Marcos critics taking DQ bid to Comelec en banc

The fight to disqualify Ferdinand Marcos Jr. from the May 9 elections is far from over, according to groups that lost their petitions to eject the son and namesake of the deposed dictator from the presidential polls.

Activists who survived the Marcos dictatorship on Friday were “not surprised” but were indignant over the decision of the First Division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to junk their petition in a resolution authored by Election Commissioner Aimee Ferolino.

Bonifacio Ilagan, convenor of Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (Carmma), said the decision “merely strengthened our doubts regarding the integrity” of both the Comelec and the process.

“We had filed our petitions because we had believed that the Comelec would observe the rule of law, but given the exposé by (former Election Commissioner Rowena) Guanzon, it had left no doubt in our mind that the agency is now compromised,” said Ilagan, who was severely tortured during martial law.

Guanzon, who was the presiding commissioner of the First Division, accused Ferolino, the assigned “ponente” tasked with writing the decision, of taking part in a “conspiracy” to deliberately delay the release of the draft resolution.

As a result, when Guanzon retired on Feb. 2, her vote to disqualify Marcos was no longer counted.

Ferolino denied the allegation, saying she needed more time to “thoroughly craft an objective resolution” on the three petitions that had been consolidated.

‘Priority is MR’

Lawyer Howard Calleja, who represents Carmma and other petitioners, said they would file a motion for reconsideration (MR) to the Comelec en banc or commission as a whole.

He said other options like an impeachment or administrative complaint in light of their view that the Comelec was now compromised had not yet been discussed.

“Everything is now possible on the table, but in the proper time, we will decide. Nobody is rushing that since our priority now is the MR,” Calleja said.

In all, there were five petitions against Marcos.

Four of them sought to disqualify him on grounds that he was barred for life from holding public office because he was convicted of violating the 1977 National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) when he did not pay taxes and file income tax returns while serving as vice governor and later as governor of Ilocos Norte from 1982 to 1985. Marcos also committed an offense involving moral turpitude, another ground for disqualification.

The fifth petition sought to cancel his certificate of candidacy (COC) for allegedly lying about not being convicted of a crime that barred him from holding public office.

In its ruling on three consolidated disqualification petitions issued on Thursday, the First Division said the 1997 Court of Appeals (CA) decision amended the decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) by convicting Marcos only for nonfiling of tax returns and it did not explicitly penalize him with perpetual disqualification from public office.

No moral turpitude

It also ruled that Marcos was not convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.

The Second Division is handling the fourth disqualification petition and had not yet made a decision on it. It junked the petition to cancel the COC of Marcos and the petitioners’ appeal is still pending resolution.

One of the three petitioners, Akbayan party list, on Friday said it would also appeal the First Division’s decision and “pursue the case to the very end.”Akbayan first nominee and petitioner Perci Cendana said they wanted a “more justifiable decision.”

‘Election swindle’

Thursday’s ruling was a “major setback” and a “missed opportunity to defend the truth and protect the public from a large-scale election swindle by a convicted tax evader,” he said.

“This is just the beginning of our struggle to protect our electoral democracy from fraud and impunity,” Cendana said in a statement.

In an interview with CNN Philippines on Friday, Cendana said laws should not be bent to favor certain people.

“We cannot allow this maximum election swindle because we’re talking about the highest position in the land, that of the president. If you’re not qualified, you should not run,” he said.

All of the dismissed petitions are expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Calleja denied that the petitioners had “cited an inapplicable provision of the Tax Code,” referring to the part of Ferolino’s ponencia which said that the penalty of perpetual disqualification due to a failure to file income tax returns was not provided for under the 1977 NIRC.

Casquejo backing

Ferolino was backed by Election Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, the other remaining member of the First Division after Guanzon retired.

The ruling said that the penalty of perpetual disqualification came into force only when Presidential Decree. No. 1994, an amendment to the NIRC, took effect on Jan. 1, 1986, and could not apply to Marcos’ tax violations.

Citing an even earlier amendment to the Tax Code, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said a person who did not pay income tax from 1983 to 1985 was exempted from penalties.

The finance chief cited Batas Pambansa No. 135, an amendment to the Philippine Tax Code of 1977 that took effect in January 1982.

The provision on the penalty exemption was removed only in 1992, according to Dominguez.

Ferolino stated in her decision that “the failure to file tax returns is not inherently wrong in the absence of a law punishing it.”

‘Atrocious logic’

Former Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares said “there is something inherently wrong in this statement.”

Henares told the Inquirer that the RTC and the appellate court must have found a law that criminally penalized people who did not file their income tax returns because it was a criminal case and the judgement of the courts said the accused was criminally guilty. 

Is she [Ferolino] saying that the courts convicted (Marcos) without any basis?” Henares said. “The courts have already decided that (Marcos) is required to file ITR [income tax return] that is why he was convicted.”Guanzon blasted Ferolino’s “atrocious logic” on Friday.

“There is no law punishing nonfiling of ITR? Why was (Marcos) convicted then? You are so bright,” Guanzon said in a Twitter post.

In a statement, Guanzon said the Tax Code explicitly imposed penalties for such offense, which then became the basis for Marcos’ conviction by the RTC in 1995 and upheld by the CA two years later. —WITH REPORTS FROM KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING, MARLON RAMOS, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND RONNEL W. DOMING

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