No persecution in warrants vs Rappler's Ressa, Palace says

No persecution in warrants vs Rappler's Ressa, Palace says

Ryan Macasero ( - December 3, 2018 - 4:06pm

MANILA, Philippines — The arrest warrant issued against Rappler chief executive officer and executive editor Maria Ressa is not persecution, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Monday.

He told reporters during a press conference Monday afternoon that “it is a question of tax evasion.”  Panelo said, “you violate laws, then you will be prosecuted.”

“If you have a justifiable reason, or have evidence that proves it is not true, then you will be acquitted,” he added.

In courts of law, the burden of proof is on the accuser, in this case, the Department of Justice.

Ressa, who had just returned from the United States on Sunday night, was served a warrant of arrest on Monday afternoon related to a tax evasion case that the DOJ filed at the Pasig Regional Trial Court.

READ: Court releases Ressa’s arrest warrant as media group warns of receding democracy

Ressa paid her P60,000 bail past noon. Her court arraignment is on Friday.

Ressa: Charges are politically motivated

She told reporters in an ambush interview after posting bail, “I think the government wants me to feel afraid. I’ve been through a lot of these things before and now is certainly not the time to be afraid.”

Ressa said she believes the mission of journalism “has never been stronger.”

She questioned the government’s filing of a tax case at a regional trial court instead of the Court of Tax Appeals. She will challenge the court’s jurisdiction over the case.

“The four other cases from the same tax evasion charge that comes from the same case that’s already been remanded by the SEC,” Ressa said.

She emphasized again that she believes the charges against her are politically motivated. “We need to hold government to account, and part of the reason I’m here is precisely that. I’m not a criminal but I’ve been fingerprinted like a criminal. We feel that we did not get due process. No, I’m not afraid.”

Panelo, however, dismissed allegations that the charges against Rappler were politically motivated.

“Ms. Ressa is entitled to legal remedies under the law and she has her lawyers, so, I don't think she has a problem with losing her liberty,” Panelo said. “Because — precisely — she is going to post bail."

He also denied the president’s involvement in the filing of the four tax evasion cases in the Court of Tax Appeals and the one case at the Pasig RTC. “We have repeatedly said that we never, or will never interfere with function of the judiciary,” he said.

The cases were filed by the executive branch.

RELATED: SEC revokes news site Rappler's registration

Rappler PDRs

The tax evasion charges are connected to a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation that found Rappler "liable for violating the constitutional and statutory Foreign Equity Restriction in Mass Media, enforceable through laws and rules within the mandate of the commission."

The SEC said that Rappler's funding from the Omidyar Network through Philippine Depositary Receipts had violated a constitutional ban on foreign ownership of media. Omidyar has since donated the PDRs to Rappler staff and the Court of Appeals in July remanded the case to SEC for it to evaluate the legal effect of that donation

The SEC probe was prompted by a letter from Solicitor General Jose Calida, who said in January that the Palace had no hand in that move. 

In his State of the Nation Address in July 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that Rappler is owned by foreigners and should be investigated. 

Calida has also been involved in the voiding in May of Maria Lourdes Sereno's appointment as chief justice of the Supreme Court and the voiding of the amnesty granted to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in 2011.

Duterte has acknowledged that Calida did the research on Trillanes' alleges failure to apply for amnesty and to acknowledge guilt in mutinies against the Arroyo administration.

(The author was an employee of Rappler from 2013 to 2016)

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