The Court of Tax Appeals has cleared Nobel Laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) of liability in connection with the four tax evasion charges that were filed against her during the Duterte administration.
In a decision released Wednesday, the CTA First Division acquitted Ressa and RHC “for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”
“No civil liability may be adjudged against the accused as the alleged unpaid tax obligations have not been factu ally and legally established and proven,” ruled the CTA composed of Associate Justices Catherine Manahan, Jean Marie Bacorro-Villena, and Marian Ivy Reyes-Fajardo.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines welcomed the decision and showed support to Rappler, an online news organization, after the legal victory.
“While colleagues similarly face legal challenges–from libel to made-up terrorism charges—in relation to their work, we take inspiration from this acquittal that if we stand up and hold the line, we can win,” NUJP said in a statement.
The tax appeals court also ordered the respective cash bail bonds of Ressa and RHC for the cases be canceled and released to them upon presentation of proper documents, in accordance with the usual accounting rules and regulations.
Ressa was charged with three counts of violation of Section 255 of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) for incorrect and inaccurate information on her income tax return for 2015, and value-added tax returns for the third and fourth quarters of 2015.
The Rappler executive also faced one count of violation of Section 254 of the NIRC, also known as tax evasion.
Ressa denied the allegation, arguing that the CTA has no jurisdiction over her and RHC because of a pending motion for reconsideration on indictments filed by the Department of Justice.
In 2020, Ressa was arraigned at the Pasig Regional Trial Court on charges of failing to report sales receipts from the issuance and sale of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) in the second quarter of 2015.
Prosecutors alleged a deficiency of P294,258.58 in taxes. However, Rappler argued that PDRs are not taxable income.
In 2018, the Department of Justice found probable cause to charge Rappler with tax evasion related to a complaint filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
In a statement, Rappler welcomed the dismissal of the tax case, calling out the BIR for alleged politicizing under the Duterte administration.
It lamented that it would have caused “far-reaching repercussions” on both the press and the capital market if the Court upheld BIR.
“Rappler will continue to dream big and explore what technology can offer. This is what also fired our vision when RHC sought to increase capital and grow the business through Philippine Depository Receipts in 2015. We believed then, as we do now, that journalism, technology, and empowered communities will be the guardrails of any democracy,” it said.
“Maria Ressa and RHC may have won today. But so did the ordinary taxpayer and businessman being unjustly harassed by the BIR,” it added. With AFP