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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Ressa cleared on 5th charge of tax evasion by Pasig court

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Nobel laureate Maria Ressa was acquitted Tuesday of her final tax evasion charge, the latest legal victory for the veteran journalist as she battles to stay out of prison.

Ressa smiled as the judge delivered the verdict in a case that has dragged on for nearly five years.

The 59-year-old, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, has been fighting multiple charges filed during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, and still faces two cases.

A vocal critic of Duterte and his deadly drug war, Ressa has long maintained that the charges against her and Rappler, the news website she co-founded in 2012, were politically motivated.

“You gotta have faith,” a visibly relieved Ressa told reporters outside the court after the acquittal.

“This is really a win not just for Maria… but a win for the Philippines,” Ressa’s lawyer Francis Lim said outside the Regional Trial Court in Pasig City. “This acquittal together with [the] earlier acquittal will send a very strong message to the international business community.”

Ressa and Rappler had faced five government charges of tax evasion stemming from the 2015 issue of Philippine depositary receipts, which is a way for companies to raise money from foreign investors. AFP with Joel Pinaroc

A court acquitted them on four charges in January. The fifth was heard by a different court, which cleared her and Rappler of wrongdoing on Tuesday.

“Today, we celebrate the triumph of facts over politics,” Rappler said in a statement.

HAPPY WITH COURT VICTORY. Journalist and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa laughs during an interview with Agence France Presse in Manila on Tuesday. AFP

“We thank the court for this just decision and for recognizing that the fraudulent, false, and flimsy charges made by the Bureau of Internal Revenue do not have any basis in fact.”

Despite the acquittals, Ressa and Rappler face an uncertain future as they battle two court cases.

Ressa and a former colleague, Rey Santos Jr., are appealing a cyber libel conviction that carries a nearly seven-year jail sentence.

Rappler, meanwhile, is challenging a Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission order to close for allegedly violating a ban on foreign ownership in media.

Under the constitution, only Philippine citizens or entities controlled by citizens can invest in the media.

That case springs from a 2015 investment by the US-based Omidyar Network, established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Omidyar Network later transferred its Rappler investment to the site’s local managers.

Despite the remaining hurdles, Ressa was characteristically defiant and optimistic on Tuesday, telling reporters the latest acquittal “strengthens our resolve to continue with the justice system.”

“It shows that the court system works, and we hope to see the remaining charges dismissed,” she said.

Throughout the cases against her, Ressa, who is also a US citizen, has remained based in the Philippines.

Ressa is on bail pending the appeal against her cyber libel conviction and is required to apply for court approval when she wants to travel abroad.

That included her trip to Norway in December 2021 to collect her Nobel Peace Prize.

President Ferdinand Marcos, who succeeded Duterte in June 2022, previously said that he would not interfere in Ressa’s cases, citing the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. AFP with Joel Pinaroc

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