MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines’ poll body on Wednesday cleared a major legal hurdle in frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s path to the presidency when it dismissed the final petition calling for his disqualification from the May 9 election.
The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) ruled that a case calling for Marcos to be barred from the contest based on his 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 COMELEC’s first division said in the ruling. “The government was not defrauded.”
Five other cases seeking to keep Marcos from running were also earlier dismissed by the poll body. These are now under appeal and could be escalated to the Supreme Court.
“Of course it is a good development and we are happy that it happened before our actual elections,” Marcos told reporters while campaigning.
The petitioners did not respond to a request for comment.
Marcos, 64, has consistently topped opinion polls but saw his lead over his closest rival, Leni Robredo, narrow in a March survey.
His refusal to pay a tax bill on the estate of his father, the late authoritarian ruler Ferdinand Marcos, could impact his popularity, said political analyst Ramon Casiple.
“He was defeated by Leni Robredo in the vice presidential race in 2016 and it might happen again,” he said.
Analysts say his high ratings in surveys are partly thanks to a strong social media presence aimed at the youth, who were not yet born when the senior Marcos was in power. About 42% of eligible voters are under the age of 35.
The patriarch of the Marcos family ruled for 20 years, during which time he, his family and cronies amassed an estimated $10 billion in ill-gotten wealth, a government commission found. Thousands of suspected communist rebels and political foes were arrested, tortured or killed.
Despite the family’s fall from grace in 1986, it has retained powerful political connections and steadfast support.
($1 = 52.40 Philippine pesos)
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)