Nobel laureate Maria Ressa acquitted in Philippines tax evasion case

Prominent journalist who founded the Rappler news outlet is facing multiple charges brought during Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential term.

Maria Ressa with her hands in front of her. She's smiling.
Maria Ressa looked optimistic as she went into court [Jam Sta Rosa/AFP]

Maria Ressa, a Nobel prize winner and co-founder of the online news site Rappler, has been acquitted of a tax evasion charge in the Philippines, another legal victory in her battle against multiple charges filed during the government of former president Rodrigo Duterte.

Ressa, a fierce Duterte critic, smiled as the judge delivered the verdict.

She has long maintained the cases against her and Rappler, which she co-founded in 2012, were politically motivated.

“You gotta have faith,” the 59-year-old told reporters outside the court.

Ressa and Rappler had faced five government charges of tax evasion stemming from the 2015 sale of Philippine depositary receipts, which is a way for companies to raise money from foreign investors.

A court acquitted them on four charges in January. The fifth was heard by a different court, which cleared her and Rappler of wrongdoing on Tuesday.

Ressa and Rappler face two more court cases.

Ressa and former colleague Rey Santos Jr are appealing a cyber-libel conviction that carries a nearly seven-year jail sentence.

Rappler, meanwhile, is challenging a Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission order to close for allegedly violating a ban on foreign ownership in media. Under the country’s constitution, investment in the media is reserved for Philippine citizens or entities controlled by citizens.

The case relates to an investment by the US-based Omidyar Network, which was later transferred to Rappler’s local managers to stave off efforts by Duterte to shut the site down.

Ressa remained optimistic on Tuesday, telling reporters the latest acquittal had strengthened their resolve.

“It shows that the court system works and we hope to see the remaining charges dismissed,” she said.

Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 alongside Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov in recognition of their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression“.

The Philippines is ranked 132 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, with its media described as “extremely vibrant despite the government’s targeted attacks and constant harassment” against journalists who are “too critical”.

Ressa, who is also a United States citizen, has remained in the Philippines and is on bail pending the appeal against the cyber-libel conviction.

Duterte left office in 2022. His government denied having anything to do with the charges against Ressa.

Source: News Agencies