MANILA – Journalist Maria Ressa on Thursday pleaded not guilty to alleged violation of the anti-dummy law over the sale of financial instruments to a foreign entity.
Ressa, who heads news website Rappler, appeared before the Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 265 assisted by counsel from ACCRA Law.
“Not guilty,” Ressa told Judge Acerey Pacheco.
Also charged were Rappler managing editor Glenda Gloria and Rappler board members Manuel Ayala, Nico Jose Nolledo, Felicia Atienza, James Velasquez and James Bitanga.
Except for Bitanga, all other accused had pleaded not guilty to the charge and posted bail of P90,000 each.
The charge stems from Rappler’s sale of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to foreign-owned entity Omidyar network.
The Securities and Exchange Commission in January 2018 revoked Rappler’s registration on the ground that the sale of PDRs to a foreign entity meant it is not 100 percent Filipino-owned, in violation of the Constitution.
The Philippines, under the anti-dummy law, prohibits foreigners from intervening in the management, operation, administration, or control of any nationalized activity.
Rappler has repeatedly maintained that it is "completely Filipino-owned."
"Rappler is – on paper and in reality – a completely Fiipino-owned company," the news website had previously said.
The Court of Appeals in March rejected Rappler's plea to reverse the SEC order that revoked its business articles of incorporation for alleged violation of ownership restrictions but reiterated its order to the SEC to evaluate the effect of Omidyar's donation of its PDRs to Rappler's staff and see if this warrants a reexamination of the SEC's revocation of Rappler's certificate of incorporation.
The July 26, 2018 appellate court decision held that in the context of ownership and operation of mass media, not only should 100 percent of total outstanding capital stock and shares with voting rights be owned by Filipinos, the right to receive dividends and right to vote must also be retained by Filipino shareholders (who own 100 percent of the shares with voting rights) in compliance with the Full Beneficial Ownership Test.
Ressa was arrested in March for the case, for which she readily posted bail. The month before, she was also taken into custody over a separate cyber libel case,
She and Rappler are also facing charges of tax evasion.
Ressa has called the legal cases an affront to press freedom. The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has earlier scored Rappler for its critical reporting, barring its journalists from covering his events.