Rappler’s Maria Ressa pleads not guilty in 4 tax cases

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa pleaded not guilty to 4 tax-related charges in her arraignment at the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) on Wednesday, April 3.

Her 4 cases at the CTA involve the Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) of Rappler Holdings, which it issued to foreign investor Omidyar Network. The Department of Justice said this constituted taxable income that Rappler did not declare.

Ressa is facing one count of tax evasion and 3 counts of alleged 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.

Speaking to reporters after her arraignment, Ressa said the process was "very professional on all sides" and she is "happy with this."

"I'm hoping for justice," Ressa said.

Ressa said this is the first arraignment in the 11 investigations and cases against Rappler. (READ: List of cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors and staff since 2018)

"For me this is my first time, truly, being arraigned, and sitting there and thinking about it makes me slightly angry, so my anger management is still there," Ressa said.

"But seeing the professional way it was handled, on both sides, I would say, I still say that these cases are all politically motivated. Where in the world do you come home on a Friday, get arrested, post bail, and on a Monday get another arrest warrant and post bail again?" she said.

"I've been arrested twice in a little over a month, so it's clear. But we will fight every single one and hope for the integrity of the men and women who will handle these cases, and that they go as well as today," the Rappler CEO added. (READ: Maria Ressa posts P126,000 bail for new case)

Rappler lawyer Eric Recalde said he is confident Ressa will be acquitted.

"We believe in fairness and it's just a matter of time that we will get an acquittal," Recalde told reporters. "Based on what transpired this morning, we're confident that we'll get a fair trial."

Rappler has maintained that PDRs are legal financial instruments that have been resorted to by other media and do not constitute foreign ownership or control.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had questioned Omidyar's PDRs, saying it violated the constitutional restrictions on ownership of Philippine media, and used it as basis for ordering the revocation of Rappler's license in January 2018. (READ: FAQs: Rappler's SEC case)

Rappler questioned the SEC's order before the Court of Appeals, which has ruled twice that the commission should reevaluate its order given Omidyar's donation of its shares to Rappler's managers. (READ: Omidyar donates PDRs to Filipino managers) – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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