Honesty is a virtue rare in government service.
Sara Duterte-Carpio, the mayor of Davao City who wants to become the next vice president, once said honesty is not a qualification needed to become a public official.
No wonder she aligned herself with a politician whose family has a long history of dishonesty and had amassed billions of dollars in assets and cash during two decades of authoritarian rule at the expense of poor Filipinos.
The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was a dishonest man. His only son and namesake, who wanted to vindicate the family’s honor by clawing back to power in the May elections, is following in his father’s dishonest footsteps.
Bongbong Marcos Jr. never filed his income tax returns (ITR) for four years while his father ruled the country with an iron hand. It was a criminal offense under the country’s tax laws.
In 1995, a lower court convicted him for tax evasion and meted him a jail term and fines. Two years later, the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, but removed the jail term and penalized him for not filing his income tax returns.
It is an undisputed fact that Bongbong Marcos Jr. was convicted of a crime. But was the conviction enough ground to disqualify him from running for president?
The first division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ruled Bongbong Marcos Jr.’s conviction was not enough ground to block him from seeking the highest office in the land.
Commissioner Aimee Ferolino, in her decision, wrote that “the failure to file tax returns is not inherently wrong in the absence of a law punishing it.” The other commissioner, Marlon Casquejo, concurred with her decision.
But many disagreed with the Comelec’s decision. Rowena Guazon, a former Comelec commissioner, pointed out that Bongbong Marcos Jr. was convicted by a Quezon City regional trial court for non-filing of his income tax returns and this ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals.
If Ferolino wrote that there was no law punishing the non-filing of tax returns, why did the court convict Bongbong Marcos Jr. and order him to pay fines? What crime did he commit other than non-filing of income tax returns?
The first division’s ruling also stated that Bongbong Marcos Jr.’s non-filing of income tax returns is not a crime of moral turpitude, another legal basis cited by the petitioners to disqualify him.
But a retired Supreme Court associate justice, Antonio Carpio, cited a 1979 court decision showing that tax evasion and non-filing of income tax returns are a crime of moral turpitude.
The petitioners can file a motion of reconsideration arguing Marcos was a local government official and under his father’s decree, an executive or a legislator who fails to file an income tax return can be perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
The law took effect in January 1986, which covered Bongbong Marcos Jr.’s income tax returns for 1985 because the deadline for filing is in April 1986.
Bongbong Marcos Jr.’s supporters could argue the family was chased out from power in February and he would not be in position to file his income tax returns in April.
This is a totally lame excuse because he could have filed it in January or in February before Marcos was toppled by a near bloodless military backed-civilian uprising known as EDSA People Power revolt.
Every Filipino citizen has the responsibility and obligation to pay taxes and file income tax returns. Failure to pay taxes and file income tax returns are crimes punishable under the country’s tax laws.
It is harsher for public officials because they can be perpetually barred from holding elective positions.
Rene Bañez and Kim Henares, two former Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) commissioners, also said, separately, that government officials have to set an example in paying taxes and filing income tax returns.
Bañez even said a person has no right to become president if he does not pay taxes and file income tax returns. It is a moral duty for those seeking the presidency.
Remember that Bongbong Marcos Jr. did not also file his income tax returns from 1982 to 1984 when his father was still firmly in the saddle, showing a pattern of dishonesty.
Carpio and Guanzon, separately, said the pattern of non-filing of income tax returns is a clear crime of moral turpitude and a ground to prevent Bongbong Marcos Jr. from running for public office.
Bongbong Marcos Jr.’s dishonesty does not stop from his failure to file his income tax returns from 1982 to 1985. He also failed to comply with a court order to settle the fines.
His spokesman, Vic Rodriguez, showed the media a copy of the payment made by Bongbong Marcos Jr in 2001 supposedly to comply with the court order — photocopies of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) receipt that showed he had paid his deficiencies to the BIR.
But Guanzon questioned the document because the receipt showed that the payment was for lease/rental, not his tax deficiencies. There could be an explanation for the LBP receipt but clearly there was no court settlement.
The payment was for his BIR deficiencies, not in compliance with a court order, because the court has issued a certification it never received payment.
Henares said Bongbong Marcos Jr. should have paid not only the BIR but the court as well to settle everything, because the court ruling only disqualified him for a period of five years if he paid the fines.
The Comelec decision to dismiss the disqualification petitions against Bongbong Marcos Jr. remains highly controversial.
Perhaps, the final arbiter of the issue will be the Supreme Court because it is unlikely the Comelec en banc will reverse the decisions of the two divisions whose members also sit on the en banc.
Two issues remained unresolved. Is Bongbong Marcos Jr. perpetually disqualified from holding public positions under the Marcos decree that took effect in January 1986? Is Bongbong Marcos Jr. barred from running for president because he was convicted of a crime of moral turpitude?
The Comelec may have ruled on the simple question — whether is he eligible to run for president or not. But the proper interpreter of the law is the high court.
Let’s hope the case is elevated soon to the Supreme Court and it makes a final decision before Filipinos troop to polling precincts to cast their votes on May 9.
Otherwise, it would be bloody messy and creates instability.