Maria Ressa, Rappler board members charged again over anti-dummy law

MANILA, Philippines – Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa and other members of the 2016 Rappler board were charged anew, this time over alleged violation of the Securities Regulation Code and the Anti Dummy Law.

The charges are related to the Securities and Exchange closure order against Rappler in January 2018, which the Court of Appeals has told the SEC to review

The Pasig Prosecutor's Office filed the charges before the Pasig Regional Trial Court (RTC) on Tuesday, March 26. These were raffled off on Wednesday morning, March 27.

Charged were Ressa, managing editor Glenda M. Gloria, and 5 other members of Rappler's 2016 board, namely Manuel Ayala, James Bitanga, Nico Jose Nolledo, James Velasquez, and Felicia Atienza. The complaint against Rappler's former corporate secretary Jose Maria Hofileña was dropped.

Gloria and the 5 board members posted bail Wednesday afternoon ahead of an issuance of warrants of arrest. Ressa is currently abroad. 

The anti-dummy law offenses were raffled off to Branch 265 under Judge  Acerey C. Pacheco. Gloria and the other board members posted P90,000 (US $1,716) each for the Anti-Dummy Law offenses.

Judge Pacheco ordered the re-raffle of the Securities and Regulation Code offenses to a special commercial court within the Pasig RTC. Bail was recommended for those offenses at P128,000 (US $2,441) each. The defendants were waiting for the result of the re-raffle as of posting. 

SEC's disputed revocation order

On the basis of a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) complaint filed with the Pasig prosecutor in 2018, the prosecutors concluded that Rappler violated the Anti-Dummy Law for issuing Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to foreign investor Omidyar Network.

The case stems from the SEC's January 2018 order revoking the license of Rappler on charges that it violated the Constitution's ban on foreign ownership of media through the PDRs it issued to Omidyar.

Rappler, a 100% Filipino-owned company, argued that PDRs were legal financial instruments resorted to by other media and previously upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional. The company said the clause in Omidyar's PDR which the SEC found questionable did not constitute foreign ownership or control.

In its two rulings on the case in July 2018 and February 2019, the Court of Appeals (CA) said the SEC had basis to question the clause but also stressed that Rappler should have been given time to address it.

The CA remanded the case to the commission, ordering it to reevaluate its decision given Omidyar's donation of its shares to Rappler's Filipino managers. 

11 cases in a year

Of the 7 charged Wednesday, only Ressa, Gloria, and Ayala remain on the Rappler board. See the list of Rappler's current board here.

This is the 7th active court case against Ressa, and the 11th case overall against Rappler, its directors, and staff since January 2018, when the SEC attempted to shut the company down.

Ressa is facing 5 counts of alleged violations of the tax law, still rooted in the issue of PDRs.

While those are ongoing before the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) and the Pasig RTC, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has started administrative proceedings to determine whether Rappler should be made to pay tax liabilities.

At the Manila RTC, Ressa is scheduled to be arraigned for cyber libel over a story written by former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. At the CTA, Ressa is set to be arraigned for her 4 tax cases on April 3. At the Quezon City Prosecutor's Office, Ressa is being investigated for libel for a story written by reporter Rambo Talabong.

The One Free Press Coalition has included Ressa and Rappler among this month's Top 10 most urgent media issues in the world.

The top 10 list, which will be updated and published monthly, aims “to stand up for journalists under attack for pursuing the truth worldwide.” – Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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