Maria Ressa, Nobel Prize-winning Filipino journalist, heralds the victory of “truth” when she is cleared of tax evasion
manila – Filipino Nobel laureate Maria Ressa was acquitted of tax evasion on Wednesday, alongside a slew of charges she has long believed politically motivated, calling the verdict a victory for “truth”. Ressa, who shared the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, is facing three other cases, including a conviction for cyber defamation now on appeal, that could mean nearly seven years in prison.
“Today facts win. Truth wins,” Ressa tearfully and defiantly told reporters outside the Manila courtroom after four counts of government charges were decided that she and her online media company Rappler evaded taxes in a 2015 bond sale to foreign investors .
It was her first acquittal since Government of former President Rodrigo Duterte began filing charges against them. Ressa had earlier called the cases “politically motivated” and “a brazen abuse of power”.
The tax court said prosecutors failed to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Ressa and Rappler evaded income taxes.
In a separate interview with AFP after her acquittal, Ressa said the verdict was a “victory for journalists” in the Philippines and around the world.
“If you stand against power, yes, you will be beaten up (for) four years and two months. But the right will win,” said Ressa.
“I think that’s hope for anyone who has been wrongly accused.”
The 59-year-old has been fighting a string of cases that media sources say were filed over her vocal criticism of Duterte and his drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.
Ressa and Muratov were awarded the Nobel Prize for their efforts to “protect freedom of expression”.
In a statement, Rappler said, “A negative decision would have had far-reaching implications for both the press and capital markets… With you we will continue to #HoldTheLine” — a slogan used to symbolize her fight for press freedom.
Despite the verdict, Ressa continues to face jail time in the cyber defamation case, while the future of Rappler, which she founded in 2012, remains uncertain.
Ressa told AFP she was more hopeful about the prospects in the remaining cases, despite leaving their fate to the courts.
“What we do know is that the world is watching and that we have a government that wants the world to watch. That’s why I’m optimistic,” said Ressa.
Rappler challenged a shutdown order from the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly violating a ban on foreign ownership in media.
According to the constitution, investments in the media are restricted to Filipino citizens or citizen-controlled entities.
The case stems from a 2015 investment by the US-based Omidyar Network, founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar Network later transferred its Rappler investment to the site’s local managers to ward off Duterte’s efforts to shut it down.
The third open case is also a tax evasion charge against Ressa and Rappler.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said in September he would not interfere in Ressa’s cases, citing the separation of executive and judicial powers.
Shortly after Marcos took office last year, Ressa lost an appeal against a 2020 cyber defamation conviction.
Trouble for Ressa and Rappler began in 2016 when Duterte came to power and launched a war on drug trafficking that has officially claimed more than 6,200 people dead in police anti-drug operations.
Human rights groups estimate that tens of thousands have been killed.
Rappler was among the domestic and foreign media outlets that published shocking images of the killings and questioned the legal basis of the crackdown.
Local broadcaster ABS-CBN – also critical of Duterte – lost its free-to-air license, while Ressa and Rappler endured what press freedom advocates have described as a grueling series of criminal charges, investigations and online attacks.
Duterte’s government previously said it had nothing to do with the cases against Ressa.
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/maria-ressa-philippines-journalist-acquitted-of-tax-evasion/ Maria Ressa, Nobel Prize-winning Filipino journalist, heralds the victory of “truth” when she is cleared of tax evasion