdings

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on Thursday, March 8, filed a tax evasion complaint against Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC), the agency said in a press release. 

The complaint, filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ), alleges that RHC, together with its president Maria Ressa and treasurer James Bitanga, wilfully attempted to evade tax payments, as well as failed to provide accurate information in its income tax and value-added tax (VAT) returns for 2015.

The BIR said it also filed a complaint against accountant Noel Baladiang of RG Manabat & Company "for signing and certifying the financial statement of RHC despite the clear omission and misstatement of his client."

The BIR's media officer Reymarrie dela Cruz confirmed to Rappler in a phone interview that the complaint involves P133 million in taxes.

Normal procedure, lawyers say, provides respondents with 30 days to reply.

Ressa called the complaint "ludicrous," and urged the BIR to "check its own records." Rappler has been paying its taxes accurately, promptly, and diligently, with no less than the BIR commending Rappler Incorporated as one of Revenue Region 7's top 500 corporate taxpayers.

"This is clear intimidation and harassment. The government is wasting its energy and resources in an attempt to silence reporting that does not please the administration," Ressa said. (READ: Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom)

So far, 5 government agencies have been going after the social news network since President Rodrigo Duterte accused it of being funded by the Central Intelligence Agency and a supposed purveyor of "fake news": the Office of the Solicitor General, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and now the BIR. 

RHC is the parent company of Rappler Incorporated, which sold Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR) to Omidyar Network and North Base Media in 2015.

Omidyar's PDRs were voided by the SEC last January for allegedly violating the constitutional ban on foreign ownership. The SEC interpreted a provision in the Omidyar PDR as equivalent to allowing foreign control, and used it as basis to revoke Rappler's certificate of registration.

The SEC ruling is not yet final and executory. Rappler is contesting it before the Court of Appeals. (READ: FAQs: Rappler's SEC case)

In late February, Omidyar donated its PDRs to 14 Filipino managers of Rappler, saying that the media company should operate unhindered.

Omidyar said the SEC ruling "is a clear and direct attack not only on Rappler Incorporated but also on independent journalism and press freedom in the Philippines." (READ: EXPLAINER: How SEC's Rappler decision is a test case for press freedom)  Lian Buan / Rappler.com