MANILA — The candidate who placed second to presumptive president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could replace him if the Supreme Court voids his candidacy, the lawyer of a group of petitioners said Wednesday.
"I think that is a consequence of the law taking effect. Because if there is no valid candidacy... then as far as the electoral contest for presidency is concerned, there was no such candidate but there were other candidates who ran and garnered votes," said lawyer Theodore Te.
"Therefore, the focus should simply be those who ran for president," he told ANC's "Dateline".
The petitioners, a group of civic leaders, argued that all votes cast for a candidate with a void certificate of candidacy (COC) should be considered "stray" and not counted.
Te said the "successor principle" should only apply if the candidate was disqualified.
"As far as the electoral contest for that particular person is concerned, there was a valid run, except that the person who won is not considered qualified. In that situation, the successor principle takes place," he said.
Based on the partial, unofficial count, Vice President Leni Robredo remained a distant second to Marcos by over 17 million votes.
Petitioners Fr. Christian Buenafe, Fides Lim, Ma. Edeliza Hernandez, Celia Lagman Sevilla, Roland Vibal, and Josephine Lascano have asked the high court to "cancel and declare ab initio" Marcos' COC over alleged "false material representations."
Te said the law provides them a "last resort" even if their petition was dismissed by the Commission on Elections.
"Let the Supreme Court decide. Was there a valid candidacy? Should the votes that were cast for this particular candidate be considered because there was a valid candidacy? If the court will rule, then that's it," he said.
"I think it would be a disservice to tell people, 'Do not exhaust your legal remedies. Just simply accept it and you know, just for the sake of harmony or unity.'"
WHAT PETITIONERS, COMELEC, MARCOS CAMP SAY
Petitioners argue Marcos' material representations that he is "eligible" and not convicted of crime with perpetual disqualification as punishment are false.
The son and namesake of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos was convicted for failure to file mandatory income tax returns from 1982 to 1985.
Marcos appealed his 1995 tax convictions to the Court of Appeals. 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.
The petitioners also asked SC to issue a temporary restraining order to stop Congress from canvassing the votes cast for Marcos.
In January, the poll body's Second Division dismissed the petition of civic leaders that sought to cancel Marcos' candidacy, saying they found no intention on his part "to deceive the electorate."
The ruling, written by Comelec Commissioner Socorro Inting, said Marcos "did not deliberately attempt to mislead, misinform, or deceive the electorate" when he declared in his COC that he is eligible for public office.
Inting added that the CA's eventual ruling on Marcos' tax case did not categorically convict Marcos of a crime involving moral turpitude.
The second division also said that the petition should have been summarily dismissed because it invoked grounds on both disqualification and cancellation of COC. However, they relaxed the rules and decided based on the merits of the case.
Should SC uphold the decision of the Comelec en banc, Te lamented it would be "unfortunate".
"It might signal that the information in the COC that is being required need not be considered seriously," he said.
Marcos spokesman Vic Rodriguez meanwhile told petitioners: "The Filipino people have spoken and an overwhelming majority has voted President-elect Bongbong Marcos and Vice President-elect Inday Sara Duterte into office as President and Vice President."
"Learn to respect the will of the Filipino people," he said in a press release.