By RG CRUZ | ABS-CBN News
MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — A Commission on Elections division has junked the remaining disqualification case against presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., according to a decision released on Wednesday.
The Comelec First Division ruled that the disqualification case based on Marcos' failure to file income tax returns lacked merit. The petition was filed by Margarita Salandanan, Crisanto Ducusin Palabay, Mario Flores Ben, Danilo Austria Consumido, Gil Fernando Derilo, Raoul Hafalla Tividad, Nida Mallare Gatchalian and Nomer Calulot Kuan last December.
“As it now stands, Respondent possesses all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications under the 1987 Constitution and relevant laws,” according to the 29-page decision signed by Commissioners Socorro Inting, Aimee Ferolino and Aimee Torrefranca-Neri.
Like its previous decision on other disqualification cases against Marcos last February, the Comelec ruled that the former senator cannot be disqualified from the presidential race, as "failure to file an income tax return is not a crime involving moral turpitude."
"If failure to file income tax return is considered alone, it would appear that it is not inherently wrong. This is supported by the fact that the filing of income tax return is only an obligation created by the law and the omission to do so is only considered as wrong because the law penalizes it," the Comelec First Division said in its decision.
The division also disagreed with the petitioners that Marcos was convicted for a crime that carried a penalty of more than 18 months for which he should be disqualified from running for and holding any public office.
It said the petitioners cited "inapplicable law," and that the poll body has no power to amend or modify the decision that the Court of Appeals ruled on Marcos.
"It is evident that Respondent paid his income tax through the withholding system, albeit not in full. Even if his tax liability was not paid in full, the same was not done willfully by Respondent since, as the CA explained, it is the government's obligation to withhold the income tax of Respondent and the latter had the right to rely on the computation of the taxes withheld," the ruling said.
"Regardless of the fact that the non-filing of income tax return was done repeatedly by Respondent, there is still no tax evasion to speak of as no tax was actually unintentionally evaded," it added.
The Comelec division also clarified that in Marcos' case, the filing of income tax return is only for record purposes and not for the payment of his tax liabilities.
"He may have been neglectful in performing this obligation, it however does not reflect moral depravity," it said.
Marcos welcomed the decision, saying it Is a "good development."
"Of course, it is a good development. And we are happy that it happened before our actual elections," he told reporters at the sidelines of his campaign sortie in Occidental Mindoro.
His camp said that the decision aligns with their sentiment of letting the Filipino voters decide their fate on election day.
"As advocated, elections are settled through the ballots on election day - not through the abuse of our judicial processes like the filing of nuisance petitions for disqualification," Marcos' spokesperson Atty. Vic Rodriguez said.
Marcos' running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, declined to comment on the decision.
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said that while the ruling Is "no longer surprising," it is "disastrous."
"The ball is now on Comelec en banc to review and reconsider such a disastrous decision. The full commission should also look into the reported 'political interferences' that delayed the release of the First Division's decision as this may cast a serious doubt on the independence of the commission in the very crucial May elections," Zarate said.
Rulings on the Marcos cases will affect jurisprudence, he said.
"It is now imperative that the en banc act on it post haste so as to give the parties ample time to even seek an appeal before the Supreme Court. What is at stake here is not only political future of a convicted tax evader but the survival of our country as well," Zarate said.
Three other cases for Marcos' disqualification, a case to cancel his candidacy, and another petition to declare him as nuisance are already pending for review before the Comelec en banc. Their ruling will be appealable to the Supreme Court.
For his part, the spokesperson of Marcos' rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, shrugged off the decision. Barry Gutierrez said the latest ruling would not affect Robredo's campaign.
"Mula simula, ang tutok ni VP Leni at ng buong kampanya ay manalo sa eleksyon. Walang nagbago dito," he said.
(From the start, the focus of VP Leni and the whole campaign is to win this election. Nothing changed here.)
The presidential bid of Marcos, the survey frontrunner, was considered the most legally-contested in the country's recent election history.
His camp repeatedly said all the cases against him were "political trash," lodged by "political assassins."
The former senator leads by a wide margin over his other opponents in the presidential race, based on the latest Pulse Asia survey conducted in March. The pollster said it will release its final survey either later this month or early May.
In the March survey, 56 percent of respondents said they would vote for Marcos if the elections were held at that time.
— With report from Joyce Balancio, ABS-CBN News