By ALFRED GABOT
Editor in Chief
MANILA — Days before assuming as the country’s Chief Executive at high noon on June 30, President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. has has the Supreme Court to dismiss a petition seeking to cancel his certificate of candidacy (COC), one of his last hurdles to the presidency.
In his 45-page answer to the petition filed by civic leaders, Marcos, through lawyer Estelito Mendoza, argued that it is now the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) which has jurisdiction to look into his eligibility. The PET is composed of Supreme Court justices.
“[I]t is respectfully prayed of the Honorable Court to protect the free choice of the Sovereign Filipino People that their president is respondent Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ R. Marcos Jr. (BBM) and to dismiss the instant Petition for Certiorari dated May 16, 2022 for lack of jurisdiction and/or complete lack of merit,” Marcos told the High Court in answer to the tribunal’s order to comment on the petition.
Civic leaders led by Fr. Christian Buenafe had sought the cancelation of Marcos’ certificate of candidacy (COC) at the Commission on Elections, citing Marcos alleged material misrepresentation because he supposedly lied under oath in his COC that he is qualified to run for president despite his tax conviction.
But the Comelec, both at the division and en banc level, junked the petition.
Petitioners went to the Supreme Court accusing the poll body of committing grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the case and asked the High Court to stop the canvassing of votes and the proclamation of president.
The High Court, however, did not issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) which led to the completion of the canvassing by Congress, acting as the National Board of Canvassers, and the proclamation of Marcos as the winner in the presidential race with over 31 million votes, 14 million more than the second placer, Vice President Maria Leonor Leni Robredo.
Instead of issuing the TRO, the Supreme Court asked respondents Marcos, Comelec, the House of Representatives and the Senate to file their comments.
Marcos previously argued that the High Court has no jurisdiction to stop the canvassing and proclamation of winners. Now that the canvassing of votes was done and Marcos was proclaimed winning president, he now argues that the high court has lost jurisdiction over the case.
Marcos added thate it is now the Presidential Electoral Tribunal which is the “sole judge” of all contests relating to election, returns and qualifications of the president, citing section 4, Article VII of the Philippine Constitution.
“Notably, the Rules of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal do not provide for the remedy of certiorari as a means to question the eligibility of the President. Thus, it is respectfully submitted that the Honorable Court must dismiss the instant petition for lack of jurisdiction,” Marcos said in his comment.
Through his lawyer, Marcos said that even assuming the SC still has jurisdiction, the petition lacks merit.
The Comelec’s ruling that there was no false material representation is entitled to great weight, he said, and the poll body correctly ruled the peitition to cancel his COC was subject to summary dismissal.
Marcos said the grounds raised by petitioners were not material to his eligibility because based on the Constitution, the president is only required to be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least 40 years old on the day of the election and a resident of the country for at least 10 years immediately prior to the election.
Petitioners had claimed Marcos falsely represented he is qualified to run for president when he was supposedly convicted of tax evasion, an offense involving moral turpitude and which should have carried more than 18 months imprisonment.
In addition, the National Internal Revenue Code includes a provision perpetually disqualifying from holding public office any public officer convicted of a tax offense while in office, they said.
Marcos has maintained he was only convicted of non-filing of tax returns, not of tax evasion.
In his comment, he said the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding public office was “never imposed against him” — not in the regional trial court nor in the Court of Appeals rulings.
Unlike the Revised Penal Code which deems accessory penalties written into a judgment of conviction, the NIRC, Marcos said, does not automatically impose the penalty of perpetual disqualification upon conviction.
Marcos also denied he was still a public officer at the time the filing of his 1985 income tax return became due in March 1986. The Marcos family fled the Philippines in February 1986 following a peaceful revolt.
“[T]he entire government was toppled down on February 25, 1986. As a result, BBM, through no fault of his own, was forced to leave the Philippines, abandoning his position as Governor of Ilocos Norte in the process,” he argued.
“Even when BBM was finally allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991, he did not make any attempt to reclaim his position as Governor of Ilocos Norte. Neither did he try to get the emoluments and salaries appertaining to such position for all the years which he was supposed to hold it. Therefore, contrary to Petitioner’s allegation, BBM acquiesced to his unlawful ouster as governor that fateful month of February 1986. Hence, for all intents and purposes, BBM was no longer a public officer on March 18, 1986,” he added.
The president-elect added he had no intention to mislead, misinform and deceive the electorate when he filed his COC, as he was not aware of the consequences of his conviction.
“Whether BBM was aware of his conviction and the finality thereof is not at all in issue. Rather, what is in issue is whether BBM was aware of the effects of his conviction at the time he filed his COC,” he said, citing the absence of any indication he was perpetually disqualified in the CA ruling, the NIRC or in other SC cases.
He also raised his previous successful bids for governor of Ilocos Norte in 1998, 2001 and 2004, for the House of Representatives in 2007 and for the Senate in 2010.
He also ran but lost for vice president in 2016.
“In all those years of running for office and of serving the public as an elected government official, his eligibility has never been questioned.