MANILA -- Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa on Wednesday pleaded "not guilty" to a tax evasion charge before a Pasig court -- her 5th tax case.
Ressa appeared before Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 157 Judge Ana Teresa Cornejo-Tomacruz for her arraignment over her alleged failure to supply correct information to Rappler's value-added tax (VAT) return for the second quarter of 2015 involving P294,258.58.
The Department of Justice, in October 2018, indicted Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corp. (RHC) for 5 counts of tax evasion -- 4 of which were eventually filed before the Court of Tax Appeals. The 5th count, which was below the CTA's 1-million-peso threshold, was filed in Pasig.
The DOJ said RHC was a "dealer in securities," judging from the volume and frequency of its securities transactions.
RHC purchased around 119 million common shares from Rappler, Inc., the company which owns news website Rappler, from 2014 to 2015 and against these shares, issued PDRs to NBM Rappler and Omidyar Network Fund LLC.
A PDR is a security which grants the holder the right to buy the underlying shares of stock of a corporation but is not considered evidence of ownership.
The DOJ said RHC’s profits from such a transaction, amounting to P162.5 million, is taxable under the Tax Code, equivalent to around P108 million in taxes.
But Rappler insisted it is not a dealer in securities and never hid any transactions from the BIR.
On Twitter just before her arraignment, Ressa shared the Bureau of Internal Revenue even gave Rappler a top corporate taxpayer award months before the BIR filed the charges.
In her motion to quash the information, Ressa said RHC was described in the criminal complaint filed in the Pasig RTC as having issued and sold PDRs which is different from buying and re-selling of securities.
The Pasig court also denied this motion on Wednesday, paving the way for Ressa's arraignment.
Ressa also revealed after she pleaded not guilty that the prosecution made a "substantial amendment" to the charge by including RHC, which DOJ prosecutors supposedly did not include in the original information.
She also said she has paid the same Pasig court around P1 million travel bond in total.
"The irony here is just for travel bond in this court, which has had different judges to be fair, I've already paid a million pesos to be allowed, to be free to travel, to this court...There was one I wasn't even gone overnight last year and I had to pay half a million pesos in travel bond. This is now, a million pesos is now in this court for my travel bond for an alleged P200,000 violation," she said.
"We'll fight every step of the way because we will hold the line. I'm not voluntarily gonna give up my rights," she added, despite difficulties in the midst of a pandemic.
The sale of RHC's PDRs also became the subject of SEC's revocation of Rappler's registration documents allegedly for violating the foreign ownership restrictions for mass media companies.
The foreign PDR holders eventually donated their PDRs to Rappler staff.
Ressa posted bail for all 5 tax cases in December 2018.
A Manila court convicted Ressa of cyber libel in June.