The Philippine Star : Resolve it, and quickly

8 November 2021

By Ana Marie Pamintuan | The Philippine Star

Regardless of political affiliation, surely there is agreement that it is in the national interest to resolve with finality, ASAP, the disqualification case filed against Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. over his presidential bid.

The Commission on Elections shouldn’t take too long to rule on the petition filed by human rights advocates and victims of martial law. The points raised before the Comelec by the different petitioners are generally the same, revolving around the tax case filed against Marcos and his possible liability for “moral turpitude,” which could be a ground for disqualification from public office.

Any Comelec ruling on this case will likely be elevated to the Supreme Court. The SC should not shirk its duty this time, as it did in the disqualification case filed against Joseph Estrada when he sought the presidency for the second time in 2010.

In Erap’s case, the SC left all issues unresolved as it declared the DQ petition moot following his defeat in that nine-cornered fight wherein Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III won by a landslide.

Estrada placed second to Aquino, garnering a still impressive 26.25 percent of the vote. What would have happened if Cory Aquino’s death did not catapult her only son to Malacañang, and it was Erap who won the presidency for the second time? If the SC ruled that the Constitution banned any reelection for a president, would the winner Erap invoke vox populi, vox dei and refuse to give way to the second placer?

The failure of the SC to rule on whether Erap, who was convicted of plunder, could seek an elective post under the pardon granted to him by his successor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, allowed him to run for mayor of Manila. He argued that the pardon fully restored his political rights, and if he could vote following his conviction, he could be voted upon.

Erap served as Manila mayor for two terms. The issue on his second bid for the presidency is unresolved.

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While the circumstances surrounding Marcos’ case are different, the scenario is also being raised: if the Comelec disqualifies him and he goes to the SC, the poll body will still have to include him in the ballot.

Considering the track record of the SC, it could sit on the case until past election day. Maybe Marcos will lose and the case will again become moot; it will save the SC justices time and effort in explaining their decision.

If he is disqualified with finality before election day, but his supporters still indicate their preference for him in the ballot since he’s still listed among the candidates, all votes cast for him will be considered spoiled and will no longer be counted by the Comelec. This is according to Comelec officials past and present.

But what if the SC takes its sweet time and there is still no final ruling on election day? Then people can vote for Marcos, and the Comelec will have to count the votes.

What if he wins, but the SC rules later that he should be disqualified, as sought by the petitioners? Will he argue that the voice of the people is the voice of God, and will the SC go along with him?

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Marcos supporters, of course, emphasize that the DQ petition has no basis, and that his final conviction was for the lesser offense of failure to file income tax returns or ITR rather than tax evasion.

The Court of Appeals in October 1997 found Marcos guilty of failure to file his ITR from 1982 to 1985 and ordered him to pay a fine of P32,000, but with no imprisonment. The CA tossed out the seven-year prison term for tax evasion imposed by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

Retired SC senior associate justice Antonio Carpio, however, pointed out that Marcos was also ordered by the CA to pay “deficiency income tax due with interest.” This means “there was tax evasion, which inherently involves moral turpitude,” Carpio said.

Then CA associate justice Gloria Paras, who chaired the court’s Special 3rd Division, penned the ruling, which was concurred in by division members Lourdes Tayao-Jaguros and Oswaldo Agcaoili.

Marcos appealed the conviction before the SC but withdrew it and paid the fine. So his camp says he did not lie when he declared in his certificate of candidacy for president that he had never been found guilty of an offense carrying a prison term of at least 18 months or involving “moral turpitude.”

Those opposing his candidacy say his repeated failure to file his ITR when he was an official of Ilocos Norte constituted moral turpitude. His camp argues that when the tax evasion case was filed against him, he was not given sufficient time to settle his tax obligations.

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Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told us last week on One News’ “The Chiefs” that “moral turpitude” is not as subjective or open to personal interpretation as it might seem in determining a person’s qualification for seeking an elective post. There are certain parameters than can be used to determine if an issue involves moral turpitude, Jimenez said.

So if this is the case, then the Comelec can speed up its resolution of the DQ petition. Even the Marcos camp should want a speedy resolution, to lift the uncertainty over his candidacy.

Former Comelec chairman and constitutional commission member Christian Monsod told The Chiefs that the poll body should be able to resolve the DQ petition earlier than the end of December – the period cited by Jimenez for coming out with the resolution, considering the processes involved.

Any Comelec decision is sure to go to the SC. The high tribunal should set the example for the rest of the judiciary in resolving with dispatch a controversy of such national import.

For both the Comelec and the SC, sitting on this controversy until the eleventh hour would be a gross disservice to the nation.