Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (File photo)

MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) First Division voted 2-0 to dismiss the consolidated disqualification cases against presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for lack of merit.

“The consolidated petitions of Ilagan v. Marcos Jr., Akbayan v. Marcos Jr., and Mangelen v. Marcos Jr. have been dismissed for lack of merit, by the COMELEC's 1st Division,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez announced in a tweet on Thursday.

Commissioner Aimee Ferolino, the ponente in the petitions, and Commissioner Marlon Casquejo are members of the Comelec’s First Division.

“Contrary to Petitioners' assertion, the penalty of perpetual disqualification by reason of failure to file income tax returns was not provided for under the original 1977 NIRC (National Internal Revenue Code). Both Petitioners Ilagan et al. and Akbayan et al. cited Section 252 of the 1977 NIRC, which upon Our verification, is a provision pertaining to the "'Falsification, or counterfeiting, restoration, or alteration of documentary stamps; possession or use of false, counterfeit, restored, or altered stamps,” the 45-page resolution read.

It added: “However, a further review of the 1977 NIRC would belie Petitioner's claim; while there was indeed a provision on perpetual disqualification, the same is applicable only on unlawful possession or removal of articles subject to specific tax without payment of tax. To be clear, the penalty of perpetual disqualification came into force only upon the effectivity of P.D. No. 1994 on 01 January 1986. Thus, the penalty cannot be made to apply to Respondent's tax violations, which were committed before the effectivity of the said law, in accord with the constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws.”

As for the penalty of imprisonment of more than 18 months and the conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, the Division also ruled in favor of the respondent.

“Was respondent meted with the penalty of imprisonment of 18 months? Similar to the imposition of perpetual disqualification, We also find that the penalty of imprisonments was absent in the Court of Appeals (CA) decision,” the decision read.

“Whether or not a crime involves moral turpitude is ultimately a question of fact and frequently depends on all the circumstances surrounding the violation of the statute. After carefully examining each argument of the parties and the circumstances surrounding Respondent's failure to file income tax, We find to rule in Respondent's favor. To determine if a crime involves moral turpitude, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that it must be approached on a case-to-case basis,” it added.

The First Division said the failure to file tax returns is not inherently wrong “in the absence of a law punishing it.”

“The said omission became punishable only through the enactment of the Tax Code. Moreover, even the 1977 NIRC recognizes that failure to file income tax is not a grave offense as the violation thereof may be penalized only by a fine. Though there was the penalty of imprisonment, the 1977 NIRC gave the court the discretion to either impose a fine, imprisonment, or both,” it said.

The Comelec division said Marcos was only meted with the penalty of a fine for his failure to file his income tax returns.

It added that the disqualification as cited by the petitioners under Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code, contemplates only three instances when a person may be disqualified to hold public office, “to wit: 1. declared by competent authority insane incompetent; or 2. sentenced by final judgment for subversion, insurrection, rebellion or for any offense for which he has been sentenced to a penalty of more than eighteen months; or 3. sentenced by final judgment for a crime involving moral turpitude.”

“It is clear as day that Respondent's sentence to pay fines does not fall under any of the above-enumerated instances for disqualification under Section 12 of the OEC to operate. Thus, whether or not he satisfied the payment of fines and penalties with the RTC of Quezon City is immaterial, as his sentence did not fall within the purview of Section 12 of OEC,” the ruling read.

It also recognized that the resolution of the case is “of paramount importance,” considering the proximity of the May 9 national and local elections.

“However, the deprivation of one's right to be voted for in any election should not be exercised whimsically and capriciously, lest we will be preventing qualified candidates from pursuing a position in public office,” the decision added.

Meanwhile, the camp of Marcos welcomed the ruling of the First Division to junk what it described as “nuisance petitions.”

“We again commend the honorable members of the Comelec’s 1st Division for upholding the law by dismissing cases that we have long described as nuisance petitions,” said Atty. Vic Rodriguez, Marcos’ spokesperson, in a statement.

Rodriguez said the petitioners were found guilty of lying and of deliberately misleading the Comelec by intentionally quoting the wrong provisions of the law and squeezed them into their faulty narratives.

“While we call on this seemingly misguided segment of our society to stop spreading lies against presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos, we nonetheless extend our hands of unity and continue with our call for them and every Filipino to join us in shaping a better and united future for our people,” he said. (PNA)