Judgment Call

One down, three to go

Glenda M. Gloria

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One down, three to go
What’s next after our acquittal?

The Rappler newsroom erupted in cheers on Wednesday, January 18, when we got our first-ever win in a string of legal cases hurled at us by the past Duterte government. It’s a big victory, because the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) said the Bureau of Internal Revenue had no basis – in fact and in law – to file the cases against Rappler Holdings Corporation and its president Maria Ressa.

I was in the courtroom when the verdict was read as the panel of three women justices looked on (it took all of six minutes). As soon as we heard “acquitted,” our CFO Fel Dalafu, seated beside me, burst into tears of joy, like the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders. Fel was one of the three who testified in our defense. Any accountant would have walked away from the badgering and harassment that Fel has withstood since former president Rodrigo Duterte unleashed his power to attack us. But she not only stayed all these years; she would look every BIR agent in the eye to say, we do honest business.

The unanimous ruling by the court’s 1st division rejected the Duterte government’s charge that Rappler evaded taxes when it raised capital for the company through Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), which Philippine companies, including those in the media, have used to seek investors and grow their business. 

Does the CTA verdict have anything to do with the closure order issued against us by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2018 which is pending at the Court of Appeals? It’s a separate case, but both revolve around PDRs. 

  • The SEC said one clause in one of Rappler’s PDR transactions constituted some amount of foreign control, thereby violating a constitutional mandate for media companies to be a hundred percent owned by Filipinos. We disagree with this, thus our pending appeal. 
  • In its Wednesday ruling on the BIR’s tax case against us, the CTA said PDRs are never instruments of control or ownership but mere investment tools.

What’s next? 

  • There’s a tax case related to the charges of which RHC and Maria have been acquitted, filed before the Pasig Regional Trial Court. Promulgation on that has been set for June this year. 
  • We also await the CA’s decision on our appeal of the SEC order. We have the option of bringing this all the way to the Supreme Court.
  • Maria and our former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. have also appealed before the Supreme Court their conviction in a cyber libel case filed by a businessman.

Meanwhile, we savor this hard-earned victory that reminds us of a sterling quality of justices that has not left our judiciary: their independence. 

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire put it so well in this tweet.

Thank you, Rappler + members for sharing our struggles and our hopes.

2023 will see a more aggressive Rappler that knows its market better, its place in the world, and why it must continue to shine the light and hold the line. – Rappler.com

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Glenda M. Gloria

Glenda Gloria co-founded Rappler in July 2011 and is currently its executive editor.