Petitions vs. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Candidacy: What the Experts Say

SHAPING UP as one of the most dramatic elections in Philippine history, the presidential race for 2022 has been hounded by controversy starting with the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC). A mere procedure, this step has been the object of political maneuvering and more. 

President Duterte. who is ending his term, has been involved in a bevy of COCs filed by his daughter, Sara Duterte Carpio and his allied senators Bong Go and Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa. News reports detailed his every step as Duterte himself ruminated aloud what post he could run for in case he changes his mind about his retirement. 

But one presidential bid is mired in questions of legitimacy. Seven petitions are calling for the invalidation of the candidacy of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Two petitions are asking for the cancellation of his certificate of candidacy, one petition wants him declared  a nuisance candidate, and four petitions are calling for his disqualification. 

Media have followed the filing of these petitions since November. They cited legal experts weighing in on the issue. In a press briefing on December 6, James Jimenez, Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson, appealed to the parties involved to refrain from speaking to the press about the status of the cases. “It is easier for everyone involved if there’s sobriety in this process, so this won’t be a battle of speculation soundbites on air,” he said.

But these petitions are a matter of public interest and should be discussed fully in the public sphere. To help the media report on how this will play out in the separate divisions of the Comelec, CMFR has looked into the petitions faced by Marcos and what legal experts have said about the issue as reported in the news or in Op-Ed pieces.

Petitions to cancel Certificate of Candidacy (COC)

These petitions if granted will not allow any substitution, preventing any other candidate from taking the place of Marcos. 

Buenafe, et al. vs Marcos

On November 2, a group of civic leaders led by Fr. Christian Buenafe of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines and Fides Lim of KAPATID filed a petition against Marcos, saying that he was not qualified to run as he was convicted by a Quezon City court of multiple failures to file income tax returns from 1982 to 1985.

The petition said that Marcos committed a crime of moral turpitude and perjury for making false representations in his COC on his eligibility. Former Supreme Court Spokesperson Theodore Te serves as lead counsel for the group.

Marcos’ allies separately filed an answer-in-intervention — one from Partido Federal ng Pilipinas and another  from Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez, PFP president Reynaldo Tamayo, and secretary general Thomson Lantion — calling for the dismissal of  the petition.

On November 8, civil society groups and professionals led by Dr. Rommel Bautista through lawyer Howard Calleja joined the previously submitted plea and filed a petition-in-intervention. The group also cited Marcos’ tax evasion conviction, and argued that a violation of the tax code imposes perpetual disqualification from public office.

On December 13, Comelec denied three interventions altogether: the Motion to and Intervene by Tamayo et. al, the Motion for Leave to Intervene by PFP, and the petition-in-intervention by Bautista et. al; and declared it will no longer entertain similar submissions that will only “delay” the main plea. 

Tiburcio Marcos vs Marcos

On November 3, Tiburcio Marcos, a presidential aspirant, filed a petition seeking to cancel his rival’s bid. He claimed that the latter already died and it was an impostor who filed a COC in his stead. The Comelec informed the media about the case on November 18.

The petition was raffled to the poll body’s Second Division on November 15.

Petition to declare as nuisance candidate

Lihaylihay vs Marcos

Made public on November 19, Danilo Lihaylihay, a presidential aspirant, filed a petition to declare Marcos  a nuisance candidate for “putting the election process in mockery… because his purpose was mainly to have his family’s political comeback in Malacañang.” He filed his plea as early as October 11; Comelec notified the media about the petition on November 18.

The Comelec dismissed the case in a ruling dated December 16 which noted that the “respondent (Marcos) does not fall under any of the three types of nuisance candidates. Hence, the instant petition must be denied.”

Petitions to disqualify

If these are accepted, it would allow a substitute candidate to run in Marcos’ place.

Ilagan, et al. vs Marcos

On November 17, Bonifacio Ilagan and other martial law victims from the Organizers of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA) filed the first petition to disqualify the presidential aspirant.

The petition directly invokes Marcos’ 1997 tax conviction as a ground for his disqualification under the Omnibus Election Code. The group initially asked Comelec to disqualify Marcos from the race and cancel his COC for president, but that petition was withdrawn and refiled to limit the plea to disqualification. 

The petition was raffled to Comelec’s First Division on November 29.

Akbayan, et al. vs Marcos

On December 2, members of the Akbayan Citizens Action Party and other civic leaders also cited Marcos’ tax conviction, filing a petition for disqualification against Marcos.

Citing the 2012 Supreme Court decision, the petition said that the election body bears the constitutional duty of preventing candidates who are perpetually disqualified, like Marcos, from running repeatedly for public office.

The petition was raffled to Comelec’s First Division on December 6.

Mangelen vs Marcos: 

On December 2, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos Commissioner Abubakar Mangelen, who claims to be chairman of Marcos’ political party, Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, filed the sixth petition arguing that the issuance of a certificate of nomination and acceptance (Cona) to Marcos Jr. is “unathorized, defective, invalid, and void.”

The petition was raffled to Comelec’s First Division on December 6.

Pudno Nga Ilokano vs. Marcos

On December 7, Pudno Nga Ilokano (Real Ilocanos), a group of Ilocanos saying the so-called “Solid North” does not exist anymore, filed the most recent petition to disqualify Marcos. 

Represented by legal counsel Paolo Santiago, the group also cited Marcos’ tax conviction and argued that he was penalized with perpetual special disqualification from the right of suffrage, which bars him from running for president in the 2022 elections.

The petition was filed with the Comelec on December 7.

Legal experts and arguments pro and con

Media reports, interviews and opinion columns presented a range of arguments by legal experts.  These have focused on the meaning and basis of ‘moral turpitude’, and the strength and weakness of the legal grounds of the petitions.

Moral turpitude a basis to disqualify’ 
Antonio Carpio Former
Supreme Court Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said in his interviews and in an  Inquirer column, that “you have Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code, which says if you have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, you’re disqualified. And tax evasion involves moral turpitude.” He also cited “the Tax Code, 253-C of the Tax Code that says if you’re a public officer (and) you violated provision of the Tax Code, you will be removed from office. You are perpetually disqualified to run from public office. You cannot vote and be voted for, period.” He argued that the president “must, above all else, have a good moral character.”

Artemio Panganiban
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice

Artemio Panganiban in his Inquirer column cited a similar case: Ty-Delgado vs HRET (January 2016). He said that similar cases have uniformly held candidates who were barred by “final judgment… from running for public office” who still run “clearly makes a false material representation.”

‘Weak legal grounds’
Atty. Nilo Divina 
UST Faculty of Law Dean

Atty. Nilo Divina said the petition filed by civic leaders (Buenafe et. al) focused only on the Marcos family and failed to present any factual and legal basis on why Marcos must be disqualified from the presidential polls, saying that it is “ad hominem, or an attack against the character of the respondent, that may weaken the petitioners’ position. It is the law, always, that matters.”

Atty. Alberto Agra 
Ateneo Law School Professor

In an interview with DZRH, Atty. Alberto Agra, Law School professor and former Justice Secretary, said he sees no defects in Marcos’ certificate of candidacy (COC) as the case filed against him is not about tax evasion but only a failure to file his income tax returns (ITRs) from 1982 to 1985, this regarding the petition filed by Buenafe et. al. 

Agra said the law states that in order to cancel the COC of a candidate, he or she must be found guilty and punished with more than 18 months imprisonment and be convicted of a crime involving ‘moral turpitude’. “Sinabi ng Supreme Court na ang crime involving moral turpitude kung fraudulent filing of the tax return. Hindi moral turpitude kung non-filing of the income tax return. Magiging moral turpitude ang non-filing kung may halong fraud. Hindi siya moral turpitude kasi hindi naman napatunayan na may fraud.

Media’s Role in Finding Truth

Some media reports did right in examining the documented facts. In July 1995, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court found Marcos guilty of tax evasion beyond reasonable doubt and imposed imprisonment and fines as penalties. These are in public documents. When Marcos filed for review or reconsideration in the Court of Appeals, the court decision removed the prison sentences previously imposed by the trial court on him, only sustaining a fine of PHP 36,000 without explaining why the justices opted to drop the prison sentence. But it did not change the guilty verdict. 

It is not a difficult case to understand as it involves the failure to pay taxes which all citizens are obliged to do. The court found Marcos guilty as charged. While the court failed to confirm the punishment of imprisonment, it sustained the judgment of guilt.

The coverage of these petitions could be such as to provide more publicity and name recall for Bongbong Marcos. News accounts could be mired in technical terms and legalese which the public may not understand. Such accounts would still serve to imprint the Marcos name in the public mind.

Media should make sure that in reporting the decisions of the Comelec divisions, they note the clarity of the law. A conviction prevents any individual from running for public. When the decision is released, journalists should review how the commissioners regarded the significance of the guilty verdict.