Philippines: A convicted criminal for president

What will happen next will be up to voters.

Victims of the Marcos dictatorship call for the disqualification of Marcos Jr., his son and a convicted tax dodger, from running in the 2022 presidential election.

By Ina Alleco R. Silverio, Philippine correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

“Never again, never forget!” This is the call of human rights advocates in the Philippines to what is now shaping out to be one of the most socially-divisive pre-presidential electoral seasons that will reach its peak in May 2022.

In February 1986, the Filipino people took to the streets and gathered in a massive show of force and will to end the Ferdinand E. Marcos dictatorship. Over a million Filipinos from various walks of life with the majority from the poor and oppressed sectors of society – workers, urban poor, the semi-proletariat – gathered and stayed in the long stretch of pavement that was EDSA (Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue) for three days to demand the dictator Marcos to step down.

They were successful, and the EDSA People’s Uprising of 1986 entered into historical records as one of the most peaceful “revolutions” to end a fascist and corrupt government.  

From 1969 to 1986 when Marcos was dictator, at least 9,000 Filipinos were documented to have fallen victims to human rights violations, based on records of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP).  Marcos died on September 28 1989.

The majority of the violations comprised extrajudicial killings by government armed forces. Many of the victims and survivors suffered torture, and hundreds of others remain missing to this day.

Now, 35 years later after the dictatorship fell, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the only son of the ousted dictator Marcos, is running for president.  One of his declared missions is to clear the name of his father and his supposed legacy of turning the Philippines into a developed country.  

Social movements comprising human rights advocates and anti-corruption alliances, however, are having none of it. Already, the call to declare Marcos Jr’s disqualification from running for the highest position of the land is gaining traction.

Marcos Jr., a convicted tax cheat, is running for president.

The son is convicted of tax evasion

On November 2, human rights groups filed a petition with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to declare Marcos Jr ineligible to run for any public office because he is a convicted criminal.

In their submission – Petition to Cancel or Deny Due Course the Certificate of Candidacy of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. – groups such as the Kapatid–Families and Friends of Political Prisoners cited provisions under Section 78 related to Section 74, Article IX of the Omnibus Election Code, and said that the Marcos Certificate of Candidacy was filled with lies.

Marcos is alleged to have falsified his Certificate of Candidacy when he claimed that he was eligible to be a candidate for President of the Philippines in the 2022 national elections when, petitioners claim, he is disqualified from doing so.

One of the lawyers handling the petition, Atty. Theodore Te, explained that Marcos was convicted by the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City in a decision dated July 27, 1995.  The charges concerned Marcos’ repeated failure to file his income tax returns. The Court of Appeals upheld this decision, and it was no longer contested in the Supreme Court, making it a final and unappealable conviction.

Other petitioners are Christian Buenafe of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), Ma. Edeliza Hernandez of Medical Action Group, Celia Lagman Sevilla of Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance Inc (FIND), Roland Vibal of Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), and Josephine Lascano of Balay Rehabilitation Center.

In the petition, the crimes Marcos has been convicted for by final judgment were narrated in detail. 

Failed to pay income tax

One of the petitioners, Fides Lim, chair of Kapatid-Families and Friends of Political Prisoners, called on the COMELEC to take immediate action on their petition. She said that the petition was legally valid and substantially correct given that it posed reminders to the COMELEC that both a Quezon City Regional Trial Court in 1995 and the Court of Appeals in 1997 found Marcos guilty of tax evasion from 1982 to 1985. During this period, Marcos was vice governor and later governor of Ilocos Norte province.

“He was convicted in numerous tax evasion cases, and this makes him ineligible to run for the presidency,” Lim told Maritime Fairtrade. “The COMELEC should immediately decide in favor of our petition. It shouldn’t wait for the election period to end to remove from the presidential race a convicted criminal unfit for public office.”

Although tax evasion constitutes moral turpitude, the Supreme Court in 2001 made a ruling that a criminal act is an act of moral turpitude even if the penalty of imprisonment that was imposed has been reduced to a fine.

“What else can you call Marcos’ deliberate failure to file his income tax returns and refusal to pay estate taxes amounting to P200 billion (US$3.97 billion) on inheritance given to him by his father but an act of moral turpitude?” said Lim. “He and his family refuse to pay the Filipino people roughly P203.8 billion in estate taxes, inclusive of interests, surcharge, and other penalties!”

Tried to cover up offenses

In the 1995 decision, the regional trial court sentenced Marcos to nine years in prison and ordered that he pay the taxes he owes as well as the penalty. In its own decision in 1997, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling, but took out the prison sentence and only ordered Marcos Jr. to pay fines.

Lim said that the election body already has many settled legal cases it can cite to justify the cancelation of Marcos’ certificate of candidacy, regardless of whether Marcos went to jail or not.

“The fact of the matter is that Marcos declared under oath that he has never been found liable for any offense that will make him perpetually disqualified from public office. He has not mentioned that he had been convicted for repeated tax evasion. These acts of his constitute moral turpitude – under the law, they effectively disqualify him from ever seeking public office, and certainly, that includes the presidency,” she argued.

Marcos’ supporters have gone full force on social media saying that the accusations are baseless and that the charges against their candidate are “propaganda.”  Lim scoffed at the term “propaganda” and said court decisions cannot be considered as such.

“The problem with Marcos apologists and enablers is that they deny facts and call everything that exposes the lies of their idols as propaganda. We cannot have the Marcoses in power again after all the destruction they have wrought in our country during martial law. They should have been barred from engaging in elections long ago.  A thief, liar, and convicted tax evader like Marcos Jr. is a nuisance candidate, and his running for the highest position mocks our democratic processes,” she said.

A letter from the University of Oxford dated April 20 1983, addressed to a sister from the Religious of the Good Shepherd, stating that Marcos Jr. did not received a degree. The sister wrote the university a query regarding the veracity of Marcos Jr.’s academic credentials. 

Lied about Oxford, lied about the Beatles

The criminal conviction aside, other controversies continue to hound Marcos.  Late last month, the University of Oxford gave the final word on the issue of Marcos and his education credentials. Marcos has stated in his records and has declared repeatedly in public that he graduated from the said university with a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics.

In a statement emailed to the media, the university said that based on its records, Marcos did study there, but did not complete his degree. He was merely awarded a special diploma in Social Studies in 1978.  This is reportedly equivalent to attending up to sophomore year in college.

A confirmation on this matter has also been issued by Oxford Philippines Society with almost 200 Filipino students and alumni of Oxford University. The group is the only Filipino society registered with and recognized by Oxford University.

Another issue is Marcos’ claim that he was friends with the members of The Beatles, the legendary band from Liverpool. He said that he was able to get to know all of them and even became friends. He said this during an interview aired on a local talk show.

This claim, however, has been put into question during a 1986 interview given by Beatle member George Harrison, who called Marcos Sr. an “old twit” and said that the former dictator tried to have them killed after they did not go to Malacanang, the presidential palace, on a supposed invitation in July 1966. 

The Beatles played in Manila in 1966, and Harrison said that they had to give back all the money they earned from the concert to be allowed to fly out of the country.

Equally corrupt is the late dictator’s wife

The outrage against Marcos Jr. is also directed against his mother, the former First Lady Imelda. On November 9, 2018, she was sentenced to 42 years in prison as well as banned from holding any public office by the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division.  The Sandiganbayan is a special appellate court that has jurisdiction over cases involving graft and corruption and other offenses committed by public officials.

Imelda was declared guilty on graft charges connected to fake Swiss foundations she and her husband established. Central to the corruption are stolen funds amounting to US$252 million, all taken illegally from Filipino taxpayers. 

As of this writing, she has never stayed a day in jail, and the case is being appealed by her lawyers in the Supreme Court.  Expectedly, victims of the Marcos dictatorship demand that Imelda be imprisoned.

“So many Filipinos suffered under the Marcos dictatorship, thousands were imprisoned and tortured, and many brutally killed. We still demand justice against the Marcoses who have never apologized. They should be held accountable for their crimes. They cannot be allowed to return to Malacanang,” said Danilo de la Fuente, a former political prisoner, and vice-chairperson of SELDA, a group of ex-detainees.

“Imelda and Marcos ran a conjugal dictatorship, and it’s an outrage that Imelda remains free and Marcos was given a hero’s burial. Imelda still lives a life of luxury and enjoys all the benefits bought with wealth they stole from Filipinos during their two decades in power.”

Victims of the Marcos dictatorship demand that Imelda be imprisoned.

History repeating itself?

Retired university professor and also a martial law torture survivor, Judy M. Taguiwalo said that Marcos Jr. is not an innocent bystander during his father’s dictatorship. Taguiwalo is a convenor of the group Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law – (CARMMA).

“He directly benefited from it because he held positions in crony corporations. He and the rest of his family arrogantly refuse to apologize to the victims of martial law, and dismiss their demand for justice as a way to seek monetary compensation. 

“Even now, he washes his hands off any involvement in the military rule that allowed the Marcos family to violate the rights of Filipinos with abandon and impunity. All this completes the myth he tried to perpetuate that he and his family are innocent. This denial of history and revisionism are unforgivable and cannot be allowed to continue.” 

Economist Sonny Africa of the IBON Foundation succinctly summarized the current situation in the Philippines.

“If Bongbong Marcos isn’t disqualified, he may yet be the first Philippine president winning from fooling millions of voters with a spectacularly well-funded body of stunning lies about himself and his family. As his dictator daddy set the gold standard for stealing and corruption in the country, he’ll set the gold standard for using misinformation and disinformation to win elections,” he said.

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