Philippines group seeks to bar Marcos Jr from presidential election

A demonstrator holds a poster during a protest following the presidential bid announcement of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, on Oct 6, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (REUTERS) - A group opposing the candidacy of the son of late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos for next year's presidential race has asked the election commission on Wednesday (Nov 17) to bar him from running because he has been convicted for tax evasion.

Called the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law, the group filed a petition for the disqualification of Ferdinand Marcos Jr after he emerged as the front runner for the May election.

Former congressman Satur Ocampo, one of the group's conveners, said the petition, like one filed by another group, is grounded on Marcos' over two-decade old conviction for tax evasion.

"Public officials who violate the internal revenue code are perpetually disqualified from holding any public office and participating in election," Mr Ocampo, who fought the Marcos dictatorship, told Reuters, citing an article of the code.

The late dictator ruled the Philippines for almost two decades until his 1986 overthrow in the "people power" revolution. He died in exile in 1989.

His wife and children have repeatedly denied allegations that billions of dollars of state wealth were plundered while Marcos was in power, estimated in 1987 to be worth US$10 billion (S$13.5 billion).

A trial court convicted Marcos Jr of tax evasion in 1995 for failing to file his income tax returns from 1982 to 1985 while governor of Ilocos Norte province. The conviction was upheld by an appeals court in 1997.

The internal revenue code states that a public officer convicted of a tax crime will be barred for life from holding public office, voting and participating in any election.

However, Marcos Jr has been elected governor, congressman, and in 2010, as a senator.

"He has continuously neglected his penalty and disrespected the rule of law by running and filing his candidacy knowing in fact that he is a convicted criminal," lawyer Howard Calleja told reporters after the filing.

Although he ran for public office previously in the past, despite the conviction, Mr Ocampo said "this does not mean it can't be raised anymore".

The poll body has scheduled a preliminary conference for Nov 26 on the earlier disqualification filed by a group representing political detainees, human rights and medical organisations against Marcos.

Marcos, 64, has said the petition "is without merit and has no legal basis".

He announced on Tuesday that Ms Sara Duterte, the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, has agreed to be his vice presidential running mate, confirming weeks of speculation of an alliance between two powerful families.

The Marcos family is one of the most famous dynasties in the Philippines and despite its fall from grace after a 1986 "people power" revolution, it has retained its wealth and far-reaching and powerful connections.

Dr Antonio La Vina, a law and politics professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said election authorities would typically only disqualify a barred candidate if a complaint is made first.

"People will only complain if you are winnable," he said, adding the case against Marcos could go either way.

Asked if Marcos had ever faced a disqualification case, election commission spokesman James Jimenez said: "Not that I can recall, no."

Marcos, whose father ruled the Philippines for almost two decades, much of that a harsh era of martial law, led an opinion poll conducted last month on preferred presidential candidates.

The poll body has scheduled a preliminary conference for Nov 26 on an earlier disqualification complaint against Marcos filed by a group representing political detainees, human rights and medical organisations.

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