Palace on tax case vs. Rappler: ‘No one is above law’

MANILA — The filing of tax evasion case against Rappler Holdings Corp. (RHC), the holding company of online news site Rappler, its president Maria Ressa and its accountant Noel Baladiang shows no one is above the law, Malacañang said Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made this comment noting that the Department of Justice (DOJ) “found probable cause” in the complaint filed the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) against Rappler officials in connection with the PHP133-million tax evasion complaint filed by BIR.

“The issue simply is: Has Rappler violated the law? The Department of Justice (DOJ) has found probable cause hence a case was filed against the media outlet,” Panelo said in a press statement.

“In the Duterte administration, obedience to the law is not, and cannot be an option. No one is above the law,” he added.

Panelo explained that everyone or every entity is accountable for every transgression of the law.

“No one is exempted, rich or poor, powerful or weak. Friendship, fraternal and political ties, as well as blood relationship do not matter to this President,” Panelo said.

“If you violate the law, then you cannot escape the wrath of its punishment. Dura lex sed lex, the law may be harsh, but it is the law,” he added.

On Friday, DOJ said Assistant State Prosecutor Zenamar Machacon-Caparros found probable cause to indict RHC and Ressa “for willful attempt to evade or defeat tax and willful failure to supply correct and accurate information under Sections 254 and 255 of the Tax Code.”

Caparros added that Ressa “should be held to account for such violation because Section 253 of the Tax Code makes a corporate president, among other officers, personally liable for such infraction by the corporation.”

Revenue officials claimed RHC has purchased shares from Rappler Inc., amounting to PHP19.245 million and, subsequently, sold Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) on various dates to two foreign entities — NBM Rappler LP and Omidyar Network Find LLC for PHP181.658 million.

The BIR noted that RHC also used the same common shares it purchased from Rappler Inc. as underlying asset/share of the PDRs.

It explained that RHC is clearly a dealer in securities and is subject to income tax (IT) and value-added tax (VAT) because of these transactions.

Rappler’s lawyer, Francis Lim, in a statement published on its website, said it is not surprised by the decision, which he described as a “clear form of continuing intimidation and harassment and an attempt to silence reporting that does not please the administration.”

In January, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s certification of incorporation for allegedly violating the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.