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MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) First Division dismissed the last disqualification case against late dictator’s son Ferdinand Marcos Jr., whose presidential bid has been haunted by the ghost of his tax conviction in the 1990s.
The First Division, composed of commissioners Socorro Inting, Aimee Ferolino, and Aimee Torrefranca-Neri, unanimously voted to dismiss the petition filed by Pudno nga Ilocano, whose lawyer is former elections chief and 1987 Constitution framer Christian Monsod.
The petition was resolved at a snail’s pace: It was filed on December 7, 2021, and deemed submitted for resolution after the submission of final arguments on January 17, 2022. Petitioners even formally followed-up with the Comelec two times.
Petitioners’ lawyers said they will appeal the ruling before the en banc, which is composed of the chairman and six commissioners, all appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte.
However, Commissioner George Garcia, Marcos’ former lawyer, is expected to inhibit himself from the en banc review.
Marcos Jr.’ spokesman Vic Rodriguez welcomed the decision, saying “elections are settled through the ballots…not through the abuse of our judicial processes like the filing of nuisance petitions for disqualification.”
In dismissing the petition, the Comelec’s First Division said it was “not convinced” that Marcos Jr. committed a crime involving moral turpitude – a ground for disqualification under the election code – when he failed to file his income tax returns (ITRs) when he was vice governor, then governor of Ilocos Norte in the 1980s.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was an elected official of another province in the 1980s. This has been corrected.
It cited a 2009 Supreme Court ruling – a favorite case of the Marcoses – which said that “failure to file an income tax return is not a crime involving moral turpitude.”
While the Comelec acknowledged that such an argument is an obiter dictum, which means that it doesn’t necessarily set a precedent, “it is still a persuasive guide in settling controversies involving similar facts.”
The poll body also ruled that non-filing of ITRs is not tax evasion.
“Regardless of the fact that the non-filing of ITR was done repeatedly by [Marcos Jr.], there is still no tax evasion to speak of as no tax was actually intentionally avoided,” the April 20 ruling read. “He may have been neglectful in performing this obligation, it however does not reflect moral depravity.”
The petitioners had also pointed out that a trial court in 1995 and an appellate court in 1997 found Marcos Jr. guilty of violating the amended tax code, which carries an accessory penalty of disqualification from public office.
The Comelec, however, rejected this argument.
“It is certainly not correct to conclude that the penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding any public office, to vote, and to participate in any election under Article 286 of the 1977 National Internal Revenue Code, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1994, is deemed imposed along with the basic penalty,” the First Division said.
The ruling did not specifically zero in on the petitioners’ novel argument that Marcos Jr. should be disqualified for having lost his right of suffrage as a result of his tax conviction, and therefore unable to meet the constitutional requirement that a president must be a registered voter.
Not yet over
Despite the release of the latest ruling, the Comelec has yet to fully clear its desk of Marcos Jr. disqualification cases, less than three weeks before the high-stakes May 9 vote.
The following petitions are also the subject of an ongoing en banc review:
- Lihaylihay vs Marcos (petition to declare nuisance) – junked by the Comelec Second Division
- Buenafe et al vs Marcos (petition to cancel certificate of candidacy) – junked by the Second Division
- Ilagan et al vs Marcos, Akbayan et al vs Marcos, Mangelen vs Marcos (consolidated disqualification petition) – junked by the First Division
The Comelec, under the leadership of new chairman Saidamen Pangarungan, has promised, however, that all pending Marcos Jr. disqualification cases would be resolved at the en banc level by end-April at the latest.
Without a Comelec en banc decision, appeals cannot be made to the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the matter with finality.
The prolonged resolution of the Marcos Jr. disqualification cases has opened the floodgates to multiple scenarios, such as what would happen if Marcos Jr. is disqualified before election day, or if he wins in the polls but is disqualified by final judgment after he is proclaimed president.