Mr. Richard Anthony Fadullon
Department of Justice
Ermita, Manila 1000
Republic of the Philippines
Via email: [email protected]
Dear Prosecutor General Fadullon,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders, two independent non-profit press freedom organizations, ask that you and your office end the politicized persecution of Philippine news site Rappler.
The Department of Justice earlier this month said that it planned to file tax evasion charges against Rappler and the website's founder and executive editor, Maria Ressa. The charges relate to a company bond sale in 2015 that, according to reports, resulted in 162.5 million pesos (US$3 million) in financial gains. The Justice Department's statement did not indicate how much Rappler and Ressa allegedly owed in taxes.
Ressa has denied the allegation and said that Rappler is compliant with all Philippine tax laws, including the transaction in question. She said she believes the legal threat is an attempt to silence her news outlet's critical reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte's government. CPJ has documented in the past year how authorities have retaliated against Rappler's coverage, including by banning its reporters from the presidential palace and referring to the site as "fake news" and "biased."
The Department of Justice's announcement that it will seek to file tax evasion charges is strikingly and worryingly similar to previous legal harassment of Rappler. The news site is still fighting a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) order to revoke its registration. The Court of Appeals ruled in July that the SEC had erred in its move to revoke Rappler's certificate of incorporation, but the outlet's motion to fully annul the order is still pending.
We view the tax evasion charges, which carry potential 10-year prison penalties under local law, as a clear and present threat to press freedom. As Ressa has pointed out, the charges could potentially threaten foreign investors who use similar mechanisms, and could thus damage the Philippine economy
We urge you to cease this campaign of intimidation and harassment against Rappler, both for the sake of respecting press freedom and for your government's international credibility.
Committee to Protect Journalists
Reporters Without Borders