GMA News Online : Comelec division junks last disqualification case vs. Marcos Jr. for Eleksyon 2022

20 April 2022

By GMA News Online

The Commission on Elections First Division on Wednesday junked the last Eleksyon 2022 disqualification case against presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for "lack of merit."

The ruling, signed by Comelec Commissioners Socorro Inting, Aimee Ferolino, and Aimee Torrefranca-Neri, dismissed the petition filed by Pudno Nga Ilokano (Ang Totoong Ilokano).

“Wherefore, premises considered, the instant petition, is hereby denied for lack of merit,” the resolution read.

The petitioners in the disqualification case, which stemmed from Marcos Jr.’s conviction on tax-related cases in 1995, included Margarita Salonga Salandanan, Crisanto Ducusin Palabay, Mario Flores Ben, Danilo Austria Consumido, Raoul Hafalla Tividad, Nida Mallare Gatchallan, and Nomer Calulot Kuan.

In their petition, the group said Marcos was convicted eight times by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) Branch 105 in 1995 for failure to file his income tax returns as governor of Ilocos Norte for taxable years 1982 to 1985 and for the latter’s failure to pay the corresponding deficiency taxes.

The Court of Appeals in 1997 modified the ruling and directed Marcos Jr. to pay the tax deficiencies and fines instead.

In its ruling, the Comelec division said non-filing of income tax returns is not a crime involving moral turpitude.

The division further said: "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 law and the omission to do so is only considered as wrong because the law penalizes it."

The division also pointed out that Marcos Jr. "paid his income tax liability 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 (Marcos Jr.) 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 resolution stated.

"In the case of respondent, it can be said that the filing of income tax return is only for record purposes, not for the payment of tax liability. He may have been neglectful in performing his obligation, it however does not reflect moral depravity," it added.

The division also said that although Marcos failed to file his ITR for several years, “there is still no tax evasion to speak of as no tax was actually intentionally evaded. The government was not defrauded."

The division ruled that the petitioners were “gravely mistaken” when they said Marcos should be disqualified because he was convicted for a crime with a penalty of more than 18 months.

'Good development'

Marcos Jr. welcomed the dismissal of the disqualification case.

“Of course it is a good development and we are happy that it happened before we came up with the actual elections,” he told reporters in Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro.

His spokesman, Vic Rodriguez, said the decision only affirmed that Marcos Jr. "possesses all the qualifications needed to aspire for, campaign for and serve as president of the Republic of the Philippines.”

Rodriguez added that it is time for every Filipino “to work for clean, honest, credible and fair elections, and allow the people to speak, [have] their voices heard, and [have their] votes genuinely counted.”

Petitioners' argument

While the decisions of the QC RTC were appealed before the Court of Appeals, the petitioners said the appellate court affirmed the judgment of “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” on four convictions.

As rendered by the QC RTC, the petitioners said Marcos’ conviction on four tax cases carries the penalty of three years imprisonment and a payment of P30,000. However, the CA imposed the payment of fine but "omitted the imprisonment mandated by law.”

“Thus, notwithstanding the CA’s omission of the penalty of imprisonment in its Decision, herein Petitioners firmly state that the correct penalty of fine and imprisonment as prescribed by the [National Internal Revenue Code] of 1977 on a person’s ‘failure to make a return’ should be considered for purposes of determining the qualification of Respondent to run for President under existing laws,” they said.

The group likewise noted that the penalty of prision correccional carries with it accessory penalty of perpetual special disqualification from the right of suffrage under Article 43 of the Revised Penal Code which, they said, has “suppletory application” to the NIRC as a special law.

'Inapplicable law'

The Comelec division however said the group cited an inapplicable law which inflicts greater punishment retroactively, which is a violation of the Constitution.

The division further said the petitioners chose to ignore the QC RTC decision which cited the applicable laws. It added that it sees this as "an act of lack of respect and insult to the Commission."

The ruling also said Marcos Jr. is “not perpetually disqualified from holding any public office, to vote and to participate in any election.”

Further, the division said that in 1986, during the period of filing of ITR for 1985, Marcos Jr. "was no longer a public officer," thus the maximum penalty cannot be imposed.

As for the petitioners' argument that Marcos’ “abandonment of office” should not excuse him from the penalties in the 1977 National Internal Revenue Code, the division cited the Marcos family's departure from the Philippines.

“It was not [the] respondent’s choice to abandon office. Again, they were forced to leave the country," it said.

Last December, Marcos Jr. asked the Comelec to dismiss the disqualification petition filed by Pudno Nga Ilokano (Ang Totoong Ilokano) for lack of merit.

In their 24-page answer to the petition for disqualification, Marcos’ camp argued that the latter was never convicted by final judgment of a crime involving moral turpitude.

Marcos’ camp further noted that he was never sentenced by final judgment to a penalty of more than 18 months of imprisonment nor sentenced to a penalty of prision correccional.

Last February, the Comelec division also dismissed "for lack of merit" the consolidated disqualification petitions filed by Bonifacio Ilagan, Abubakar Mangelen, and Akbayan.

Akbayan and the other petitioners have since asked the Comelec en banc, which is made up of all seven commissioners, to overturn the division ruling.

Comelec Commissioner George Garcia had said that the en banc would rule on the appeals within the month.

Whatever the decision of the en banc is, it can be appealed to the Supreme Court. —Hana Bordey and Anna Felicia Bajo/KG/VBL, GMA News