Comelec junks petition to scrap Bongbong Marcos COC

Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

MANILA, Philippines — The first of five cases brought before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to block Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s presidential candidacy over his tax offense conviction, which supposedly bars him from holding public office for life, has been dismissed by one of the two divisions of the poll body.

The Comelec’s three-member Second Division on Monday unanimously struck down the petition filed on Nov. 2 last year by anti-Marcos regime activists led by Task Force Detainees of the Philippines chair Fr. Christian Buenafe to cancel the certificate of candidacy (COC) of the late dictator’s son and namesake.

The Second Division ruled that Marcos did not mislead or deceive the public when he declared in his COC that he was eligible to run for president and that he had no criminal conviction that carried the penalty of perpetual disqualification to hold public office.

“To the best of (Marcos’) knowledge, what with decades of public service tucked under his belt, he honestly thought or believed that he has never been disqualified from holding public office,” Commissioners Socorro Inting, Antonio Kho Jr. and Rey Bulay said in their decision released on Monday.

According to the petitioners’ legal counsel, Theodore Te, they will file an appeal before the seven-member Comelec sitting as a whole within five days.

The petition filed by Te and his group aims to cancel Marcos’ COC, whereas the other four petitions seek his disqualification.

The only case left with the Second Division is the disqualification case filed by Pudno Nga Ilokano (Real Ilocanos), a group of martial law activists from the Marcos family’s home province of Ilocos Norte.

The Comelec’s First Division will decide the other three disqualification cases which were filed, respectively, by Akbayan and other activist groups, the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law, and supposed original members of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, under which Marcos is running for president.

‘Cannot be made to apply’

There were two other petitions which the poll body threw out earlier, one filed by a presidential candidate named Tiburcio Marcos and another seeking to declare Marcos a nuisance candidate.

All five petitions argued that Marcos was found guilty in 1995 by a Quezon City court of tax evasion while he was vice governor and then governor of Ilocos Norte during his father’s regime from 1982 to 1985.

The petitioners said that under the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) promulgated by then President Marcos, a public official convicted of a tax offense is perpetually disqualified from holding public office and from voting.

The Comelec’s Second Division, however, pointed out that the Court of Appeals’ decision on Oct. 31, 1997, which upheld only Marcos’ conviction for failure to file income tax returns from 1982 to 1985, but not for failure to pay taxes, did not expressly mete the penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

“The accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification cannot be made to apply to the taxable years of 1982-1984,” the division ruled, saying the applicable penalty at that time under Section 73 of the 1977 NIRC only provided for either a fine or imprisonment or both.

Even for the taxable year of 1985, the Comelec division ruled that Marcos was no longer covered by the penalty of perpetual disqualification for public officials convicted of tax offenses as provided under Section 286 of Presidential Decree No. 1994.

Through PD 1994 which took effect on Jan. 1, 1986, then President Marcos introduced the penalty of perpetual disqualification in amending the 1977 NIRC.

The poll body’s Second Division noted that the amendment imposing the additional penalty of perpetual disqualification “cannot be made to apply to [presidential candidate Marcos] because on March 18, 1986, the date when he was supposed to file his income tax return for 1985, he was no longer a public officer, thus effectively removing him from the purview of Section 286 of PD No. 1994.”

“Simply put, [candidate Marcos] ceased to be a public officer when he and his family were forced to leave the country in February 1986,” the Second Division said, taking judicial notice of the People Power Revolution on Feb. 25 that year which forced the Marcoses into exile.

Separate opinion

But Commissioner Kho, in his separate opinion, disagreed that the penalty of perpetual disqualification did not apply to Marcos since he was a public official in 1985.

“The fact that Marcos Jr. abandoned his post as the provincial governor of Ilocos Norte when he and his family fled the country during the February 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution cannot and should not operate to deny the possible application against him of the penalty of perpetual disqualification to hold public office,” Kho said.

“To allow a public officer to escape the penalty of perpetual disqualification to hold public office for his failure to file his income tax returns by the simple expedient that he is no longer a public officer at the time of the filing of the returns is contrary to law and frustrates the intention of dispensing justice by penalizing erring public officials for violations of the tax code,” he added.

The Second Division also rejected the petitioners’ argument that Marcos had been convicted of a crime involving “moral turpitude” and thus is no longer eligible to hold public office.

“Petitioners are obviously clutching at straws,” the division said, citing a Supreme Court ruling in a case against former President Marcos and wife Imelda which declared that failure to file an income tax return was not a crime involving moral turpitude.

‘Inapplicable provision’

The Second Division also took the petitioners to task for “deliberately cit[ing] an inapplicable provision of law in order to mislead the commission,” when they said that Section 254 of the 1977 NIRC imposed both a fine and imprisonment of not more than six months for failure to file a return.

“Contrary to petitioners’ claim and deliberate misquoting of the law, the penalty of imposing both a fine and imprisonment only became mandatory on 11 December 1998 with the passage of Republic Act 8424 (Tax Reform Act of 1997), which the Court of Appeals cannot apply without violating the proscription on ex post facto laws,” the Second Division said.

In response to the ruling, Vice President Leni Robredo, who is among the candidates Marcos is facing in the presidential race in May, said this “does not affect in any way” her plans, adding that she will continue working to broaden her campaign base.

—WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING AND INQUIRER RESEARCH 

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