Manila Standard : BBM clears last DQ hurdle

21 April 2022

By Rey E. Requejo,Vito Barcelo and 1 others | Manila Standard

Comelec junks remaining disqualification petition for lack of merit
Pre-election surveys frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s presidential bid got boosted Wednesday after the Commission on Elections dismissed the fourth and last petition seeking to disqualify the former senator’s candidacy in the May 9 national polls.

With this positive development, the 64-year-old Partido Federal ng Pilipinas standard-bearer cleared another hurdle and can proceed with his campaign schedules as the elections draw near—with all cases seeking to derail his presidential bid now dismissed at the division level.

The Comelec First Division, consisting of Commissioners Socorro Inting, Aimee Ferolino, and Aimee Torrefranca-Neri, voted unanimously to junk the petition, filed by Ilocano nga Pudno (True Ilocano), to disqualify Marcos from the presidential race for lack of merit.

The petition was filed on December 7, 2021 by the group, which claimed to be from Ilocos Region, and represented by Cadiz, Negros Occidental-born former Comelec Commissioner Christian Monsod, appointed to the poll body by then-President Corazon Aquino from 1991 to 1995.

In its 29-page ruling, the First Division members said they “are not convinced” that the failure to file income tax returns is a crime involving moral turpitude, referring to a Supreme Court ruling.

The First Division also stated that moral turpitude indicated something immoral in and of itself, regardless of whether or not it was penalized by law, and Marcos’ inability to file taxes was not “inherently wrong.”

When asked for comment on the issue during his campaign sortie in Occidental Mindoro, Marcos said, “It’s a good development and we’re happy that it happened before the upcoming elections.”

Since the start of the campaign, Marcos and his running mate Inday Sara Duterte have consistently topped all the major pre-election surveys for the scheduled elections.

Despite maintaining a massive survey lead against their respective rivals, the UniTeam duo have consistently remained humble, choosing to focus on their call for unity as the country emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bongbong, the son of former President Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986), is on the historic line of becoming the country’s first majority president elected in a multi-party political setup.

The last petition to disqualify the younger Marcos 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.

While the decisions 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, 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 19776 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.”

According to the decision signed by Commissioners Inting, Ferolino, and Neri, “As it now stands, (Marcos) possesses all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications under the 1987 Constitution and relevant laws.”

“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 decision read.

The division also disagreed with the petitioners that Marcos was convicted of 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 had 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’ spokesman lawyer Vic Rodriguez, reacting to the Comelec division development, said: “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’ running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, declined to comment on the decision.

Rodriguez added: “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 and votes genuinely counted.”

Reacting to the latest development:

• Independent presidential candidate Sen. Panfilo Lacson cited the presumption of regularity on the part of the poll body, saying “Although we don’t want to agree, the presumption of regularity is always in our mind, “he said.

• For his part, lawyer Barry Gutierrez, spokesperson of Vice President Leni Robredo, shrugged off the decision, saying the latest ruling would not affect Robredo’s campaign since “From the start, the focus of VP Leni and the whole campaign is to win this election. Nothing changed here.”

• PROMDI standard bearer Sen. Manny Pacquiao said the Comelec rejection was expected, adding: “We never thought that he will be disqualified. But the fight will go on and much better with Marcos around.”

• House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said that while the ruling was “no longer surprising,” it was “disastrous.”

“The ball is now on the 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.