Ressa had been charged with four counts of “alleged wilful and unlawful failure to supply correct and accurate information” in relation to investments and tax filings dating from 2015.
"This acquittal is not just for Rappler, it is for every Filipino who was unjustly accused," said Ressa after the acquittal.
Welcoming the court's decision, the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) said, “WAN-IFRA and the World Editors Forum welcome this verdict and stand firmly behind Rappler and Maria Ressa, and call on the government to dismiss all remaining charges – once and for all putting an end to the years of legal harassment.”
It further criticised former Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's attempts "to use the legal system to silence critical independent media."
"Rappler has been forced to defend 23 cases against it since 2018, seen by supporters as a deliberate tactic to stifle the news organisation’s operational capacity and deplete it financially. It has been feared that the new administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would pursue the same tactics as his predecessor," WAN-IFRA stated.
What were the charges?
The tax evasion charges against Rappler were related to the issuing of certain financial instruments known as Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to North Base Media and Omidyar Network in 2015.
The prosecution accused Rappler of acquiring taxable income and incurring obligations that they failed to fulfil.
However, Rappler argued that the company had not received taxable income from the issuing of the PDRs, said the statement from WAN-IFRA.
'Should Never Have Been Confronted by These Charges': WAN-IFRA
WAN-IFRA also stressed that Ressa and Rappler "should never have been confronted by these charges in the first place."
“The legal harassment, false accusations, intimidation, and intense pressure must now completely stop. The tactics pursued by the former administration – against Rappler and other independent media – have eroded trust in the government’s commitment to a free press. It is time to rebuild this, and while these acquittals are a positive step, President Marcos Jr. can do significantly more to ensure the persecution ends and Rappler, Maria Ressa, and independent media across the Philippines can once again have confidence in a system that has been against them for so long.”
Other Charges Against Rappler and Ressa
Ressa and Rappler journalist Reynaldo Santos Jr were also convicted of cyber libel in 2020. The case, which was registered in 2017, relates to a 2012 story on the site, written by Santos on a businessman's links with a judge of the high court. A complaint by the businessman in question was filed in 2017.
What's noteworthy is that the the law under which they were found guilty was passed four months after the original article was published.
But how? "The Justice Department has argued that the article was effectively republished in 2014 when a Rappler employee edited a spelling mistake, bringing it under the new law’s jurisdiction," the WAN-IFRA report stated.
"Journalism is not a crime, and the media must be free to conduct business and produce independent reporting without fear of imprisonment, enforced closure, or criminal prosecution."WAN-IFRA