THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) has rejected another lawsuit seeking to bar the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos from the presidential race this year.
In a 31-page decision, the election body’s First Division ruled Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr.’s failure to file his income tax returns in the 1980s did not involve wicked, deviant behavior.
“The filing of income tax return is only for record purposes, nor for the payment of tax liability,” it said in a ruling written by Election Commissioner Socorro B. Inting. “He may have been neglectful in performing this obligation, it however does not reflect moral depravity.”
“The respondent possesses all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications under the 1987 Constitution and relevant laws,” it added.
The suit was the last disqualification case within Comelec’s two divisions. It used to be handled by the Second Division but was transferred to the other division after a reorganization, according to a Comelec memo in February.
The Comelec decision is a “major boost” to his presidential bid, Mr. Marcos, who is leading in presidential opinion polls, said in a statement. He said he could now heave a sigh of relief and continue his campaign as the May 9 elections draw near.
“It’s a good development and we’re happy that it happened before the upcoming elections,” the 64-year-old former senator said.
In a separate statement, Marcos spokesman Victor D. Rodriguez said elections are settled through the ballots on election day and not through the “abuse of our judicial processes like the filing of nuisance petitions for disqualification.”
“It is now time for every peace-loving Filipino to work for clean, honest, credible and fair elections, and allow the people to speak, their voices heard and votes genuinely counted,” he added.
A group of martial law victims earlier asked Comelec to bar Mr. Marcos from the presidential race after he was convicted for tax evasion in the 1990s.
They filed two “extremely urgent” motions for Comelec to resolve the pending case, noting that delaying the case could complicate this year’s presidential election.
Newly appointed Comelec Chairman Saidamen B. Pangarungan last month said they would fast-track pending cases in the divisions.
Election Commissioner George Erwin M. Garcia had said the cases would be resolved by the third week of April. He also said he would inhibit himself from any cases involving Mr. Marcos, who is a former client.
The latest decision favoring the dictator’s son echoed the February ruling written by Commissioner Aimee P. Ferolino, who said there is no law punishing one’s failure to file income tax returns. The case is on appeal before the Comelec full court.
The Second Division rejected a similar petition in January as it ruled Mr. Marcos did not mislead the public when he said in his certificate of candidacy that he was eligible to run for president. The case is also on appeal with the en banc.
Ms. Ferolino had been accused of delaying one of the cases. She denied the allegations and said it was a minor issue that would not affect the credibility of the commission as a whole.
Retired Election Commissioner Maria Rowena V. Guanzon had accused her of delaying the case so her vote for disqualification would not count. She also said a senator from Davao was meddling in the case.
“It is now imperative that the en banc act on it post-haste so as to give the parties ample time to even seek an appeal before the Supreme Court,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate said in a statement. “What is at stake here is not only the political future of a convicted tax evader but the survival of our country as well.”
Danilo A. Arao, lead convenor of election watchdog Kontra Daya, earlier said the Supreme Court would be the final arbiter on the Marcos disqualification cases. The next vice-president would have to take over in case he gets disqualified, he said in a Facebook Messenger chat on April 9.
“That was expected,” Senator and boxing champion Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, who is also running for president, told reporters in Ilocos Norte in mixed English and Filipino, according to a transcript sent by his office.
“We did not think he would be disqualified, so the fight continues. That’s better — it will be the people who will decide whom to vote for,” he added. — John Victor D. Ordoñez with Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan