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MANILA, Philippines – Groups on Tuesday, September 12, welcomed the acquittal of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa, and Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) of tax evasion charges.
Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 157 acquitted Ressa and RHC on Tuesday, September 12, ending four years and 10 months of trial after the case was filed in November 2018 by the Rodrigo Duterte administration.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the “long overdue” court victory “vindicates” Rappler and its journalists since the cases were “politically motivated.”
“Philippine courts should expedite their ruling on the remaining two cases against Rappler,” HRW senior researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement. “President [Ferdinand] Marcos should ensure that legal harassment of Ressa and other journalists end.”
The latest court victory means that Ressa and RHC are no longer facing tax evasion charges. There are, however, still two remaining active cases: the cyber libel conviction appeal of Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. still pending before the Supreme Court, and the appeal on the closure of Rappler that is now at the Court of Appeals.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that the last tax acquittal further proves that the cases were filed “to harass and intimidate” Ressa and Rappler over its critical reporting on the Duterte administration, including its violent war on drugs and widespread state-sponsored disinformation.
“Although the executive and judiciary are separate branches of government, an acquittal for Maria and Rappler would have been unimaginable in the political climate of the previous administration,” NUJP said.
“As other colleagues face cases related to their work as journalists, this latest legal victory is a reminder for all of us to continue to hold the line,” it added.
Akbayan Party called the acquittal a “triumph against tyranny” but reminded the public that it is “high time that we strengthen our efforts in the fight against government abuse and impunity.”
In a statement, Akbayan Party president Rafaela David said that it is important that Duterte is also held accountable for his actions, including the continued persecution of detained former senator Leila de Lima.
“Sa dulo, tiyakin natin na ang katarungan at katotohanan ang mananaig (In the end, let’s make sure that justice and truth will prevail),” she said. “Our victory against tyranny will only be complete if the tyrant himself is brought to justice.”
The Hold the Line Coalition, a group of more than 80 organizations around the world, said the verdict shows it’s possible for Marcos to “chart a different course,” departing from the media repression under Duterte.
“We hope this judgment signals a revival of judicial independence in the Philippines after the previous administration’s instrumentalization of the courts as a means to erode press freedom and discredit independent reporting,” the coalition’s steering committee said in a statement.
The Federation of Free Workers, meanwhile, said the acquittal is a reminder that “justice can prevail, even when confronted with adversity.”
“Maria Ressa’s exoneration is not only a personal triumph but also a victory for the fundamental values of truth, accountability, and transparency in journalism,” the group said. – Rappler.com