Commission on Human Rights (CHR)
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has welcomed the dismissal of the tax evasion charges filed against Nobel Laureate Maria A. Ressa, who, it said, was one of the journalists charged in criminal and civil cases by the previous administration “to curtail freedom of expression.”
In a statement, the CHR recalled the observation made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on the fifth periodic report of the Philippines on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on the shutdown of television network ABS-CBN and the detention of former senator Leila M. De Lima on illegal drugs charges.
It also noted the UNHRC’s concerns “on reports of increased crackdowns, harassment, and violence against human rights defenders, activists, and other civil society actors intended to discourage legitimate activities.”
De Lima, who was also former chairperson of the CHR, has been detained since 2017 for allegedly facilitating illegal drugs trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City when she was secretary of justice, the CHR said.
It noted that in the case of Ressa, the tax evasion charges were but four of at least seven cases pursued by the previous administration against news outfit Rappler and its staff. Ressa is the chief executive officer of Rappler.
On the tax evasion charges, the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) acquitted Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) of tax evasion on the P162.5 million earned by the news outfit from the 2015 issuance of shares to two foreign entities.
The CTA ruled that “accused Rappler Holdings and Maria A. Ressa are acquitted, for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”
“No civil liability may be adjudged against the accused as the alleged unpaid tax obligations have not been factually and legally established and proven,” the CTA also ruled.
The CHR expressed hopes that other legal issues against Ressa and Rappler will finally be addressed.
It commended the CTA “for upholding the rule of law and hopes that relevant observations on the human rights situation in the country be similarly addressed with urgency and probity.”
The CHR said it is consistent in reminding the government to defend Filipinos’ freedoms of expression and opinion. “This is more crucial for members of the opposition, activists, and journalists whose voices are crucial to Filipino democracy and dignity,” it said.
Despite what happened in the past, the CHR said it is “hopeful for what the future has in store.”
“The CHR continues to look forward to the realization of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s commitment to advance and uphold the human rights cause in the country, not only for civil and political rights, but as well as for the economic, social, and cultural rights of all, which are all interrelated and interdependent and necessary for a dignified life,” it stressed. — Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
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