Duterte-critic journalist pleads not guilty in Philippine tax case

MANILA (AFP) – Embattled Philippine journalist Maria Ressa pleaded not guilty yesterday to tax evasion, as President Rodrigo Duterte’s government faced growing calls to drop all charges against the veteran reporter.

Ressa, 56, and her news site Rappler, have been the target of a series of criminal charges and probes after publishing stories critical of Duterte’s policies – including his drug war that has killed thousands.

The award-winning former CNN journalist is on bail pending an appeal against a cyber libel conviction last month for which she faces up to six years in jail.

Ex-Rappler journalist Reynaldo Santos was also found guilty in that case. In a video on Twitter after the hearing, Ressa said she pleaded not guilty to tax evasion – one of five tax-related charges she faces – in the capital Manila.

Her application to quash the charge was rejected by the judge and Rappler was added to the charge sheet, she said.

Ressa, who is also a US citizen, is accused of providing incorrect information for a company tax return involving nearly USD6,000 in 2015, Rappler reported.

“We’ll fight every step of the way because we will hold the line,” Ressa said defiantly in the video.

“I’m not going to voluntarily give up my rights.”

Ressa posted on Twitter selfies of herself and her lawyer, both wearing face masks and shields, at the court.

Maria Ressa talks to the media after attending a court hearing in Manila. PHOTO: AFP