MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines Commission on Elections (COMELEC) on Thursday dismissed a series of complaints seeking to disqualify presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr, removing a major hurdle for the frontrunner in the May 9 contest.
The commission’s first division decided there was no merit in the complaints, which centred on Marcos’ conviction for failing to file tax returns while in public office from 1982-1985.
The petitioners argued that conviction should have made him ineligible to run in any election, citing a tax law that prescribes a lifetime ban.
But commissioners on Thursday said that penalty was introduced in 1986, after the offence was committed and could not be applied retroactively. They also said the court that upheld his conviction did not disqualify him.
“A penalty that would deprive a citizen of his political right to be voted for in an election should be clearly , unequivocally, and expressly stated in the decision,” COMELEC said.
“The witholding of such right cannot be made dependent on a mere proposition that the penalty of perpetual disqualification …is deemed written in the decision,” it added.
Marcos’s spokesman, Vic Rodriguez, in a statement commended the commissioners for “upholding the law by dismissing cases that we have long described as nuisance petitions.”
Another COMELEC division last month dismissed a similar complaint seeking to block Marcos from seeking office, ruling that his prior tax violations should not derail his run.
Opponents of 64-year-old Marcos denounced the ruling and petitioners said they would challenge the decision. Losing parties can appeal to the Supreme Court.
Despite his popularity in the run-up to the polls, Marcos, the only son and namesake of the late dictator overthrown in a 1986 “People Power” uprising, remains a divisive figure in the Philippines, with deep resentment of his family among thousands of victims of abuses under its two-decade rule.
“The fight (has) just started,” one of the complainants, Loretta Ann Rosales, a political activist who was tortured and sexually abused during the Marcos regime, told DZMM Radio.
Rosales leads the left-wing Akbayan group which described the decision as a “major setback for the country’s electoral democracy”.
“It is a missed opportunity to defend the truth and protect the public from a large-scale election swindle by a convicted tax evader,” the Akbayan group said in statement.
Apart from Marcos, other main contenders are Vice President Leni Robredo, Manila mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, retired boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and Panfilo Lacson, a senator.
(Reporting by Karen Lema, Neil Jerome Morales and Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty)