Maria Ressa and Rappler acquitted of four charges

18th January 2023
The Philippines Court of Tax Appeals has acquitted Maria Ressa and Rappler of four charges of tax evasion, although three charges are still pending.
Maria Ressa
Maria Ressa attends the TIME 100 Gala 2019 at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Credit: lev radin /

The Public Media Alliance welcomes the decision of the Philippines Court of Tax Appeals to acquit Maria Ressa and the news organisation she founded, Rappler, of four counts of tax evasion.

“These cases are where capital markets, rule of law, [and] where press freedom meet so this acquittal is not just for Rappler, it’s for every Filipino who has ever been unjustly accused,” Ms. Ressa said. “Today, facts win, truth wins, justice wins.”

The charges were brought forward by the Philippines government under the previous president, Rodrigo Duterte. They were part of a concerted effort to attack both Ms. Ressa and Rappler with lawsuits, designed to threaten and censor the independent news outlet. Since 2018, a total of 23 cases have been brought against both of them.

“While PMA welcomes the acquittal, we remain deeply concerned by the outstanding charges, conviction, and their implications for an already diminished media freedom landscape.”

– Kristian Porter, CEO of the Public Media Alliance

In a statement, the Hold the Line Coalition (which PMA is a member of) Steering Committee said, “This verdict indicates that it is possible for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to hit reset on his predecessors’ vast campaign of media repression. We hope we are seeing the beginning of an end to the previous administration’s strategy to instrumentalize the courts as a means to undermine independent news organizations and damage journalists’ credibility.”

Outstanding charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler remain. Three more counts of tax evasion are also before the courts. Ms. Ressa is also appealing a 2020 conviction of criminal cyber libel which is before the Supreme Court. If the appeal is unsuccessful, Ms. Ressa could face imprisonment for up to seven years.

Read more: #HoldTheLine campaign launched in support of Maria Rossa and independent media in the Philippines

“While PMA welcomes the acquittal, we remain deeply concerned by the outstanding charges, conviction, and their implications for an already diminished media freedom landscape,” said Kristian Porter, CEO of the Public Media Alliance. “Ending these would be opportunity for the new Philippines government to demonstrate its commitment to a free and independent media ecosystem.”

In June last year, Rappler was ordered to be shut down. Meanwhile, in 2020, independent broadcaster ABS CBN lost its licence, although it has continued broadcasting online. Those broadcast frequencies were subsequently given to Advanced Media Broadcasting Systems, which is run by friend of Rodrigo Duterte, Manuel Villar.

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines said the win was a signal of hope for others. “While colleagues similarly face legal challenges – form libel to made-up terrorism charges – in relation to their work, we take inspiration from this acquittal that if we stand up and hold the line, we can win.”

In a statement, Amal Clooney – who is part of Ms. Ressa’s legal team – said “May this be the beginning of a new chapter in the Philippines in which journalists are safe, speech is free, democracy is secured and the rule of law can prevail.”