Philippine court grants bail to news site chief in tax evasion case

MANILA: A Philippine court on Monday granted bail to the top executive of a news website critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies after she was indicted of tax evasion charges, a case she described as “politically motivated”.

The Department of Justice in October indicted the executive, Maria Ressa, and online news platform Rappler (www.rappler.com), for attempting to evade taxes by not reporting gains of almost US$3 million in the company’s 2015 tax returns.

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“I will continue addressing the charges with nothing other than to show they are politically motivated, and they are manufactured,” Ressa told reporters after posting bail of 60,000 pesos (US$1,148.33).

The court set her arraignment for Friday.

Rappler has challenged Duterte frequently, questioning the accuracy of his public statements and scrutinising his war on drugs and his foreign policies. It drew the ire of Duterte, who has lashed out at the news site in several public speeches.

Critics said the tax dodging case was an effort to crack down on critical media, a claim Duterte had denied.

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In March, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s operating licence for violating foreign ownership rules. Duterte’s office has since banned Rappler from covering his official activities.

The news site also faces a cyber libel complaint from a businessman over a 2012 report on human trafficking and drug smuggling.

“More than his inability to tolerate dissent, Duterte’s relentless persecution of media appears to be part of the increasingly authoritarian direction his presidency has taken,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement on Sunday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch demanded that charges against Ressa and her news organisation be dropped, calling the case “part of the Duterte administration’s campaign to harass, threaten and intimidate critics”.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


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