By Kristine Joy Patag | The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:31 p.m.) — The Commission on Elections First Division dismissed the petition for disqualification filed by a group of Ilocanos against presidential bet Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., clearing the survey frontrunner of the last legal challenges in his candidacy at least in the division level of the poll body.
News5 on Wednesday reported that First Division denied the petition filed by Pudno nga Ilokano group due to lack of merit.
“As it now stands, Respondent possess all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications under the 1987 Constitution and relevant laws. As such, the dismissal of this Petition is in order,” part of the ruling dated April 20 read.
Presiding Commissioner Socorro Inting and Commissioners Aimee Ferolino and Aimee Torrefranca-Neri signed the 29-paged ruling.
As it is, Marcos has hurdled all the disqualification petitions and one plea asking for the cancellation of his Certificate of Candidacy filed against Marcos at the division level.
The petitions are anchored on Marcos’ conviction of failure to file Income Tax Returns for four years. All the pleas filed against Marcos’ presidential bid are expected to reach the Supreme Court.
In resolving the plea, the Comelec division said Marcos’ failure to file his Income Tax Returns for four years does not constitute moral turpitude—a ground for disqualification.
The division cited Republic of the Philippines v. Ferdinand Marcos II and Imelda R Marcos, saying the Supreme Court “categorically declared that failure to file an [ITR] is not a crime involving moral turpitude.”
“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 ITR is only an obligation created by law and omission to do so is only considered as wrong because the law penalizes it,” it added.
When the Former First Division of the Comelec junked the consolidated disqualification pleas, it also cited the criminal law concepts “mala in se” and “mala prohibitum.”
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said then: "What it says a crime mala in se ("evil in itself") is a crime that is by itself is naturally wrong — for example, murder. You don’t need a law to tell you that murder is wrong, but there are some offenses that are mala prohibitum ("wrong because prohibited") which means they are considered wrong under the law only because special law exists to penalize it. For example, cutting down a tree, is not inherently [wrong].”
But retired Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, commenting on the Former First Division's ruling, said then that the 1993 case of International Rice Research Institute v. NLRC stated that: “[It] cannot always be ascertained whether moral turpitude does or does not exist by classifying a crime as malum in se or as malum prohibta, since there are crimes which are mala in se and yet but rarely involve moral turpitude and there are crimes which involve moral turpitude and are mala prohibita only.”
The Comelec also said “petitioners are gravely mistaken” in arguing that Marcos was convicted of an offense that carried a penalty of more than 18 months of imprisonment, as it referred to the Court of Appeals ruling that removed the prison sentence.
It added that it saw no need to address the issue whether Marcos is qualified to run as president as “there is no actual issue or controversy regarding the question whether respondent possesses all qualifications under… the 1987 Constitution.”
Cases vs Marcos
Marcos, in a statement said by his campaign team, said: “It’s a good development and we’re happy it happened before the upcoming elections.”
While the plea to cancel Marcos’ COC and the consolidated disqualification petitioners — all dismissed at division level — are pending under appeal before the Commission en banc, petitioners vowed to take their legal challenges to Marcos’ candidacy all the way to the Supreme Court.
Last March, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said he was informed by Comelec Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan that he is committing that “before the end of April, a decision by the en banc will be forthcoming.”
“A decision in these cases, the consolidated cases as well as the case with motion for reconsideration will be decided before the election, but earlier, even before the end of April,” Garcia added last March 24.
Marcos and his tandem, vice presidential aspirant Sara Duterte, remain frontrunners in pre-elections survey as they enjoy double-digit leads over their rivals. — with reports from News5/Greg Gregorio