Filipino journalist Maria Ressa appeared in a Pasig Regional Trial Court on Wednesday to plead not guilty to charges that she violated the country’s tax laws, more than a month after a Manila court found her guilty of cyber libel.
Ressa, CEO and executive editor of the online news site Rappler, is accused of failing to supply correct tax information for the second quarter of 2015. She faces four other tax evasion cases at the Court of Tax Appeals.
“We’ll fight every step of the way because we will hold the line,” Ressa, who was freed on bail, told reporters. “I’m not voluntarily going to give up my rights.”
On June 15, a Manila court convicted Ressa and a former employee, Reynaldo Santos Jr., of cyber libel.
The two were convicted in the case that resulted from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng who said a 2012 report libeled him. The Rappler report said he owned a vehicle being used by the then chief justice of the Supreme Court and described Keng as having ties to the criminal underworld.
Ressa and Rappler have been critical of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, which has killed thousands of suspected addicts and dealers over the last four years.
Speaking to reporters after her court appearance, Ressa discussed ABS-CBN, and warned that Rappler and other media groups that have questioned Duterte could face similar fates.
ABS-CBN Corp., whose radio and television channels reached millions and provided critical news coverage, including reporting that had angered Duterte, on July 10 lost a bid to have its broadcasting license renewed.
“What happened to ABS-CBN can happen to all of us,” she said. “So, journalists, we have to hold power to account even if power is consolidated. That’s really what’s happening now. We need to continue to demand accountability.”
“If I don’t get justice now, I’ll get it later, these charges are politically motivated, they are meant to harass, intimidate, to try to make us afraid to keep reporting. The best response to it is to keep reporting,” Ressa said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, meanwhile, accused Ressa of playing the victim card by bringing up the case of ABS-CBN.
“We reiterate that the granting of the broadcasting franchise is the sole and exclusive prerogative of Congress and we have maintained a neutral stance on the issue as part of our courtesy and respect to a separate co-equal branch of the government,” Roque said in a statement.
“ABS-CBN, Rappler, and other news entities continue to report on the events happening in the country,” he said. “A good case in point is the ABS-CBN News coverage of the ‘not guilty’ plea of Maria Ressa, which can be read online. There is certainly no truth to Ms. Ressa’s allegation.”