September 23, 2023

Former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and his supporters are aghast and bemused that a disqualification case was filed against him with the Commission on Elections.
The complaint stemmed from the allegation he was convicted in 1997 by a court for his failure to file his income tax returns from 1982 to 1985. Marcos, Jr. through his lawyer, Atty. Vic Rodriguez, does not deny the conviction yet, claims that the same is not a valid ground to cancel his certificate of candidacy. His claim is on solid ground.
Section 12 of the Election Code of the Philippines provides that a person shall be disqualified from running for public office if he had been sentenced to final judgment for subversion, insurrection, rebellion, or for any offense for which he had been sentenced to a penalty of more than 18 months or for a crime involving moral turpitude.
The 1997 conviction of Marcos did not carry with it any prison term since it was obviated by the Court of Appeals. He was merely fined which he dutifully complied with. Still, it is insisted that having been convicted, he must be disqualified because his failure to file his income tax return is tantamount to a crime involving moral turpitude, which is clearly and definitely prescribed in the law.
It might prove illuminating that before any conclusion is derived from the conflicting contentions of all parties involved, it is important to define what “moral turpitude” means.
Though the term moral turpitude has not acquired an exact meaning, Philippine jurisprudence is consistent in emphasizing that the word is always associated with the standard of depravity, public policy or immorality. If a crime is intrinsically depraved, immoral or contrary to public policy, then it is one involving moral turpitude. There are, however, limitations.
One is that moral turpitude is only present in cases involving crimes committed with “intent.”
In the case of Edgar Y. Teves vs. Comelec (G.R. 180363, April 28, 2009), the Supreme Court speaking through Justice Ynares-Santiago held that: “In resolving the foregoing question, the Court is guided by one of the general rules that crimes involving mala in se involve moral turpitude which crimes mala prohibita do not.”
This brings into the fore two terms that need to be explained – mala se and mala prohibita. The former are acts punishable if done with intent to do harm and invoke crimes defined and penalized under the Revised Penal Code. On the other hand, the latter is punishable by mere commission or omission notwithstanding the lack of intent and are defined and penalized under special laws.
What Marcos, Jr. was convicted of was a crime characterized as mala prohibita since the non-filing of an income tax return is punishable even if there is no intent on the part of the tax payer to do wrong. Moreover, the crime is defined under the National Internal Revenue Code, not under the Revised Penal Code. Hence, going by the doctrine set forth in the Teves case, it appears improbable that Marcos, Jr. will be disqualified.
The admission made by Rodriguez that it is true that his client was convicted will not militate against his qualification because the conviction was done in absentia, meaning, when the crime was committed, Marcos, Jr. and the rest of his family member were then in exile. Why does this play an important role? His absence from the Philippines from 1982 to 1985 bespeaks of any intent on his part to commit fraud against the government. Without fraud to qualify his conviction, there is no moral turpitude to speak of.
Besides, the conviction pertains to a bygone event that was not revealed up until now. From thence, Marcos, Jr. was elected governor of Ilocos, senator of the Philippines, and ran without much ado as vice president. He was not previously disqualified, was allowed to take his oath of office and assumed his public position without question or litigation. So, why only now? Is it because his winnability is becoming imminent by the day? Is it because his support base is increasing rapidly?
The strategy of seeking the disqualification of Marcos, Jr. is only enhancing his popularity. His is being provided a free advertisement that brings him closer into the consciousness of the electorate. It is by virtue of the case that some undecided voters have cast their luck on him, if only to symphatize for what they perceive as a clear case of political repression. The more they put him in a corner, the more he will fight. The more he will fight, the more he will win.
Based on the foregoing, it would seem apparent that there is a valid basis of the Marcos camp in saying that the disqualification case filed against him is a mere harassment case. A political ploy to downgrade the chances of Marcos, Jr. who, in major surveys, is leading all candidates.
This early, he has struck fear into the hearts of his opponents. The only solution they can think of in order to neutralize him and prevent him from marching to Malacañang is to disqualify him.