“They should have the strength of character to adhere to their mandates.”
The Commission on Elections’ (COMELEC) First Division on February 10 released its decision junking the three consolidated disqualification cases against Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. by a 2-0 vote. The vote of former Commissioner and Presiding Officer of the Division, Rowena Guanzon who retired on February 2, was excluded.
Guanzon, before retiring, has made public her vote on the case, which favors the disqualification of the dictator’s son from running for president in the May 2022 national elections. Guanzon’s separate opinion was also earlier submitted as she accused the ponencia, Commissioner Aimee Ferolino, of intentionally delaying the release of the decision until after she, Guanzon, has retired. Thus, instead of the 2-1 vote, the decision became a unanimous 2-0.
For Guanzon, Marcos Jr. clearly committed a crime involving moral turpitude when he failed to file his income tax returns (ITR) for the years 1982 to 1985 (four years) while he was the sitting Ilocos Norte Vice-Governor. He was convicted and sentenced by the Regional Trial Court for non-filing of his ITR. Such conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA) although the CA removed the prison term as decided by the RTC. However, the decision penned by Ferolino said that “The failure to file tax returns is not inherently wrong in the absence of a law punishing it.”
According to the decision, the penalty of perpetual disqualification was not provided for under the original 1977 National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) and that such penalty only came into force on January 1 1986 when Presidential Decree 1994 became effective.
This is quite interesting because both the Quezon City RTC Branch 105 decision in 1995 and CA verdict in 1997 have convicted Marcos, Jr. of the crime of non-filing of his ITR for four years. If there was no crime, why was Marcos convicted in both Courts? As a non-lawyer, I’d like to ask: does the COMELEC’s First Division decision have the effect of reversing the rulings of two Courts of Law? Does the COMELEC decision imply that the RTC and CA erred on the Marcos tax evasion cases?
There are other pending cases before the poll body on the matter of Marcos’ candidacy. One is an appeal to the en banc of the petition to cancel his Certificate of Candidacy (COC), and another disqualification case, the lawyer of which is former COMELEC Chairperson Christian Monsod. Therefore, this is not finished yet. The consolidated petitions decided by the First Division may also be appealed to the en banc.
Thus, the COMELEC still has to deal with this matter.
Talks are rife about a scenario where these cases against Marcos will drag for some time, that these may be decided after the elections.
People say that should the tandem of Marcos, Jr. and Sara Duterte win, the former may be disqualified. By that time, the rule on succession will kick in, and another Duterte may become the next president. Is this scenario too strange?
Well, the reality is, the May elections will be in the hands of the COMELEC—whose officials are ALL Duterte appointees. Guanzon, Former Chair Sheriff Abas, and former Commissioner Antonio Kho all retired last February 2. The COMELEC is supposed to be composed of six Commissioners and one Chairperson. However, since Duterte has not (yet) appointed a new Chair, Comm. Socorro B. Inting, being the most senior Commissioner, has become the acting Chair.
Unless Duterte makes new appointments, there will only be three remaining Commissioners – Marlon Casquejo from Davao, Aimee Ferolino who worked as an election supervisor in Davao del Norte, and former Manila Chief City Prosecutor Rey Bulay who is from San Beda and said to be a fraternity brother of Duterte.
Pending new appointments, instead of seven, there are now only four COMELEC officials who will compose the en banc that may decide on the remaining cases against Marcos, Jr. These four officials will also oversee the very crucial May elections. Of course, the electoral body’s structures and systems are in place all over the country. However, should major problems arise, only four, instead of seven members of the Commission will decide on matters that will affect the lives of more than 100 million Filipinos. And even if Duterte fills the COMELEC vacancies, ALL officials will be his appointees.
Who will an all-Duterte-appointed COMELEC serve? This is a valid question especially since the value of “utang na loob” is quite strong in the Filipino culture. Will an appointee go against the perceived interests of his/her appointing power when such interests violate the law or will result in injustice? Hopefully, ALL political appointees will have the needed strength of character to adhere to their mandates.
This should be of interest to all political camps. For now, there are no concerted moves from the various groups to make sure that the people’s will will prevail. Specifically, Vice President Leni Robredo being the major opposition, and her camp should prepare to ensure that the elections will be clean and honest.
We want the people to choose wisely. And we want those choices respected.
@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook