Rappler's Maria Ressa posts bail for tax evasion case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 3) — Maria Ressa, President of Rappler Holdings Corporation and online news website Rappler, has posted bail for her tax evasion case at the Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 265.

In a story published on its website, Rappler said Ressa posted a bail of ₱60,000 on Monday following an arrest warrant issued against her.

In the Pasig RTC's arrest order dated November 28, the court said Ressa violated Section 255 of the National Internal Revenue Code.

In a statement Monday, Ressa confirmed there was an arrest warrant released on the basis of what she believes as "politically-motivated charges."

"I surrendered to the court this morning, went through the process of what a criminal would go through, and filed bail without surrendering my right to question the Pasig court's jurisdiction over this tax case. This is a clear case of harassment," Ressa said.

Media organizations called for the charges' immediate revocation, describing the legal move as part of the crackdown by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte on critics.

"The ongoing crackdown by the Duterte administration against critical voices and particularly Rappler are a violation of the Philippines' free press and detrimental to the country's democracy," The International Federation of Journalists based in Brussels said in a statement.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said authorities have increased legal harassment of Rappler and Duterte "is leading a tri-pronged attack on the press amid condemnation of some of his policies."

The Justice Department on Thursday filed five new tax cases against Ressa, for failure to file income and value-added tax returns in violation of Sections 254 and 255 of the Tax Code.

Four of these tax cases were filed before the Court of Tax Appeals on November 26 and 28, while a fifth case was separately filed at the Pasig RTC Branch 265 also last month.

In March, the Bureau of Internal Revenue filed a ₱133.8 million tax evasion case against the company.

Duterte had no hand in Ressa case, Panelo says

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo denied President Duterte had a hand in the recent tax charges against Ressa, who has been known as a critic of the administration.

In a media briefing Monday, Panelo said the President has "too many obligations" and insisted there has been no persecution of the journalist.

"You violate tax laws and you will be prosecuted. If you have a justifiable reason for so doing or will introduce evidence to show it's not true, then you will be acquitted," Panelo told reporters in Malacañang.

The spokesman added Ressa can always avail of the legal remedies present.

"The constitution says every person charged with crime is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise by competent evidence beyond reasonable doubt, proof," Panelo said.

"Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence and that includes everybody including Ms Ressa," he noted.