By Ralph Villanueva/Manila Times
Malacanang has called on a United Nations special rapporteur to stop “politicising” the tax evasion charges filed against Rappler and its president, Maria Ressa.
In a statement, Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, should not meddle with the state’s legal and judicial processes, after he called for the dropping of the cases against Ressa.
Kaye said the charges were an “attempt to silence the news outlet’s independent reporting.”
Panelo said Kaye’s statement was made “without the benefit of factual information” since legitimate charges were filed against Ressa in court.
“For Kaye’s enlightenment, tax evasion is a serious offence not only in the Philippines but in other countries as well. The case against the media outfit has absolutely nothing to do with the freedom of expression,” Panelo said. “Being a media entity and a journalist cannot shield them from criminal prosecution when they violate the law. A court of competent jurisdiction has found probable cause against them; hence, they have been formally charged,” he added.
Panelo insisted that contrary to Kaye’s belief, the administration respects freedom of expression.
“The fact that Rappler and its reporters continue to publish articles of dissent against this administration is an eloquent testimonial. The fact that detractors and critics of the president continue to air their protests in various media platforms against our policies is another irrefutable proof,” the spokesman said. He added that if ever a media outlet experiences censorship, they can always run to the courts. “We expect the UN representative to be more circumspect instead of politicising a crime and ignoring its gravity and assaulting the sovereignty of our country,” Panelo said.
Last month, the Department of Justice filed cases before the Court of Tax Appeals against Rappler Holdings Corp. and Ressa, who is listed as its chief executive officer.
A few days later, Ressa posted P60,000 bail at the Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 265 for the five tax evasion charges filed against her.
Last week, Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte had nothing to do with the charges.
“The stand of Malacanang is always: You violate the law and you will have to account for it. And the Constitution also says, every person charged with a crime is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise by competent evidence beyond a reasonable doubt – proof. That has been the policy and will always be the policy of the Duterte administration,” he noted.
In January this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the certificate of incorporation of Rappler allegedly for violating the Philippine Constitution and statutory foreign equity restrictions in mass media.
A month later, Malacanang barred Rappler’s reporter Pia Ranada-Robles from covering presidential events and even stepping foot on Palace grounds.
The order curiously came a day after Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go described Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer as purveyors of fake news and “irresponsible reporters” after reporting that Go intervened in the P15.7bn Philippine Navy frigate project. A few days later, Duterte himself said that Ranada-Robles was barred because “he was pissed off” by Rappler and that he “felt betrayed.”
Rappler has strongly denied violating ownership restrictions and evading taxes.
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