SC cited doctrine of finality of judgments in Marcos Disqualification ruling
MANILA — Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo on Wednesday clarified his earlier statement which supposedly said that the Supreme Court can revisit the Marcos estate tax ruling which had long become final.
Speaking before Justice beat reporters in Manila in a year-ender press briefing, the Chief Justice said that his comment about the possibility of overturning final Supreme Court decisions did not pertain to the Marcos estate tax issue but on the finality of judgments in general.
“Decisions of the Court are always expected to be certain and predictable. Pero may mga pagkakataon na sinabi ko, na pwedeng mabago yung doktrina,” he said.
“In fact, I was not responding specifically to the issue of Marcos estate tax, if you noticed,” he added.
In October, Gesmundo was a guest at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum where he was quoted as saying “No SC decision is written in stone.”
But on Wednesday, the Chief Justice said he meant the opposite.
“Ang desisyon ng korte nakasulat sa bato. Para mabura yan, mahirap yan. Pero ang sumunod kong statement, napaka-simple. There are rare instances when a decision can be changed,” he said.
“You must give valid, exceptional reasons for the judicial doctrine to be changed,” he added.
He explained that one of the factors when a ruling may be changed is the change in the Supreme Court’s composition, citing the experience in the United States when the landmark ruling of Roe v. Wade on abortion was changed in a subsequent case because of a change in the composition of the court.
“Yung judicial philosophy na pwedeng mabago kasi nagbabago ang korte, ang composition, sinabi ko. Meron mga liberal na dumarating, may mga conservative. Hindi ibig sabihin nun, papalit-palit ang desisyon,” he said.
Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen supported the Chief Justice’s point, saying the question on finality of judgment during the previous interview had nothing to do with the Marcos estate tax issue.
But he did cite at least 5 cases when the Supreme Court overturned its prior rulings, citing the cases on pork barrel, the condonation doctrine for public officers, the iron curtain rule for illegitimate children which was changed to allow illegitimate granchildren to inherit from their grandparents, and the rule on the declaration of nullity of marriage.
These rulings cited however involve judicial doctrines overturned or modified in other subsequent cases.
The issue in the Marcos estate tax is whether the same case can still be reviewed at this time when it has already become final and executory in March 1999.
The high court, in June 1997, ruled the Marcos estate is liable for P23 billion in estate taxes based on BIR’s July 1991 assessment.
Estimates by lawyers and groups who were seeking the disqualification of then-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. placed the total tax liabilities at P203 billion.
Leonen however emphasized that the Supreme Court cannot always comment on an issue that came out in public because it might reach the high court.
SC INVOKED FINALITY OF JUDGMENT IN MARCOS DQ RULING
But the Supreme Court itself invoked the doctrine of immutability of judgment twice in its ruling junking the Marcos disqualification cases.
At issue was the 1997 Court of Appeals ruling which removed the penalty of imprisonment and did not impose the penalty of perpetual disqualification despite convicting Marcos, Jr. for non-filing of income tax returns.
The Supreme Court said in its June 28, 2022 ruling that the 1997 CA ruling already became final in 2001 and could no longer be changed.
Petitioners in the disqualification case against Marcos, Jr. had argued the Court of Appeals was wrong in not automatically imposing the penalty of perpetual disqualification despite the language of section 286 of the 1977 National Internal Revenue Code, as amended by Presidential Decree 1994.
“We agree with petitioners Ilagan et al. that Section 286 clearly provides for the imposition of disqualification from public office as a penalty upon public officials or employees found guilty of violating the provisions of the 1977 NIRC, as amended by PD 1994. It is, however, not disputed that the fallo of the CA Decision adjudging respondent Marcos, Jr.'s guilt for non-filing of the required income tax return makes absolutely no mention of said penalty,” it said.
“…[T]he CA Decision has long become final and executory as in fact Entry of Judgment was issued more than twenty (20) years ago, on 31 August 2001. It can no longer be modified, even by this Court,” it added.
The SC however cited other reasons for junking the Marcos disqualification cases but it explained the logic behind the rule.
“The reason is grounded on the fundamental considerations of public policy and sound practice that, at the risk of occasional error, the judgments or orders of courts must be final at some definite date fixed by law,” the majority decision penned by SC Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda said, citing a 2009 SC ruling.
The June 28 decision cleared all legal obstacles to Marcos Jr’s assumption to the presidency, declaring him “qualified to run for and be elected to public office.”