By John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday rejected three consolidated lawsuits seeking to disqualify the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos from the presidential race this year.
In a 41-page decision, the election body’s First Division ruled former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr.’s conviction for tax evasion in the 1990s did not involve wicked, deviant behavior.
“Is the failure to file tax returns inherently immoral? We submit that it is not,” according to a copy of the ruling written by election Commissioner Aimee P. Ferolino. “The failure to file tax returns is not inherently wrong in the absence of a law punishing it.”
Commissioner Marlon S. Casquejo, who signed the ruling, also wrote a separate 12-page opinion in which he said Mr. Marcos’s crime did not involve “moral turpitude.”
“We cannot justify such omission necessarily results in injustice; this is an overkill,” he said in his opinion, referring to the presidential bet’s failure to file tax returns. “We cannot link such omission to contravention of morals; this is an exaggerated innuendo.”
Former First Division Presiding Commissioner Maria Rowena V. Guanzon released a separate opinion on Jan. 31 in which she voted to disqualify Mr. Marcos, whom she called an ex-convict. She said his repeated failure to file his tax returns showed a deliberate intent to violate the law.
Ms. Guanzon, who has since retired, had accused Ms. Ferolino of delaying the decision to invalidate her vote. She said division members had agreed to rule on the lawsuit by Jan. 17. Ms. Ferolino has denied the accusation, citing case volume for the delay.
She also alleged that a senator from Davao was meddling in the lawsuit filed by survivors of the dictator’s martial law regime.
“The decision by the Comelec First Division to not disqualify Marcos, Jr. despite his criminal tax evasion spits in the face of common sense and basic morality,” vice-presidential candidate Walden F. Bello tweeted. “This is shown in their extremely insulting justification.”
The Second Division last month dismissed a similar lawsuit seeking to bar Mr. Marcos, who is leading in opinion polls, from the presidential race.
Comelec has six members and one chairman. Its two divisions have three members each. Decisions issued by the two divisions are eventually appealed to the seven-member en banc. The election body only has four members now after its chairman and two members retired this month.
“The disqualification was never a consideration,” Ibarra “Barry” M. Gutierrez III, the spokesman of Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo who is Mr. Marcos’s main rival, said in a statement. “From the time she announced her candidacy, she always intended to achieve victory in the elections.”
The Comelec decision is good news for Mr. Marcos but he needs to move away from motherhood statements and start laying down his plans for the country, said Ernest M. Ramel, Jr., chairman of the political party of Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” M. Domagoso, who is also running for president.
“His spokesperson may just run out of excuses for him not to attend any of the presidential debates and fora,” he said in a statement, alluding to Mr. Marcos’s avoidance of at least two major presidential fora.
“The decision of the Comelec’s First Division allowing Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, Jr. to run in the May polls, despite his perpetual disqualification from public office, is a major setback for the country’s electoral democracy,” Akbayan Party-list nominee Percival V. Cendaña said in a statement.