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Rappler files motion to void tax case

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By Vann Marlo M. Villegas

RAPPLER Holdings Corp. (RHC) and its CEO and executive editor Maria A. Ressa has filed a motion seeking to nullify a tax evasion case filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ) before a Pasig City court, arguing that it does not have jurisdiction over the case due to procedural issues.

In its Dec. 4 urgent motion before the Pasig City regional trial court (RTC) Branch 265, Ms. Ressa and Rappler also asked that the case be remanded to the DoJ and also moved for a suspension of proceedings.

The accused said they were deprived of their right to a full preliminary investigation as they only received DoJ’s Oct. 2 resolution indicting them for tax evasion on Nov. 15, while the DoJ already filed its information on Nov. 14.

“Hence, it is clear that Accused RHC and Maria Ressa were deprived of their right to full preliminary investigation, which we respectfully submit is a constitutional requirement for this Honorable Court to acquire jurisdiction over the offense charge,” they stated.

The respondents are accused of violation of the Tax Code and failing “to supply correct and accurate” information on their quarterly sales receipts from the issue and sale three years ago of Philippine Depository Receipts (PDRs) worth P2.45 million, which resulted in a deficiency value-added tax of P294,258.58

Ms. Ressa posted bail of P60,000 on Dec. 3.

The respondents also said they were deprived of due process as they received from the Bureau of Internal Revenue a Letter of Authority on March 5 to assess Rappler’s alleged tax deficiencies, yet the BIR filed a criminal complaint before the DoJ three days later “without even conducting any administrative investigation or field audit.”

“Given the foregoing, it is respectfully submitted that the accused RHC and Maria Ressa should not stand for trial for this case as the filing of the information is premature and the conditions precedent to its filing (have) not been complied with,” the motion stated.

Under the Run After Tax Evaders Program of the BIR, there must be a preliminary investigation, issuance of letter of authority, and formal investigation prior to the filing of a criminal complaint.

The accused also said the DoJ “unnecessarily split” the information into four other “intimately related” cases before the first division of the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA), when the “DoJ itself in its Resolution had considered the transactional activities of RHC to form part of a sequence that constituted securities dealing within a single year.”

They also argued that the CTA, a specialized court, and the RTC could render contradicting findings.

“It is basic that a person who commits a series of acts under a singular intent may only be indicted once,” the respondents said.

“Moreover, the tax liability, if any, all rose from the same PDR Transaction. Consequently, RHC should not be charged separately for each taxable quarter for failure to report or supply an accurate return. RHC should have only been charged for one offense of Section 255,” they added.

Further, the information against the respondents failed to allege that RHC was “regularly engaged in the purchase of securities and resale thereof to customer” and that value-added taxes are due since the BIR did not conduct any formal investigation.

For his part, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said he is “pretty sure that inasmuch as it’s the BIR who filed the complaint, I have to trust that the BIR followed the proper procedure before filing the criminal complaint for tax evasion.”

The Pasig City court has scheduled an arraignment on Dec. 6.