By Jomar Canlas | The Manila Times
THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) lifted obstacles to the presidential bid of former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. when it dismissed all of the remaining disqualification cases filed against him.
In a 44-page resolution penned by Commissioner Aimee Ferolino of the First Division and concurred in by Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, the poll body dismissed the three remaining petitions for lack of merit.
"We recognize that the resolution of the instant case is of paramount importance, considering that the 2022 [national and local elections] is fast approaching," it said. "However, deprivation of one's right to be voted for in any election should not be exercised whimsically and capriciously, lest we will be preventing qualified candidates from pursuing a position in public office."
To erase doubts as to whether the failure to file tax returns is a crime involving moral turpitude, the poll body cited the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in the case of the Republic of the Philippines vs. Ferdinand R. Marcos II and Imelda R. Marcos wherein the high tribunal ruled that failure to file a tax return is not a crime involving moral turpitude.
"Therefore, since respondent [Marcos] has appealed his conviction relating to four violations of Section 45 of the NIRC (National Internal Revenue Code), the same should not serve as a basis to disqualify him to be appointed as an executor of the will of his father. More importantly, even assuming arguendo that his conviction is later on affirmed, the same is still insufficient to disqualify him as the failure to file an income tax return is not a crime involving moral turpitude," the high court said.
The commissioners said that Marcos admitted the non-payment of fines during the preliminary conference last January 7.
"He would counter, however, in his memorandum, that the penalties imposed against him have already been extinguished due to the amendment brought about by the Train (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) Law, which effectively decriminalized the non-filing of annual tax returns insofar as pure compensation income earners are concerned," they said.
The poll body ruled that it is clear as day that Marcos' "sentence to pay fines does not fall under any of the [instances] for disqualification under Section 12 of the OEC (Omnibus Election Code) to operate."
"Thus, whether or not he satisfied the payment of fines and penalties with the RTC (Regional Trial Court) of Quezon City is immaterial, as his sentence did not fall within the purview of Section 12 of EOC," it said.
The poll body's Second Division in January dismissed the petition seeking the cancellation of Marcos' certificate of candidacy (CoC).
In a 32-page ruling signed by Presiding Commissioner Socorro Inting and concurred in by Commissioners Antonio Kho and Rey Bulay, the commission ruled that there was no misrepresentation committed by the former senator.
"Unmistakably, there is no intention on the part of respondent to deceive the electorate as to his qualifications for public office," it said.
The petitioners — Fr. Christian Buenafe, Fides Lim, Ma. Edeliza Hernandez, Celia Lagman Sevilla, Roland Vibal and Josephine Lascano — claimed that Marcos' CoC contained several false representations.
They argued that Marcos cannot run for public office because he was convicted by a Quezon City court for failing to file income tax returns from 1982 to 1985.
But the poll body rejected the argument, saying Marcos has not been perpetually disqualified from seeking elective office.
Lawyer Vic Rodriguez, Marcos' spokesman, lauded the ruling.
"The petitioners in this case, Ilagan, Akbayan, Etta Rosales were found guilty of lying and of deliberately misleading the Comelec by intentionally quoting the wrong provisions of the law. While we call on this seemingly misguided segment of our society to stop spreading lies against Marcos, we nonetheless extend our hands of unity and continue with our call for them and every Filipino to join us in shaping a better futre," he said.
The Akbayan party-list said that it will appeal the ruling.
"The decision of the Comelec's First Division allowing Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. to run in the May polls, despite his perpetual disqualification from public office, is a major setback for the country's electoral democracy," Akbayan's first nominee, Perci Cendaña, said in a statement on Thursday. "It is a missed opportunity to defend the truth and protect the public from a large-scale election swindle by a convicted tax evader."
"This is merely a bend in the road, not the end of it. This is just the beginning of our struggle to protect our electoral democracy from fraud and impunity. We will appeal to the Comelec en banc and pursue this case to the very end," Cendaña added.
The camp of Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo was unfazed by the dismissal of the consolidated petitions
."The disqualification was never a consideration," Robredo's spokesman Barry Gutierrez said.
"From the time she announced her candidacy, she always intended to achieve victory in the elections. And with Tuesday's explosive start to her campaign, it's clear that she's on track to do just that," Gutierrez said.
WITH REINA TOLENTINO AND ARIC JOHN SY CUA