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Manila Standard : Nothing wrong with extension of time Comelec gave to BBM

News & Interviews
3 December 2021

By Louis "Barok" Biraogo | Manila Standard

"The partisans don’t want to play fair."

Anti-Marcos partisans don’t want to play fair, period.

Weeks ago, individuals purporting to be victims of martial law in the 1970s and the 1980s filed petitions in the Commission on Elections seeking to disqualify ex-Senator Bongbong Marcos (BBM), from running for president in the 2022 elections.

The partisan petitioners claim that BBM was convicted by a Regional Trial Court in 1992 for tax evasion, a crime involving moral turpitude. They insist that under existing laws, one who is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude is disqualified from public office.

Their petitions are groundless.

First, the decision of the trial court was modified by the Court of Appeals in that BBM was acquitted of tax evasion, but fined for his failure to file his income tax returns when he was Ilocos Norte governor from 1982 to 1985. Failure to file a tax return is not a crime involving moral turpitude because the income taxes due on BBM’s salary as governor from 1982 to 1985 were already withheld before each time he was paid his net salary.

That decision of the Court of Appeals has long become final and executory and, therefore, irreversible.

Second, the laws cited by the partisan petitioners took effect after BBM’s term as governor from 1982 to 1985. Those laws are penal in character and cannot be given retroactive effect.

Third, the laws cited by the same mob contemplate a conviction where imprisonment is imposed. The decision of the Court of Appeals does not impose any imprisonment on BBM.

Fourth, in criminal cases against government officials, the judgment of the court carries a statement disqualifying the accused from holding public office. There is no such statement in the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Fifth, if the Comelec disqualifies BBM from running for president, the Comelec will, in effect, be amending or modifying the decision of the Court of Appeals which does not disqualify BBM from public office. The decision of the Court of Appeals can only be reversed or modified by the Supreme Court, and it is much too late in the day for that. In other words, the Comelec has no jurisdiction to entertain the disqualification petitions against BBM.

Be that as it may, the Comelec directed BBM to file his answer to the petitions. Under the rules of procedure of the Comelec, BBM has a “non-extendible period of five days” from notice to file his answer.

BBM, however, asked the Comelec for an extension of time to file his answer because he was only able to obtain the services of his preferred lawyer, the famous Atty. Estelito Mendoza, a day or so before the end of the five-day period. BBM explicitly wants Mendoza to be his legal counsel.

Acting accordingly, the Comelec granted the extension of time sought by BBM.

That extension granted by the Comelec sparked protests not only from the partisan petitioners but also from a few commentators on the print and broadcast media. For them, an inextendible period to file an answer should be absolutely inextendible. They denounced the Comelec, and called the action taken by the Comelec a mockery of justice and an unnecessary delay in the election process.

Big deal! It’s obvious that the anti-BBM partisans do not want to play fair.

The anti-BBM partisans are represented by lawyers, including former Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te, who ought to know that technical rules of procedure are not absolute rules. While compliance with procedural rules is the ideal, technical rules of procedure are merely means by which to achieve a just and proper resolution of cases. Jurisprudence is rich with instances where the Supreme Court itself said so.

When valid reasons are raised in support of a party’s prayer for the extension of a non-extendible period, and there is no substantial prejudice visited on the opposing party if the extension sought is granted, then the interests of substantive justice are better served by granting the relief sought. As every lawyer should know, a litigation ought to be resolved on its merits, and not on mere technicalities. Again, there is ample jurisprudence that says so.

There is no indication that granting the extension of time sought by BBM will prejudice the petitioners in the disqualification cases. More importantly, resolving the said cases on their merits, which means giving BBM a chance to be heard, is preferable to deciding the case solely on the basis of the pleadings filed by the petitioners.

The disqualification cases against BBM involve a candidate for president who seeks the approval of the sovereign Filipino voters in the coming elections. Therefore, if BBM is to be disqualified at all, voters supporting BBM, or are inclined to support him, have the right to know the substantial reasons, if there are any, why BBM should be disqualified.