Philippines Continues To Spit On Free Speech; Plans To Charge Key Media Critic With Bogus Claims Of Tax Evasion

from the enemy-of-the-people? dept

At the beginning of this year, we had a fairly long post about a dangerous situation brewing in the Philippines, where President Duterte was clearly trying to retaliate against one of his chief media critics, The Rappler, run by Maria Ressa. As I mentioned, I got to see Ressa speak at a conference last year, and the former CNN bureau chief is a force of nature who seems completely devoted to accurately reporting on President Duterte, no matter how much he dislikes it.

When we wrote about Ressa and Rappler in January, it was over some trumped up charges concerning claims of "foreign ownership." That story is a bit complex, but in order to get a grant from the philanthropic Omidyar Network, Rappler sold what are known as Philippine Depository Receipts (or PDRs). PDRs do have value, which are tied to the value of shares in the company, but which don't grant any of the related ownership rights. And yet, Duterte and the Filipino SEC have been arguing that Rappler committed tax evasion by somehow "not reporting" the PDR's.

Rappler notes that's a complete fabrication:

Tiglao argues that Rappler’s PDR sale “is not reported in its financial statements submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission.” (SEC)

This does not seem right.

Rappler’s financial statements and SEC general information statements have been posted on the internet. You can compare these financial statements to those in the prospectuses of ABS-CBN and GMA in the years these media companies sold PDRs, which show how PDRs are recorded by top audit firms.

Furthermore, Rappler notes that the law is pretty clear that if you sell PDRs to fewer than 20 people, you are exempt from registration requirements.

But, of course, none of this is actually about taxes and financial statements. It's about intimidating and silencing a free (and critical) press. And that's what's happening. The government has announced that it is going to charge Rappler and Ressa with tax evasion charges that basically everyone can see is completely bogus. Here's the UN's free speech guru (and recent Techdirt podcast guest) David Kaye calling out what a travesty this is:

At a time when authoritarian leaders around the world are increasingly targeting and threatening the press, we should be extra vigilant over how these attacks are expanding in both scope and in brazenness.

Here is a case where it seems quite clear that the charges are being trumped up based on Rappler's reporting, rather than based on anything even remotely legitimate. And whether or not Ressa and Rappler continue is beyond the point. The message to anyone else who wants to follow in their shoes is "don't bother, we'll make your life a living hell." Obviously that won't (and shouldn't) stop many reporters, but it can have an enormous chilling effect on many, many people.


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  • identicon
    Canuck, 13 Nov 2018 @ 4:47am

    I can't help but picture Trump eyeing this story with envy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2018 @ 5:34am

    "former CNN bureau chief" speaks volumes about what is happening.

    CNN an organization devoted to world totalitarianism, world slavery, and elicit power whose concept of news is lies, more lies, scams, and hate is no recommendation for his integrity.

    Thus I must assume he is guilty of everything he is charged with and a lot that the authorities do not have evidence of.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 13 Nov 2018 @ 5:34am

    Leader of the Free World

    Trump is setting an example of how he wants to eliminate the free press - no wonder that smaller countries are taking note. Duterte has gotten nothing but praise from Trump.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2018 @ 7:15am

    Not terrorism?

    What happened to their favorite bogus boogeyman? I guess even tyrants get bored with the same thing all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2018 @ 7:40am

    He's been killing people with impunity and commandeering/guiding police to kill all who oppose him. You thought that free speech somehow was gonna get a pass?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2018 @ 9:45am

    like other nations, it has had excellent tuition from the likes of the USA and the UK!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    E Qual, 13 Nov 2018 @ 10:27am

    Paid by foreigners = "foreign agent".

    That part is nailed down. The Maz mentions it only so can jump past into obscure tangles. -- He's casually pretending to be an expert in Phillipines law TOO.

    Interesting question is why this person is supported bigly by foreigners. My bet is that since Duterte began fighting the drug war for real, it's just another front in the CIA's hidden war, like the sudden appearance of "ISIS" or Al-Qaeda or whatever name put on the military level armed opposition that also NOT coincidentally appeared after Duterte started that.

    Another interesting question is why Masnick goes with this instead of MUCH more important items in US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 13 Nov 2018 @ 12:52pm

      If you don’t like the content on Techdirt, you’re free to go elsewhere and either read or even write about what you think is “more important”.

      Door’s to your left.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 13 Nov 2018 @ 4:26pm

      Re: Paid by foreigners = "foreign agent".

      Another interesting question is why Masnick goes with this instead of MUCH more important items in US.

      Lol. This advice on prioritizing brought to you by the guy who prioritizes "writing belligerent fantasies on Techdirt" above "not being an ignorant piece of shit."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 13 Nov 2018 @ 11:11pm

    It’s Always The Authoritarian Ones Afraid Of “Foreign Agents”

    Have you noticed that free societies don’t pass laws trying to repress organizations that they claim are being funded by foreigners?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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