THE Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in a statement on Thursday said it filed a criminal complaint with the Department of Justice (DoJ) against Rappler Holdings Corp. (RHC), its president, Maria A. Ressa, and treasurer, James C. Bitanga, for willful attempt to evade or defeat tax and for deliberate failure to supply correct and accurate information in its 2015 income tax return (ITR) and value-added tax returns (VAT).

Apart from the BIR case against RHC, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has recommended to the DoJ the filing anew of cyberlibel charges against Ms. Ressa, Mr. Bitanga and seven other associates, in connection with an already dismissed complaint by businessman Wilfredo D. Keng over allegations against him in a 2012 article published by

According to the BIR, RHC, the parent company of Rappler, Inc., purchased from the latter common shares amounting to P19.2 million and subsequently issued and sold Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to two (2) foreign juridical entities for a total consideration of P181.7 million.

“As dealer in securities, RHC is subject to income tax (IT) and value-added tax (VAT),” the BIR’s statement said. “However, the Annual ITR and VAT Returns for taxable year 2015 filed by RHC with the BIR showed that no IT and VAT have been paid by RHC for the income it gained in the PDR transactions.

“As a consequence of its acts and omissions, the aggregate tax liability of RHC amounted to PhP133,841,305.75 broken down as follows: IT – PhP91,320,481.08; and VAT – PhP42,520,824.67.”

Accountant Noel A. Baladiang of R.G. Manabat & Co. was also charged for certifying RHC’s financial statements, “despite the clear omission and misstatement of his client’s actual taxable income,” the bureau said.

In a statement, Ms. Ressa described as “ludicrous” the tax case against Rappler and urged the BIR “to check its own records.”

“We are not surprised by this latest government move to harass us. But we are shocked by the speed with which the BIR filed a complaint with the Department of Justice when it sent its people three days ago to deliver a letter that was remarkable for its lack of details,” Ms. Ressa also said, referring to letters of authority by BIR Commissioner Caesar R. Dulay dated March 2 and authorizing its agents to examine Rappler’s books from Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2015.

“The BIR then listed a total of 47 documents and records that it required Rappler to present for examination. The BIR letters were received by Rappler only on March 5, 2018. No documents have been submitted as of today, which means no examination has been made whatsoever by the BIR. Without this examination, there is clearly no basis for a tax evasion complaint,” the statement noted.

For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry L. Roque, Jr. said on Thursday’s press briefing: “Ang mali ay dapat managot….Kung mayroon talagang hindi binayaran na buwis, dapat managot.” (Those in the wrong should be made to answer….If there were really unpaid taxes, they should pay.) — Dane Angelo M. Enerio with Arjay L. Balinbin