Philippines' election body dismisses disqualification case against Marcos Jr

Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr has held a persistent lead in election surveys ahead of the May 9 poll. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippines’ top polls body on Wednesday (April 20) dismissed the final disqualification case against Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator, who has been predicted to win as president in the May 9 elections by a landslide.

In its ruling, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said a disqualification case based on Mr Marcos Jr’s failure to file income tax returns lacked merit. 

“Regardless of the fact that the non-filing of income tax return was done repeatedly by the respondent, there is still no tax evasion to speak of as no tax was actually intentionally evaded. The government was not defrauded,” said the Comelec’s first division.

It added that it was “not convinced” Mr Marcos Jr committed a crime involving “moral turpitude” when he failed to file his tax returns when he was vice-governor, then governor of Ilocos Norte in the 1980s.

“He may have been neglectful in performing this obligation. It, however, does not reflect moral depravity,” the division concluded.

Reacting to the ruling, Mr Marcos Jr said in a statement: “We are satisfied that the process had been observed and, once again, law, evidence and reason have prevailed”.

His spokesman, Mr Vic Rodriguez, said the Comelec’s ruling showed “elections are settled through ballots, not through abuse of our judicial processes”.

“The Comelec has affirmed and settled the last petition for disqualification: Presidential front runner Bongbong Marcos Jr possesses all the qualifications needed to aspire for, campaign and serve as president of the Republic of the Philippines,” said Mr Rodriguez, referring to what Mr Marcos Jr is popularly known as.

Five cases seeking to bar Mr Marcos Jr from running for president were earlier dismissed by the polls body and are now under appeal.

Complainants can file an appeal with the Comelec and escalate to the Supreme Court. These appeals “might create additional tension” if Mr Marcos Jr becomes president, said Dr Jean Encinas-Franco, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

Mr Marcos Jr still leads Vice-President Leni Robredo in the latest survey by over 30 percentage points.

Ms Robredo has been displaying her political strength with huge political rallies that dwarf even those of Mr Marcos Jr.

Analysts warned that, with his wide lead still intact less than three weeks left till voting day, the elections could lead to another protracted legal war or, worse, violence, if Mr Marcos Jr loses to Ms Robredo.

“This is an election integrity issue… It will depend on how the leaders, the political actors, will temper their supporters. It depends on who will be raising this challenge. Will there be rioting? I’m not sure,” said Dr Carmel Abao, an assistant professor at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Dr Abao said “there will probably be very deep frustrations. But whether it will lead to that will depend on the conduct of the elections themselves”.

If Mr Marcos Jr wins the election, it will cap a stunning revival of the Marcos family’s political fortune more than 30 years after a military-backed “People Power” revolt forced them to flee in disgrace in 1986.

Since returning from exile in 1992, the Marcoses have been portraying themselves as victims of a great injustice.

They insist that the brutal two-decade rule of Mr Ferdinand Marcos Sr was a golden age of peace and prosperity, and that the human rights abuses and systematic plunder of the nation’s coffers that happened when Mr Marcos Sr placed the Philippines under martial rule from 1972 to 1983 never happened.

Over the past six years, that narrative – pushed via massive disinformation on social media – has been resonating with voters fed up with growing income inequality and woeful government services.

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