Candidate Marcos Jr. clears big legal obstacle in Philippine presidential race

Jojo Riñoza and Basilio Sepe
2022.04.20
Manila
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Candidate Marcos Jr. clears big legal obstacle in Philippine presidential race Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announces his campaign for Philippine president during a rally in Santa Maria, north of Manila, Feb. 8, 2022.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

A division of the Philippine elections commission removed a big legal obstacle for presidential aspirant Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday when it dismissed the last petition seeking his disqualification from the May 9 general election over a tax conviction.

Marcos Jr. is qualified to run for the country’s top post, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) First Division said in a 29-page ruling, as it dismissed the case filed in December by the group Pudno nga Ilokano.

The group had claimed that the candidate, who is leading in election polls, should be disqualified for “moral turpitude” displayed through his being convicted decades ago for failing to file his income tax returns. 

“We are not convinced,” the Comelec ruling said, citing a similar Supreme Court ruling that Marcos’ repeated failure to file tax returns amounted to moral turpitude.

“As it now stands, [the] respondent possesses all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications under the 1987 Constitution and relevant laws,” Comelec said.

“Regardless of the fact that the non-filing of income tax return was done repeatedly by respondent, there is still no tax evasion to speak of as no tax was actually intentionally avoided,” it said.

“He may have been neglectful in performing this obligation, it however does not reflect moral depravity.”

Marcos campaigning

Marcos commented on the ruling while campaigning in Occidental Mindoro province, south of Manila. 

“Of course, it is a good development. And we are happy that it happened before our actual elections,” he told reporters. 

Filipinos will go to the polls next month to choose a successor to President Rodrigo Duterte and his deputy. They also will vote for thousands of other officials from mayors to legislators. 

In February, the same Comelec division rejected consolidated petitions that sought to have the presidential candidate disqualified over different concerns regarding his 1995 conviction for failing to file income-tax returns.

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Members of the Campaign against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law lead a protest at the Bureau of Internal Revenue national office in suburban Quezon City, Philippines, March 25, 2022. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

The cases can be appealed. 

Carlos Isagani Zarate, the House deputy minority leader and a leftist lawmaker, said he and others were not surprised by the ruling. 

“The ball is now on the Comelec en banc to review and reconsider such a disastrous decision. The full commission should also look into the reported ‘political interferences’ that delayed the release of the First Division’s decision as this may cast a serious doubt on the independence of the commission in the very crucial May elections,” Zarate said in a statement, referring to the full commission. 

“What is at stake here is not only the political future of a convicted tax evader, but the survival of our country as well,” Zarate said. 

Barry Gutierrez, spokesman for Vice President Leni Robredo – Marcos Jr.’s closest rival –shrugged off the decision, saying it will not affect Robredo’s campaign. 

“From the start, the focus of VP Leni and the whole campaign is to win this election. Nothing changed here,” he said.

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