MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) 1st Division unanimously junked disqualification cases against presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr., ending two weeks of drama that exposed fissures and politics within the poll body.
It was a 2-0 vote, which petitioners can later appeal before the Comelec en banc and all the way to the Supreme Court (SC).
Rappler obtained a signed copy of the 41-page decision promulgated on Thursday, February 10. The decision has been sent to the parties in the case as of posting time. (Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the story said the decision was 43 pages long. We have corrected this number to 41.)
In its ruling, the Comelec 1st Division rejected three consolidated petitions seeking to bar the dictator’s son from joining the 2022 elections. It said Marcos can run for president even if he was convicted in a 1990s tax case.
“The deprivation of one’s right to be voted for in any election should not be exercised whimsically and capriciously, lest we will be preventing qualified candidates from pursuing a position in public office,” the ruling read.
The Comelec 1st Division, at the time it voted, was composed of commissioners Aimee Ferolino and Marlon Casquejo. While Comelec divisions are usually composed of three commissioners, recent retirements from the poll body had left the Comelec 1st Division with only two members.
Both appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte, Ferolino and Casquejo are career officials who rose from the ranks. Before they became commissioners, Ferolino was election supervisor of Davao del Norte while Casquejo was an election officer in Davao City, where Duterte was longtime mayor.
Their former presiding commissioner at the 1st Division, Rowena Guanzon, had wanted to vote to disqualify Marcos. Guanzon accused Ferolino, the ponente or writer of the ruling, of deliberately delaying the decision until after her retirement – even as Ferolino said the delay was due to COVID-19 cases in her office, as well as the petitions’ complexity.
Guanzon retired on February 2, and her vote against Marcos was no longer considered in this February 10 ruling.
No crime of moral turpitude
In dismissing the consolidated case, the 1st Division found that Marcos Jr. did not commit moral turpitude – which is a ground for disqualification under the election code – when he failed to file his income tax returns in the 1980s.
“The failure to file tax returns is not inherently wrong in the absence of a law punishing it. The said omission became punishable only through the enactment of the Tax Code. Moreover, even the 1977 NIRC (National Internal Revenue Code) recognizes that failure to file income tax is not a grave offense as the violation thereof may be penalized only by a fine,” it said.
The 1st Division also said the petitioners’ argument that the penalty of perpetual disqualification was already deemed written in the Tax Code lacked merit.
It added that nowhere in the 1997 Court of Appeals (CA) decision on Marcos’ case was it stated that he was meted an 18-month jail sentence.
“It baffles us why the petitioners concluded that the CA did not delete the penalty of three years imprisonment when it was clearly absent in the decision,” the ruling read.
Ruling after Comelec drama
The promulgation comes after two weeks of drama in the Comelec.
Days before her retirement, Guanzon, in a rare move, revealed her vote on the case. She also released her separate opinion to the media even before Ferolino, the ponente, finished writing her ponencia.
Guanzon had alleged that Ferolino delayed the release of the ruling so that the senior poll veteran would not have a say in the case, and also claimed that Ferolino was being influenced by a politician.
Ferolino, in internal letters leaked to the media, insisted there was only “undue rush” from Guanzon, and that the prolonged release of the ruling was due to COVID-19 infections in her office, and the complex nature of the Marcos case.
“As a co-equal member of this Commission, I am asking you to please stop conditioning the minds of the people that there is a delay because there is none,” Ferolino told Guanzon in a scathing reply letter.
The consolidated petitions were from Martial Law survivors led by Bonifacio Ilagan, civic leaders led by party-list group Akbayan, and a faction of Marcos’ 2022 vehicle, Partido Federal ng Pilipinas.
The Ilagan and Akbayan petitions, in particular, centered on Marcos’ failure to file his income tax returns while in public office from 1982 to 1985. They had argued that the conviction that stemmed from that is enough to ban him from elections.
The petitioners can still appeal the decision before the Comelec en banc, and even if it still rules against their favor, they can run to the SC.
There is one more pending disqualification case against Marcos Jr. in the 2nd Division, which was filed by an Ilocano group whose lawyer is former Comelec chairman Christian Monsod.
There are also two cases junked at the division level but have been appealed before the en banc – a petition to declare Marcos Jr. a nuisance candidate filed by Comelec-declared nuisance presidential aspirant Danilo Lihaylihay, and a petition to cancel the former senator’s certificate of candidacy filed by civic leaders whose lawyer is Theodore Te.
The Marcos camp has repeatedly described the petitions against his candidacy as nuisance and mere propaganda. – Rappler.com
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