[Philippines] Duterte gov’t ratches up media intimidation

The latest tax evasion case filed against Rappler is manifest proof of the creeping suppression of the press in the country 


The Philippine government has upped the ante on online media outlet Rappler, known for its audacious reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial policies, not least of which is his administration’s anti-drug campaign that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

On Monday, 3 December 2018, Rappler CEO and founder Maria Ressa posted bail amounting to around USD 1,100 for the fifth tax evasion case brought by the Department of Justice on 14 November 2018 against Rappler’s holding company, Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC), and its president, Ressa.

An arrest warrant was issued against Ressa on 3 December 2018.

Four similar charges were filed against RHC and Ressa before the Court of Tax Appeals on 26 and 28 November 2018; the fifth, which Rappler only learned about on 29 November 2018, or two weeks since its filing, was lodged at the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, where the news site’s office is located. Named respondents to all cases were RHC and Ressa.

The court found probable cause that RHC failed to provide correct information in its value-added tax return for the second quarter of tax year 2015.

Ressa, who previously served as CNN’s bureau chief in Manila and later in Jakarta, denounced the charges. In her statement issued on Monday, she said:

“We verified that an arrest warrant had been issued on the basis of what we believe are politically motivated charges. I surrendered to the court this morning, went through the process of what a criminal would go through, and filed bail without surrendering my right to question the Pasig court’s jurisdiction over this tax case. This is a clear case of harassment.”

Human rights and press freedom advocates have denounced the charges as unmistakable signs of the Duterte government’s unrelenting repression of independent and critical voices in the Philippines, including those of the media who dare defy the state-driven playbook.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) earlier issued a statement decrying the government’s threat to indict Rappler for its alleged tax evasion and failure to file tax returns.

“The criminal charges leveled against Rappler … are yet another deeply disturbing demonstration of the government’s determined efforts to cow Rappler into silence,” said SEAPA.

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