MANILA (UPDATE) — Martial law survivors on Wednesday took to the Supreme Court their bid to have presumptive President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. disqualified from the 2022 elections and urged the high court to stop the canvassing of votes for the son and namesake of the late dictator.
In a 49-page petition for certiorari, the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA) represented by lawyer Howard Calleja asked the SC to overturn the poll body’s earlier rulings — first by the Comelec Former First Division and then the Comelec en banc — which junked their pleading to disqualify Marcos.
The Comelec had ruled Marcos is not perpetually disqualified from holding public office, was not convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, nor sentenced to more than 18 months in prison, contrary to the claims of petitioners. All are grounds to disqualify a candidate.
According to the petitioners, the poll body gravely abused its discretion.
They insisted that Marcos continuously violated the Tax Code by not filing income tax returns for four years from 1982 to 1985, which to them, amounts to moral turpitude.
The Comelec had said that the non-filing of income tax returns is not inherently wrong and does not involve fraud, unlike tax evasion.
“With due respect to the COMELEC, it is submitted that it is the repeated, deliberate, willful, and intentional violation of the tax code that makes such violation a crime involving moral turpitude,” the petitioners argued.
“Nowhere in the definition of moral turpitude limits it to only those that involve fraud. Even in the list of crimes adjudged to involve moral turpitude, several offenses do not involve fraud, such as rape, theft, and violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972,” they added.
They assailed as void the 1997 Court of Appeals ruling which removed Marcos’ jail term.
Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code disqualifies a candidate who has been sentenced to more than 18 months in jail or for a crime involving moral turpitude.
Assuming that the failure to file tax returns is not inherently wrong, the petitioners said Marcos should still be perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
Although the amendment to the 1997 Tax Code imposing the penalty of perpetual disqualification on public officials who violate the Tax Code only took effect on January 1, 1986, they argued that the failure to file income tax returns is a continuing offense which continued until the filing of the criminal cases against Marcos in 1991.
The petitioners scored the Comelec for excusing Marcos’ non-filing of income tax returns by citing his family’s exile from the Philippines in 1986.
“That Respondent convicted candidate Marcos, Jr. fled the country did not operate to remove him from the obligations of his office. In fact, Respondent convicted candidate Marcos, Jr. never resigned from office,” they said, pointing to an admission during the preliminary conference that he served as Ilocos Norte governor from 1983 to 1986.
“Respondent convicted candidate Marcos, Jr. would have the Honorable Court believe that he must be exonerated for his non-filing of income tax return in 1986 for his 1985 income because he was allegedly ‘removed from government.’ But this is a lie, the truth being that he was not removed from government; he merely abandoned his post,” they added.
PROCLAIM VP ROBREDO AS WINNER
A big question raised by the petition is if a disqualification case can lead to a competitor being proclaimed winner.
The petitioners argued that because Marcos is perpetually disqualified from running for public office, his votes should be considered “stray” and not counted. As a consequence, the candidate with the next most number of votes will be declared winner.
Some legal experts, including Comelec Commissioner George Garcia, have said this is only possible in a cancellation of COC case.
The petitioners argued otherwise.
“Decisions of this Court holding that the second-placer cannot be proclaimed winner if the first-placer is disqualified or declared ineligible should be limited to situations where the certificate of candidacy of the first-placer was valid at the time of filing but subsequently had to be canceled because of a violation of law that took place, or a legal impediment that took effect, after the filing of the certificate of candidacy,” they said, citing a 2012 SC decision.
Speaking to reporters during the filing of the SC petition, Calleja, CARMMA’s lawyer, explained why Vice President Leni Robredo should be declared winner.
“Ang amin pong tingin, si Vice President Leni Robredo ang nagkamit ng pinakamataas na valid votes. So lahat ng boto ng ibang tao na disqualified, ang tawag po diyan ay stray votes o stray ballots. So hindi po siya valid votes. So the highest candidate, with valid votes as far as we are concerned ay si VP Leni Robredo,” he said.
Calleja rejected arguments it is the presumptive vice president who should take over if the disqualification case against Marcos succeeds.
“The vice president only comes in if there is an issue of succession. This is not an issue of succession. But an issue of whether or not there was a valid candidate or not," he said.
"Since there is no valid candidate, there is no valid votes. If there are no valid votes, the person with the highest number of valid votes only should be the one to be declared as winner of May 9, 2022,” he added.
Calleja clarified their petition is not tied to Robredo and that they would have filed the disqualification case against Marcos, regardless of whoever is his opponent.
Among the petitioners present during the filing were Bonifacio Ilagan and Satur Ocampo.
Ocampo disagreed with Marcos’ spokesperson’s suggestion that losing candidates should respect the mandate of the people.
“Dapat magkaroon ng resolusyon. Hindi pwede, dahil sa meron nang in-announce preliminarily unofficially ang resulta, ang nanalo, ay respetuhin na lang. Pero basic question ang niri-raise namin,” he said.
“Sana bago pa nagsimula ang halalan ay dinesisyunan na ng Comelec. Pero in-announce nila, ilang araw… Pwersado kami to hold on to the final available means,” he added.
CARMMA’s petition is the second to reach the high court.
A group of civic leaders represented by former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te filed their own petition on Monday.
'NOTHING PERSONAL, IT'S JUST IN LAW'
In an ANC interview Thursday, Calleja said the petitioners were confident that the high tribunal would finally put an end to the issue.
"We are prayerful and hopeful that the Supreme Court will see it properly, the legal and the right way of interpreting the section or the laws we cited for this case," he said.
Calleja also called on the magistrates to look at the petition with urgency.
"But if any case, if there was a proclamation, as I said, it would not matter because he's still a disqualified candidate and he's still perpetually disqualified to hold public office," he said, should the SC voids Marcos' candidacy.
While the petitioners were victims of the martial rule, Calleja said they have nothing personal against Marcos.
"It doesn't matter who the petitioners are. It doesn't matter who the defendant or respondent is. It matters that all of us pay taxes," he said.
"If we don't pay taxes, we must suffer the consequence and one of the consequences therein is perpetual disqualification.
"Be that as it may, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos remains a convict then remains perpetually disqualified," he added.
Responding to the new petition, Marcos’ spokesperson, Vic Rodriguez, said they understand that the petitioners “want to exhaust all their remedies under the law, regardless of the dim chances of success.”
“We live in a democracy and they enjoy rights under the constitution, including an appeal or to seek for a restraining order,” he said.
“We are confident, though, that the processes will uphold the overwhelming mandate that president-elect Bongbong Marcos has earned in the elections and we continue to call for unity and for all of us to move forward and proceed the national activity of building this nation,” he added.