Comelec division junks disqualification cases vs Marcos

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 10)— The Commission on Elections (Comelec) First Division on Thursday dismissed the consolidated petitions seeking to disqualify former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos from the upcoming presidential elections.

Commissioners Aimee Ferolino and Marlon Casquejo both voted to deny — for lack of merit — the pleas filed by martial law survivors through Bonifacio Ilagan, party-list group Akbayan, and National Commission on Muslim Filipinos Commissioner Abubakar Mangelen.

The petitioners sought to disqualify Marcos from the presidential race on May 9 for his conviction for failing to file income tax returns from 1982 to 1985, saying this already "perpetually disqualifies" him from running for any public office.

But the First Division, in its ruling, argued that the penalty does not apply in this case.

"To be clear, the penalty of perpetual disqualification came into force only upon the effectivity of P.D. No. 1994 on January 1, 1986. Thus, the penalty cannot be made to apply to [Marcos'] tax violations, which were committed before the effectivity of the said law," the decision read.

The division also found there was no crime of moral turpitude on the part of Marcos.

"Is the failure to file tax returns inherently immoral? We submit that it is not. The failure to file tax returns is not inherently wrong in the absence of a law punishing it," it noted.

It added that the even the 1977 National Internal Revenue Code recognizes that the failure to file income tax is "not a grave offense as the violation thereof may be penalized only by a fine."

Marcos' camp commended the First Division for dismissing the petitions, which it described as nuisance. "Tama na ang away, tama na ang bangayan (Let's not fight anymore)," his spokesperson Atty. Vic Rodriguez said.

First Division presiding commissioner Rowena Guanzon previously revealed she voted to disqualify the son and namesake of the late dictator, believing that he committed moral turpitude — a ground for disqualification.

READ: Guanzon on Marcos' DQ cases: Non-filing of ITR constitutes moral turpitude, 'serious defect' in moral fiber

Guanzon retired in early February, thus nullifying her vote on the case.

Petitioners to appeal to Comelec

The petitioners, meanwhile, said they will "exhaust all legal remedies" and vowed to appeal the decision before the en banc.

"We will appeal to the Comelec en banc and pursue this case to the very end. Hindi pa tapos ang laban (The fight is not yet over)," Akbayan said in a statement, stressing that the development is "a major setback for the country's electoral democracy."

The appeal can also be brought to the Supreme Court for the final decision.

There is still one more disqualification case lodged against Marcos at the Second Division — filed by Ilocano group Pudno Nga Ilokano.