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Court of Tax Appeals upholds dismissal of Ressa's motion to travel
Philippine journalist Maria Ressa (C) leaves her office after she was arrested in Manila on February 13, 2019. Ressa, who has repeatedly clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested in her Manila office on February 13 in what rights advocates called an act of "persecution".
AFP/Maria Tan

Court of Tax Appeals upholds dismissal of Ressa's motion to travel

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - December 9, 2020 - 1:22pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Tax Appeals has upheld a Pasig court’s ruling denying Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s motion to travel, as it noted that the conviction of the journalist on cyber libel alone is not enough to bar her from attending to her engagements abroad.

The CTA Second Division dismissed Ressa’s Petition for Certiorari for lack of merit.

She sought the reversal of the Pasig Regional Trial Court 157 ruling that junked Ressa’s motion to travel to attend events on the release of “A Thousand Cuts” documentary from August 1 to 30, 2020.

After the local court’s initial denial, Ressa moved the dates for her travel to August 23 to September 10.

In resolving Ressa’s petition, the CTA held that as of the filing of the last pleading on October 19, the case is already moot and the necessity of the travel raised has already lapsed.

It also held that Ressa failed to establish that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, noting that the Pasig court’s denial of the motion to travel “is not unfounded.”

It noted that from December 2018 until March 2020, Ressa was allowed to attend professional engagements abroad, but circumstances changed and travel restrictions were implemented because of the pandemic.

The Pasig court noted the possibility that Ressa “may be forced by circumstances to remain abroad, should the global health situation deterioriate over time.” This may place Ressa beyond the court’s jurisdiction, it said in the assailed July 27, 2020 resolution.

The CTA said that the trial court’s observations “are firmly grounded on the facts that are still current and o the laws that were passed to address them,” citing the Republic Act 11468 and RA 11494 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act and Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.

‘Conviction not enough’

Ressa is facing a tax code violation case before the Pasig RTC Branch 157, where she pleaded not guilty in July 2020. Four other tax-related cases are pending before the CTA.

The Rappler CEO has also appealed the Manila court’s cyber libel conviction before the Court of Appeals, where she also filed a separate motion to be allowed to travel.

Ressa is facing another cyber libel case, pending before the Makati Regional Trial Court. She has since moved for the dismissal of the charge in a motion to quash filed on November 23.

The CA, in denying Ressa’s motion, said she failed to prove her travel and her physical presence are necessary. The appeals court also noted that Ressa’s “conviction, although not yet final, warrants the exercise of greater caution in allowing a person admitted to bail from leaving the Philippines.”

The CTA had a different view and held that “to withhold permission to travel throughout the duration of the trial or the case is certainly excessive.”

It added: “[T]he petitioner’s conviction in the Cyber Libel case alone is not sufficient justification for the court a quo to prevent her from attending to her professional engagements outside the country.”

The CTA also noted that Ressa submitted herself to the trial court’s jurisdiction when she posted bail. Trial of the case can also proceed through videoconference, following the Supreme Court’s circular issued amid the pandemic. It went on and said that Ressa may be abroad but can still attend a virtual hearing.

The CTA however said that the court’s assailed resolutions cannot be construed as prohibiting future travels.

“[T]he trial court’s prudence may be called again if, upon motion, permission is asked to attend forthcoming engagements outside the country. In such cases, the appropriate resolution will depend upon the trial court’s assessment of the evolving resolution,” it added.

Associate Justice Juanito Castañeda Jr. penned the ruling, with Associate Justice Jean Marie Bacorro-Villena concurring.

COURT OF TAX APPEALS MARIA RESSA
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