Malacañang denies hand in tax evasion case vs Rappler


PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte has no hand in the legal battle of and its CEO and executive editor Maria A. Ressa, Malacañang said on Monday.

On Monday, Ms. Ressa posted bail of P60,000 before the Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 265 following its issuance of an arrest warrant against her in connection with a P294,258.58 tax-evasion complaint filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ).

Ms. Ressa faces four other complaints also filed by the DoJ before the Court of Tax Appeals.

In a Facebook post, Ms. Ressa said: “While I still can’t believe the Philippine government would issue an arrest warrant based on these politically motivated tax evasion charges, I am ready to face them in court. We need to stop the slide to impunity.”

In a press briefing at the Palace on Monday morning, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said “definitely” the President did not have any hand in the legal battle of Ms. Ressa and her company.

Mr. Panelo also said in response to questions, “How can they be persecuted? It’s a question of tax evasion. You violate tax laws then you will be prosecuted.”

“I will continue addressing the charges with nothing other than to show they are politically motivated, and they are manufactured,” Ms. Ressa told reporters.

Mr. Panelo said the President has “too many obligations to fulfill” for him to interfere with the issue. “We have repeatedly said that we have never and we’ll never interfere with the function of the judiciary as well as the other branch. If the judiciary finds probable cause for information filed, then we have to respect the law on the matter.”

For his part, Senator Francis N. Pangilinan said in a statement: “We urge the courts to let due process take its course for Maria Ressa. We condemn the threats, accusations, and harassments against her. We stand with Maria Ressa as she continues to hold the line.”

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said Mr. Duterte’s administration “is implementing a ‘harass the dissenters, protect the plunderers’ policy.”

The court set Ms. Ressa’s arraignment for Friday.

Rappler has challenged Mr. Duterte frequently, questioning the accuracy of his public statements and scrutinizing his war on drugs and his foreign policies. It drew the ire of Mr. Duterte, who has lashed out at the news site in several public speeches.

Critics said the tax dodging case was an effort to crack down on critical media.

In March, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s operating license for violating foreign ownership rules. Mr. Duterte’s office has since banned Rappler from covering his official activities.

The news site also faces a cyber libel complaint from a businessman over a 2012 report on human trafficking and drug smuggling.

“More than his inability to tolerate dissent, Duterte’s relentless persecution of media appears to be part of the increasingly authoritarian direction his presidency has taken,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement on Sunday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch demanded that charges against Ressa and her news organization be dropped, calling the case “part of the Duterte administration’s campaign to harass, threaten and intimidate critics.” — Arjay L. Balinbin, Vann Marlo M. Villegas, with a report by Reuters

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