By Dona Z. Pazzibugan | Inquirer.net
MANILA, Philippines — Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could not be faulted for not fully paying his taxes and not filing his income tax returns on time, thus leaving no ground to disqualify him from running for president, so ruled a division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in dismissing a petition to block his candidacy on Wednesday.
The decision by the First Division on the last petition to disqualify the son of the ousted dictator from seeking the presidency in the May 9 elections over his conviction for violating the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in 1995 came three months after it was submitted for resolution.
The First Division ruled that the case for which Marcos was convicted did not fall under tax evasion since the Court of Appeals (CA) noted in 1997 that being an elected public official at the time, Marcos was already subjected to the withholding tax system and that he had paid his income tax, “albeit not in full.”
“Even if his tax liability was not paid in full, the same was not done willfully by (Marcos) since, as the CA explained, it is the government’s obligation to withhold the income tax,” the First Division said.
No ‘moral turpitude’
In ruling against the petition filed by Pudno nga Ilocano (Real Ilocanos), a group of martial law survivors from the home province of the late dictator, the division also said the former senator’s failure to file income tax returns was not a crime of “moral turpitude,” one of the grounds to disqualify candidates for public office.
“If failure to file income tax return is considered alone, it would appear that it is not inherently wrong,” it said. “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.”
It rejected the petitioners’ argument that the conviction carried the penalty of perpetual disqualification from public office and participation in any election since this ground specified under the tax code “cannot apply to him” as he was no longer a public officer “at the time of the consummation of the offense of non-filing of income tax returns on 18 March 1986.”
“Regardless of the fact that the non-filing of income tax return was done repeatedly by the respondent, there is still no tax evasion to speak of as no tax was actually intentionally evaded. The government was not defrauded,” it added.
There were four petitions to disqualify Marcos from running and one to cancel his certificate of candidacy that were decided by the Comelec’s two divisions.
They were all based on the same grounds: that he had been barred for life from holding public office because he was convicted of violating the NIRC when he did not pay taxes and did not file income tax returns while serving as vice governor and later as governor of Ilocos Norte from 1982 to 1985.
The other disqualification petitions were filed separately by Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (Carmma), Akbayan party list, and a faction claiming to be the legitimate members and officers of Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP), which adopted Marcos as its standard-bearer.
The petition to nullify Marcos’ certificate of candidacy for allegedly lying about not being convicted on a charge that disqualified him from running for office was filed by survivors of the dictatorship led by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.
Let ballots decide
The dismissal of the latest petition means that Marcos, the survey front-runner, has “all the qualifications” to aspire for and serve as president, according to his spokesperson Vic Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said elections are “settled through the ballots” not through the filing of “nuisance petitions for disqualifications.”
“It is now time for every peace-loving Filipino to work for a clean, honest, credible, and fair elections, and allow the people to speak, their voices heard and votes genuinely counted,” he said.
Former Comelec Chair Christian Monsod, a lawyer for Pudno, said they would appeal the division’s ruling to the en banc, or all seven commissioners sitting as one body.
“We will file a motion for reconsideration soonest,” he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the way the ruling was made could affect how the Omnibus Election Code and other election laws would be implemented.
The implementation of the election code to favor the son of the dictator and how the Comelec defined the crime of moral turpitude was “very gratuitous,” Zarate told the Inquirer.
Sacrifices meant nothing
In a statement, Zarate urged the Comelec en banc to review and reconsider the First Division’s “disastrous decision” as it would “affect jurisprudence” on Philippine elections.
ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro criticized the “turtle’s pace” by which the ruling was made just weeks before the elections and urged the en banc “to prove to the public its integrity and independence.”
“The hope that historical amnesia will not mar the people’s choice in their next leaders is in your hands,” Castro said in a statement.
“Those who dismissed the disqualification raps against Marcos Jr. are full-grown adults with full knowledge of what happens when tyrants are at the helm and flout the law at the expense of the people. These deliberate amnesiacs are among the highest officials in our government,” she said.
Castro said the poll commissioners’ decision will allow the son of a dictator to run and sit as president, “ready to mislabel as lies and ‘paninira’ all the sufferings of Filipinos and the entire nation under the dark regime of his father.”
That would be like teaching the next generations that abuse of power, oppression and corruption are “perfectly fine” and the sacrifices and lives lost fighting the dictatorship meant nothing.
“With such a decision, we worry: How then, later on, will our government authorities paint all tyrants, and their unapologetic spouses, sons, daughters and cronies?” she said.
All decisions by the Comelec could still be appealed in the Supreme Court.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, JULIE M. AURELIO, DEMPSEY REYES AND INQUIRER RESEARCH