Multi-awarded journalist and Rappler founder Maria Ressa today pleaded not guilty to her fifth tax-related case at the Pasig Regional Trial Court.
Ressa was charged for allegedly violating Section 255 of the Philippines’ tax code, or for failing to supply the correct information in relation to Rappler’s value-added tax return for the second quarter of 2015. Ressa and Rappler are facing four other tax-related cases at the Court of Tax Appeals.
The Department of Justice said that Rappler acted as a dealer when it sold Philippine Depositary Receipts worth PHP2.4 million (US$48,656) and that it should be taxed PHP294,258.58 (US$5,965).
In a video posted on Twitter, Ressa said that the Justice Department and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) amended the charge sheet right before her arraignment.
“Today the judge ruled against our motion to quash, so the arraignment went on. Right before the arraignment, we had the Department of Justice and the BIR. They were both there…They asked to amend four parts of the charge sheet. This is the basis of an arrest warrant, and I have an arrest warrant here,” she said.
“Our lawyers thought that there was a substantial change because the actual charge sheet, the information, only named me [in its original form]. It didn’t actually include the company, Rappler Holdings, and the amendment was to include the company. But you know keep in mind this was almost two years after it was filed,” she added.
In a separate tweet, she said that she posted a PHP1 million (US$20,266) travel bond for the case.
Ressa’s court appearance comes after she and a former Rappler writer, Reynald Santos Jr., were convicted for cyberlibel in connection with an article about businessman Wilfredo Keng. The 2012 report alleged that Keng loaned vehicles to the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona. Using the broadsheet Philippine Star as its source, the article also alleged that Keng is involved in fake cigarette smuggling and in granting special visas to Chinese nationals in exchange for a fee.
Keng has denied these allegations and filed a complaint against Rappler five years after the publication of the article. While Keng sued the journalists as private individuals, Ressa claimed the charge was politically motivated due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s vocal criticism of Rappler, which he once described as a “fake news” outlet.
Santos and Ressa have appealed the conviction, which sentenced them to at least six months in jail. Both are currently out on bail. Keng has sued Ressa for cyberlibel again in February after the journalist shared screenshots of a now-deleted Philippine Star article which linked him to the killing of Manila councilor Chika Go.
Meanwhile, Duterte has publicly said that he is gathering pieces of evidence to prove that Ressa, whose supporters include former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is “a fraud.”