Petitioners to file appeal with Comelec en banc
MANILA (4th UPDATE)— The Commission on Elections (Comelec) First Division has voted to dismiss the 3 consolidated petitions against Presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., Commissioner Aimee Ferolino confirmed to ABS-CBN News.
The resolution was promulgated shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday, the third day of the national election campaign period.
These petitions stem from a 1995 tax case conviction of Marcos. These were separately filed by martial law survivors, led by Bonifacio Ilagan; Akbayan party-list; and Abubakar Mangelen.
The petitions center on Marcos' failure to pay income tax and file tax returns while in public office from 1982 to 1985, which petitioners say carries a lifetime election ban that Marcos has successfully avoided.
The Court of Appeals acquitted Marcos of non-payment of taxes in 1997, but it upheld the guilty verdict on failing to file tax returns.
Since the conviction, Marcos has been elected governor, congressman and senator and ran unsuccessfully for the vice presidency. He remains hugely popular in northern parts of the Philippines and has a big social media following.
COMELEC: MARCOS CAN RUN FOR PH'S NO. 1 POST
In the resolution signed by Ferolino and Presiding Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, a copy of which was shared with ABS-CBN News, the First Division said Marcos can still run for the country's top post as the petitions against him do not fall under the following bases:
- declared by authorities as insane or incompetent
- sentenced by final judgment for subversion, insurrection, rebellion or for any offense for which he has been sentenced to a penalty of more than 18 months
- sentenced by final judgment for a crime involving moral turpitude.
The commissioners said that failure to file tax returns is not a crime involving moral turpitude.
Citing Aznar v. Court of Tax Appeals, they said failure to file tax returns is "a separate situation from a false return and fraudulent return."
The Comelec resolution said, "[N]ot once did the Supreme Court categorically rule that failure to file income tax [returns] is a crime involving moral turpitude."
It said that he duty to withhold Marcos Jr.'s taxes "falls upon the government," as provided under the Tax Code of 1977.
The resolution noted that the Court of Appeals also maintained this position in its 1997 ruling in the Marcos cases.
It also said the "deprivation of one's right to be voted for any election should not be exercised whimsically and capriciously, lest we will be preventing qualified candidates from pursuing a position in public office."
PETITIONERS SLAM VERDICT
Bonifacio Ilagan, one of the petitioners and a survivor of martial law under the late dictator President Ferdinand Marcos, said the 4 years that Marcos Jr. failed to pay his income tax was "immoral."
He insisted that Marcos' failure should be considered moral turpitude, and added that the Comelec's decision has "heavy ramifications."
Ilagan said they would file an appeal with the Comelec en banc and with the Supreme Court if they lose again.
"Gusto namin makita yung dokumento para mapag-aralan namin at masagot namin punto por punto yung desisyon ng 1st Division. Sa amin, immoral, di kami sumasang-ayon na ang hindi pagbabayad ng buwis, especially kung ganoong sinadya, ay hindi moral turpitude," Ilagan explained on Teleradyo.
Former Commission on Human Rights chairperson Etta Rosales, who also signed the petition filed by Akbayan, said she could not accept the decision.
"Convicted na nga siya eh, very tight ang rules, it was his father himself that came up with the rules," she said.
"We will file an appeal para doon sa en banc. Despite all the difficulties, dinaanan na natin 'yan nung panahon ng diktadura. We will continue with the struggle," she said.
In a statement, Akbayan said the Comelec's decision is a "major setback" to the country's electoral democracy.
It added that they would appeal to the Comelec en banc "and pursue this case to the very end," saying that the fight is not yet over.
"It is a missed opportunity to defend the truth and protect the public from a large-scale election swindle by a convicted tax evader," Akbayan said.
"Yet, the outcome doesn't dishearten us. This is merely a bend in the road, not the end of it. This is just the beginning of our struggle to protect our electoral democracy from fraud and impunity," it added.
The Marcos camp hailed the Comelec's decision "for upholding the law," describing the petitions as "nuisance."
They again reiterated their message of unity, and urged the public to stop spreading "lies" against the Marcos family.
"While we call on this seemingly misguided segment of our society to stop spreading lies against presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos, we nonetheless extend our hands of unity and continue with our call for them and every Filipino to join us in shaping a better and united future for our people," Atty. Vic Rodriguez, Marcos' chief of staff and spokesperson, said.
In an ambush interview, Marcos said the dismissal was a "good result".
"Maybe we can carry on with the campaign without all of these distractions that were put in the way and allow our own people to make their own decisions and to vote for whom the candidate is that they want. What else can we do but wait for the result," he said.
"Sabi ko nga eh magandang resulta para sa amin ’yan at sana’y matigil na ‘yang iba’t ibang mga ginagawa para ang taumbayan na ang makapagdesisyon, maghusga kung sino ang gusto nilang ihalal."
Vice President Leni Robredo's camp, meanwhile, said the Comelec's decision was "never a consideration," as she has "always intended to achieve victory in the elections."
"And with Tuesday's explosive start to her campaign, it's clear that she's on track to do just that," her spokesperson Barry Gutierrez said.
Vice-presidential contender Walden Bello said the decision was "disappointing but not surprising."
"This is not the end, since the petitioners will now bring this to the Supreme Court. I appeal to SC to affirm what is clear in the law — that Marcos has been convicted of tax evasion and is no longer qualified to run for public office. Now, the Supreme Court must show it is not in Marcos' pocket," Bello said.
Howard Calleja, legal counsel of Ilagan, also said the decision was "no surprise", stressing it is not the end of the issue, and it just "further cast doubt not only on the case but on the Comelec as well."
"At this point, we will continue to exhaust all legal remedies to bring out the truth, attain justice, and bring the issue to the proper legal conclusion it deserves," he said.
- With reports from Ina Reformina, Job Manahan, Jamaine Punzalan and Josiah Antonio, ABS-CBN News; and Reuters