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Martial law victims filed on Wednesday, November 17, the first disqualification case before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) against presidential aspirant and son of dictator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
The petition filed by leaders of the group Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA) is the first disqualification petition, but the third to challenge Marcos’ candidacy. The first two were petitions to cancel Marcos’ certificate of candidacy or COC.
CARMMA’s petition, represented again by 1Sambayan convenor Howard Calleja, is more straightforward in the sense that it directly invoked the disqualification ground based on Marcos’ 1997 conviction for failure to file income tax returns or ITR from 1982 to 1985.
Because the exclusive ground for canceling a COC is misrepresentation, the two petitions to cancel the COC had to first invoke the disqualification ground, and frame their arguments around misrepresentation when Marcos wrote in his COC that he was eligible to run for public office.
The basic premise of all three petitions is this: the tax code imposes perpetual disqualification on a person convicted under it, regardless of the kind of tax offense, and regardless of the penalty.
“Now whether he lied or not, that is not a defense in this disqualification case. Because the only defense in this disqualification case is that you were not judged guilty by a competent court of final conviction, but that final conviction is an undisputed fact,” said Calleja.
However, CARMMA’s petition still alleged misrepresentation, and in fact included in its prayer for Comelec to cancel Marcos’ COC.
Rule 25 of Comelec’s Rules of Procedure says “a petition to disqualify a candidate invoking grounds for a Petition to Deny to or Cancel a Certificate of Candidacy… or a combination thereof, shall be summarily dismissed.”
Election lawyer Emil Marañon said on Twitter that the CARMMA petition committed “a fatal mistake” when it invoked grounds to cancel COC, especially since the deadline to file a petition to cancel COC has already lapsed.
“As is, the case is dismissible. The only cure for this is to withdraw the Petition, redrafted as a pure disqualification case and refiled as soon as possible,” said Marañon, who was one of the lawyers of Vice President Leni Robredo in the vice electoral protest filed against her by Marcos.
Calleja brushed aside the concern over that technical issue.
“Hindi naman (not really). What we’re saying is he’s disqualified to begin with, and in any case, both issues can be together charged,” said Calleja.
The rehashing of Marcos’ 1997 conviction started on the discussion of prison sentence. Because when the Court of Appeals (CA) resolved Marcos’ appeal, the apellate court in 1997 acquitted him of tax evasion, but sustained his guilt for failure to file ITR. In the guilty verdict, the CA did not impose a prison sentence.
Another ground for disqualification is if you have been sentenced to more than 18 months.
The removal of a prison sentence was erroneous, said CARMMA’s petition, calling the CA decision “null and void.”
Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez said that this argument makes the petitions dismissible because Comelec has no jurisdiction to review a judicial decision.
None of the three petitions included in the prayer to declare the CA decision void, but they nevertheless discussed it in their arguments.
“It is not in the prayer, we are not asking for the Comelec to void or to annul the decision because there’s nothing to void, because a decision that is void ab initio has no effect, so there’s nothing to void to begin with,” said Calleja.
Calleja also represents the group that filed the second petition to cancel COC. But since that petition was filed past deadline, they had to attach a request to intervene or join the first petition, which the Comelec has to grant first.
Calleja said he has not received any official notice from Comelec.
The very first petition to cancel COC, filed by the group represented by former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te, is the petition that Marcos has been required by Comelec to answer within this week.
The Te petition will be handled by the Comelec Second Division. Any resolution by the division can be elevated to the Comelec en banc, which is then appealable up to the Supreme Court.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez earlier said they hope that all petitions can be resolved before they release the official list of candidates this year.
That was also the timeline with the disqualification case against Senator Grace Poe in 2016, and the Supreme Court managed to decide on it on March 2016, two months before the presidential elections that was eventually won by Rodrigo Duterte.
The Marcos camp has called these petitions the work of “yellow wannabe political assassins.”
Rodriguez said in a statement on Thursday, November 18, that the disqualification petition are “cheap political gimmicks from the same people who do not want the country to move ahead and get out of the pandemic.”
“They refuse to elevate political discourse and instead resort to dirty campaigning, character assassination, and mudslinging,” he said.