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Petitioners, Carpio: Comelec decision on Marcos DQ disappointing but not surprising

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) First Division dismissed for lack of merit the three consolidated petitions calling to disqualify former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. from seeking the presidency on May 9. While disappointing, the decision was not a surprise to those who sought to invalidate his candidacy.

Petitioners from the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA) said they are “dismayed” but “not surprised” with the ruling of the First Division, composed of Presiding Commissioner Marlon Casquejo and Commissioner Aimee Ferolino, who wrote the ponencia. Both commissioners voted to deny the petitions.

“This cop-out of a decision only raises more doubts after the delays in its release — especially after former Commissioner Rowena Guanzon revealed that “powerful” figures were working to delay the promulgation of the ponencia after Guanzon’s retirement,” CARMMA said in a Feb. 10 press release.

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio echoed CARMMA’s sentiment. In a Feb. 11 statement sent to VERA Files, the 1Sambayan lead convenor said the First Division’s ruling “was to be expected” as it was issued after the retirement of Guanzon “who publicly complained of the delay.”

Guanzon, who was the former presiding commissioner of the First Division, earlier revealed to the public that she voted in favor of Marcos’ disqualification. But her vote and opinion were no longer counted in the division’s decision as her term expired on Feb. 2.

The retired commissioner also alleged in a Feb. 1 media forum that the delay in the release of the resolution is “intentional and orchestrated,” suggesting Ferolino “conspired with others” to defeat the votes of the two other commissioners of the First Division. Ferolino earlier denied this and said she took time to review the cases “thoroughly to craft an objective resolution.”

Akbayan Partylist, another petitioner in one of the junked disqualification cases, called the Commission’s decision “a major setback” in the country’s democracy and a “missed opportunity to defend the truth and protect the public from a large-scale election swindle by a convicted tax evader.”

Meanwhile, the Marcos camp applauded Comelec’s judgment to deny what it called “nuisance petitions.” In a Feb. 10 statement, Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez called out the petitioners for “lying and deliberately misleading the Comelec” and asked them “to stop spreading lies” against Marcos.

In its 41-page resolution, the Comelec First Division broke down the main issues raised in the disqualification petitions: whether Marcos is perpetually disqualified from running for public office or not; if he has been sentenced by final judgment to a prison time of more than 18 months; if he has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude; and if he is qualified to be elected president of the republic.

On the first issue, the Commission ruled that perpetual disqualification is not an accessory but a principal penalty. Thus, it should be “clearly, unequivocally, and expressly stated” in the dispositive portion of the court’s rendered decision.

In the case of the 1997 Court of Appeals ruling which found Marcos guilty beyond reasonable doubt for failing to file income tax returns (ITRs) from 1982 to 1985 and which became final and executory after Marcos decided not to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, perpetual disqualification was not listed as among the penalties imposed on Marcos.

Still referencing the CA decision, the Commission also maintained that Marcos was not sentenced to a prison time of more than 18 months — a ground for disqualification under Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC). The appellate court dropped the penalty of imprisonment from the original list of penalties imposed on Marcos by Branch 105 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) in its 1995 ruling.

A third issue is the much-contested: whether or not the crime he committed involved moral turpitude. The First Division cited an instance when a decision of the Supreme Court (Republic of the Philippines vs. Ferdinand R. Marcos II and Imelda R. Marcos) included a portion which “categorically ruled” that Marcos’ failure to file his ITRs is not a crime of moral turpitude. While the mentioned portion was merely an obiter dictum and was not necessary for the High Court’s ruling, the Commission said it may still be followed “if sufficiently persuasive.”

It maintained that since failure to file ITRs is “not inherently wrong in the absence of a law punishing it” and, as a standalone case, is “not an attempt to evade or defeat tax,” there is no evidence proving Marcos “voluntarily and intentionally violated the law.”

Guanzon questioned this argument in a Feb. 11 Facebook post. The former commissioner expressed doubt that Marcos was unaware of his duty to file his ITRs. “If he knows he should have filed [his ITRs], then his failure to file for four years is already an [indication] that such failure was voluntary and intentional,” she argued.

The final issue is Marcos’ qualification to be elected as president. The ruling tackled the petitioner’s assertion that Marcos paid his due fines and penalties directly with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and not with the QC RTC. The petitioners argued that he should have settled payment with the court, and for this reason, Marcos has yet to serve his sentence.

As a resolution, the Commission’s ruling pointed out that the sentence to pay fines is not among the grounds of disqualification enumerated under Section 12 of the OEC. Therefore, “whether or not [Marcos] satisfied the payment of fines and penalties with the RTC is immaterial” in tackling the disqualification cases. And this, together with the ruling on the first three issues, was the Commission’s basis in saying that Marcos is a qualified presidential candidate.

Despite the First Division’s ruling in favor of the former senator, CARMMA said they will continue to “assert that a convicted criminal should not be allowed to run for any public office, especially the highest and most powerful position in the land.”

Akbayan also confirmed in its Feb. 10 statement that it will appeal its petition to the Comelec en banc “and pursue this case to the very end.”

Meanwhile, Barry Gutierrez, spokesperson of Marcos’ political rival and his fellow presidential candidate Vice President Leni Robredo, said in a message to VERA Files that the former senator’s disqualification “was never a consideration” for Robredo.

“From the time she [Robredo] announced her candidacy, she always intended to achieve victory in the elections,” Gutierrez added.

In November last year, the vice president herself said “it is unnecessary” to kick Marcos out of the presidential race if that is the primary purpose of getting him disqualified.

“Naglaban na kami noong 2016, nanalo naman kami na walang ganyan (we already fought with each other back in 2016, and I won without [him getting disqualified]),” Robredo said.