Journalist Maria Ressa posts bail, calls charges politically-motivated

Photo: ABS-CBN News.
Photo: ABS-CBN News.

Maria Ressa, the CEO and executive editor of news website Rappler, posted bail earlier today at the Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) where she’s being charged with tax evasion by the government.

Rappler reported that Ressa paid a bail of PHP60,000 (US$1,146.30) after the Pasig RTC found probable cause that Rappler allegedly failed to give the correct information in its tax return in 2015.

According to the DOJ, the holding affiliate of Rappler, Rappler Holdings Corporation, did not declare a profit of PHPP162.41 million from the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) three years ago, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

Rappler said that the case in the Pasig RTC is just one of the five cases filed by the DOJ against the news organization. Ressa is also being investigated for cyber libel and for allegedly violating the anti-dummy law.

Ressa said: “We verified that an arrest warrant had been issued on the basis of what we believe are politically-motivated charges. I surrendered to the court this morning, went through the process of what a criminal would go through, and filed bail without surrendering my right to question the Pasig court’s jurisdiction over this tax case. This is a clear case of harassment.”

After posting bail, Ressa’s arraignment was scheduled on Dec. 7 at 8:30am.

Many journalists, including the Society of Publishers in Asia, have condemned Ressa’s arrest. It also called “on authorities in the Philippines to respect due process, protect press freedom and ensure that media organizations can operate safely.”

President Rodrigo Duterte has a testy relationship with Rappler, going so far as to order the Malacañang Palace’s Internal House Affairs Office to ban its founder Maria Ressa and reporter Pia Ranada from entering the Palace.

Duterte even called Rappler “a fake news outlet” after it published a report that claimed his special assistant, Christopher “Bong” Go, allegedly got involved in the selection of suppliers of the Philippine Navy’s Combat Management System.

Despite the president’s obvious disdain for Rappler, Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo denied that the government had a hand in Ressa’s mounting legal woes. He said that Duterte is too busy to persecute the journalist. 

Panelo was quoted by CNN Philippines: “You violate tax laws and you will be prosecuted. If you have a justifiable reason for so doing or will introduce evidence to show it’s not true, then you will be acquitted.”

However, he said that Ressa has to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

“The constitution says every person charged with [a] crime is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise by competent evidence beyond reasonable doubt. Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence and that includes everybody including Ms. Ressa,” he said.

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