“Libel is a crime involving moral turpitude.”
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) is correct. Broadcaster Rafael “Raffy” Tulfo is disqualified from running for senator in the coming elections.
In 2010, the Regional Trial Court of Makati convicted Tulfo and others for the crime of libel, based on an article Tulfo wrote in a certain tabloid.
His conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeals in 2014. Thereafter, Tulfo sought relief from the Supreme Court.
On April 10, 2019, the Supreme Court affirmed Tulfo’s conviction in a decision written by Justice Marvic Leonen. It’s available online under Guy vs. Tulfo (G.R. No. 213023).
In the end, Tulfo and his co-accused were required to pay the complainant about 1.7 million pesos.
Libel is a crime involving moral turpitude. The Supreme Court said so in Zari vs. Flores (A.M. No. P-1356, November 21, 1979) and in Ty-Delgado vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (G.R. No. 219603, January 26, 2016).
Moral turpitude is defined by the Supreme Court in Guy vs. Tulfo as everything which is done contrary to justice, modesty, or good morals; an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes his fellowmen, or to society in general.
Under Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code, one who has been convicted by final judgment for a crime involving moral turpitude is ineligible to run for elective public office.
Therefore, it is crystal clear that Raffy Tulfo is disqualified from running for senator in the May 2022 elections.
Dr. Erwin Erfe, head of the PAO forensics division, is urging the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to take notice of Tulfo’s disqualification from running for the Senate. Erfe believes the Comelec should immediately attend to this matter by cancelling, motu proprio (on its own), Tulfo’s certificate of candidacy (COC).
Under the Omnibus Election Code, the Comelec can disqualify Tulfo outright, motu proprio, from running for senator.
That the Comelec can take action motu proprio is not disputed. It acted motu proprio when it expunged nuisance candidates from the official and final list of presidential and vice presidential wannabes.
How Tulfo’s patent disqualification from running for public office escaped the notice of the Comelec is baffling. Tulfo’s conviction by the Supreme Court for a crime involving moral turpitude is recited in a decision made public as early as April 2019. That decision could not have gone unnoticed by the Comelec.
Decisions of the Supreme Court are a matter of judicial notice, which means courts and quasi-judicial bodies (like the Comelec) are expected to be aware of the rulings of the Supreme Court.
Under the Constitution, a majority of the members of the Comelec, including its chairman, must be lawyers. As lawyers, they ought to know that libel is a crime involving moral turpitude.
For the same reason, they are also expected to be aware of the decision of the Supreme Court convicting Tulfo for the crime of libel.
When she was still a member of the Comelec, ex-Commissioner Rowena Guanzon was apparently unaware of the fact that Tulfo is legally disqualified from running for the Senate. It looks like Guanzon, who likes to style herself as an expert in election laws, was caught unaware of something which she, as a lawyer and as a Comelec commissioner, ought to have been aware of.
Guanzon was so immersed in her proclivity to get Bongbong Marcos (BBM) disqualified from running for president that she did not bother to attend to her duty to scrutinize the qualifications and disqualifications of all other candidates for high public office. Because Guanzon’s attention was on BBM’s disqualification case, she let Tulfo’s case slip pass her. Tsk, tsk.
The last of the disqualification cases against BBM pending in the Comelec has been resolved in his favor. That means there are no more legal impediments against BBM’s run for the presidency. Obviously, Guanzon should have focused her efforts not on BBM, but on Tulfo.
Instead of waiting for the Comelec to act motu proprio against Tulfo, Erfe should move swiftly and file the corresponding petition against Tulfo’s candidacy with the Comelec.
Because a candidate’s qualifications for public office is a matter of primordial public interest, any voter has the legal personality to file the corresponding petition to cancel Tulfo’s COC in the Comelec.
If the petition is not forthcoming, filing a formal letter of request with the Comelec will suffice.
Both ways, the Comelec will be forced to take action on the matter.
If that doesn’t work, and Tulfo wins in the senatorial elections, the thirteenth placer among the senatorial candidates, or any voter for that matter, may file a petition for quo warranto against Tulfo with the Senate Electoral Tribunal, within 30 days from proclamation day.
Knowing how the electoral tribunals haphazardly resolve cases, Tulfo’s disqualification case may ultimately reach the Supreme Court.