Maria Ressa, Rappler acquitted of tax evasion

FILIPINO AMERICAN journalist MARIA RESSA in a file photo.

MANILA — The Court of Tax Appeals has acquitted journalist and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa of four counts of tax-related charges filed against her and her media company Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC).

The CTA First Division handed down the verdict on January 18, finding Ressa and RHC not guilty on three counts of failure to supply correct information and one count of tax evasion, amounting to P141 million worth of taxes, including surcharge and interest.

Ressa, who is out on bail on conviction of libel charges and still has pending cases before a regional trial court and the Supreme Court, and her lawyer had reiterated that there was no evidence on the tax cases against her and RHC.

Ressa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov in 2021, still faces three other criminal cases, including a cyber libel conviction, currently on appeal, for which she could face nearly seven years in prison.

“Today, facts win. Truth wins,”  Ressa said shortly after the court handed down its ruling.

“These charges were a brazen abuse of power, political harassment against journalists trying to hold power to account. This is where business, capital markets, and press freedom meet. So this victory is not just for Rappler, it’s for every Filipino who has ever been unjustly accused,” Ressa said.

Ressa, an American prior to joining ABS-CBN, has been battling a series of cases that media advocates say were filed due to her criticism of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his drug war, which claimed thousands of lives.

Duterte’s government said previously it had nothing to do with any of the cases against Ressa.

The Department of Justice, which filed the charges in 2018, had said that RHC allegedly failed to file value-added tax (VAT) returns for the 3rd and 4th quarter and income tax return in 2015, in violation of Section 255 of the Tax Code.

DOJ also alleged that Ressa and RHC violated section 254 of the Tax Code, or an attempt to evade payment of taxes.

Ressa had pleaded not guilty to the charges against her and paid a bail of P204,000 at the CTA in 2020.

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