'Contrary to law': Comelec asked to reverse pro-Marcos ruling

Mike Navallo and Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 24 2022 03:30 PM | Updated as of Jan 24 2022 07:59 PM

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Petitioners ask Comelec 2nd Division members to inhibit from resolving their appeal, citing possible "bias"

MANILA (UPDATE) — Civic leaders on Monday formally asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to reverse the ruling of its division that said presidential frontrunner Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. did not commit deliberate material misrepresentation in his certificate of candidacy (COC) for this May's elections.

Lawyer Theodore Te, representing petitioners led by Christian Buenafe, filed a motion for partial reconsideration asking the Comelec en banc to set aside the Comelec 2nd Division decision denying their petition to cancel the COC of Marcos.

In their motion, petitioners also asked for the inhibition of the members of the 2nd Division and for the Comelec en banc to rule on the "improper language" of its ruling that hint at possible bias.

Furthermore, the petitioners asked Comelec to exclude Marcos' name from the official Halalan 2022 ballots.

ARGUMENTS

The petitioners refuted the 2nd Division's finding that their case should have been summarily dismissed for citing grounds other than false material representation.

"An objective reading of the petition will clearly demonstrate that any reference to respondent Marcos, Jr.'s disqualification does not constitute a combination of grounds warranting summary dismissal," they said. 

Civic leaders insisted that Marcos' material representations that he is "eligible" and not convicted of crime with perpetual disqualification as punishment are false. 

They also said that the 2nd Division erred in interpreting the Court of Appeals (CA) conviction of Marcos.

In their Jan. 17 ruling, the 2nd Division said that while the representations made by Marcos in his COC were material, these could not be considered false or with intent to deliberately mislead, misinform or deceive the electorate as his 1997 CA conviction did not categorically say he was perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

The petitioners disagree.

"The penalty was not explicitly written because the CA did not have to do so," they said.

They also rejected the findings that Marcos "honestly thought or believed he has never been disqualified from holding public office."

"This ruling is contrary to law and the evidence on record," the petitioners said.

They added that Marcos, as a former government official and legislator, is presumed to know the consequences of his conviction, which they said, involves perpetual disqualification from public office. 

“Ignorantia juris non execusat (Ignorance of the law excuses no one),” the 28-page motion for partial reconsideration said.

“Marcos, Jr., as with everyone else, is charged with knowing the law and must bear the consequences of any violations. As a former Vice Governor, Governor, Member of Congress, and Senator, he, more than the ordinary citizen, should have been more acutely aware of the laws, their binding effect, and their lasting consequences,” it added.

The petitioners argued that the 1977 National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC), the applicable law at the time of Marcos’ non-filing of income tax returns, is clear — the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding any public office shall be imposed in cases of conviction of any crime penalized under the NIRC.

They cited 2012 and 2013 rulings by the Supreme Court stating that “the accessory penalty of perpetual special disqualification takes effect immediately once the judgment of conviction becomes final.”

Marcos appealed his 1995 tax convictions to the CA. Two years later, the latter modified the RTC ruling, acquitting him of non-payment of taxes and removing the penalty of imprisonment, even as it convicted him for non-filing of ITRs.

Marcos filed a motion for extension of time to file his appeal with the Supreme Court but later withdrew it. His conviction became final in 2001.

The petitioners pointed out that contrary to Marcos’ pleas of ignorance, he was supposedly actively involved in various stages of his tax cases and “was fully and presumably competently advised by counsel throughout these proceedings and was conclusively apprised of the legal effects of the court’s judgment of conviction.”

A key contention in the case is whether Marcos was still a public officer in March 1986, the time when he was supposed to file his ITR for 1985, for the NIRC provision on perpetual disqualification to apply. 

The Comelec 2nd Division had said Marcos was no longer a public officer at that time because the EDSA Revolution forced his family to flee the country.

But civic leaders say Marcos had already admitted in his tax cases, and the regional trial court and the CA found that he was a public officer at that time.

They also pointed out, the EDSA Revolution should not be used now to make allowances for Marcos' failure to file ITR for 1985. His father, they say, had always claimed he was still president of the Philippines. 

A 1986 presidential proclamation also said all elective officials shall continue in office.

The civic leaders fault the Comelec 2nd Division for repeatedly invoking Marcos' "abandonment" of his status as public officer due to the EDSA revolt.

They stressed abandonment of office is a crime, and subsequent actions of the Marcoses supposedly show no intention to abandon their claim to power.

COMELEC 2ND DIVISION MEMBERS MUST INHIBIT

In the same motion, the civic leaders asked for the mandatory inhibition of the members of the Comelec 2nd Division due to “intemperate and improper language” in its ruling.

They called out the "adversarial and confrontational tone" in the Jan. 17 ruling, supposedly accusing them of wrongdoing and effectively demonizing them without any chance to answer the assertions.

"The Second Division's use of language was clearly intemperate but it also hinted at a matter more disturbing which the Comelec en banc should resolve--the presence of bias."

The ruling was penned by Presiding Commissioner Socorro Inting and concurred in by commissioners Rey Bulay and Antonio Kho, Jr.

The Comelec 2nd Division ruling had accused the petitioners of deliberately misquoting provisions of the NIRC and of wrongly using the term “tax evasion” in the petition. 

It went on as far as to declare that the failure to file an ITR does not constitute tax evasion.

"Words matter,” the petitioners said. “Especially in a judgment rendered by a supposedly impartial tribunal acting within its mandate. In a proceeding such as the one a quo, where arguments were submitted only in writing, the words of the tribunal are the only yardstick by which its independence, impartiality and integrity are to be judged, not only by the litigants to the proceedings a quo but also by the public, which it is sworn to serve.”

The petitioners accused the members of the 2nd Division of acting in grave abuse of discretion as a result of its various pronouncements in its Jan. 17 ruling, and urged the Comelec en banc to declare the decision void.

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