Victory for press freedom
Nobel prize winner and co-founder of the online news site Rappler, Maria Reesa , has been acquitted of tax evasion, another legal victory in her battle against multiple charges filedduring th government of former president Rodrigo Duterte.
She has long maintained the cases against her and Rappler, which she co-founded in 2012, were politically motivated.
“You gotta have faith,” the 59-year-old told reporters outside the court.
Ressa and Rappler had faced five government charges of tax evasion stemming from the 2015 sale of Philippine depositary receipts, which is a way for companies to raise money from foreign investors. 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, Sept. 12.
Ressa and Rappler face two more court cases. Ressa and former colleague Rey Santos Jr are appealing a cyber-libel conviction that carries a nearly seven-year jail sentence.
Ressa remained optimistic on Tuesday, telling reporters the latest acquittal had strengthened their resolve.
“It shows that the court system works and we hope to see the remaining charges dismissed,” she said.
Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 alongside Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov in recognition of their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression“.
The Philippines is ranked 132 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, with its media described as “extremely vibrant despite the government’s targeted attacks and constant harassment” against journalists who are “too critical”.
Ressa, who is also a United States citizen, has remained in the Philippines and is on bail pending the appeal against the cyber-libel conviction.
Duterte left office in 2022. His government denied having anything to do with the charges against Ressa.
Reesa was in Vancouver, British Columbia exactly a year today on September 13, 2022 to receive an honourary degree from Simon Fraser University (SFU) – the first Filipino to be awarded such honour by a Canadian university.
“This is really a win not just for Maria …not just for Rappler but for everyone who has kept the faith that a free and responsible press empowers communities and strengthens democracy,” the news site said in a statement.
“We share this with our colleagues in the industry who have been besieged by relentless online attacks, unjust arrests and detentions, and red-tagging that have resulted in physical harm. We share this with Filipinos doing business for social good but who, like us, have suffered at the hands of oppressive governments,” it added.
The ruling comes eight months after Ressa was cleared of four earlier counts of tax violations filed in 2018 by Duterte’s government.
Ressa is currently on bail as she appeals a six-year prison sentence handed down in 2020 for a separate cyber libel conviction.
“The acquittal of Maria Ressa’s tax case is a victory for press freedom. The tax cases filed against her by former president Duterte have all been dismissed – proof that they are obvious political attacks on media workers. Such attacks must not have a place in a democracy, “ says Neri Colemenares of Bayan Muna.