POSTSCRIPT / January 30, 2022 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Guanzon’s options: To put up or shut up

Commissioner Rowena Guanzon will retire in three days (on Feb. 2) amid fireworks lit by her premature announcement of her vote for the Commission on Elections to disqualify ex-senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. from running for president in the May 9 elections.

Guanzon is now under pressure to explain not so much her vote for Marcos’ DQ (disqualification) as her reasons for her disclosing it before the promulgation of the ruling of the Comelec’s first division over which she has presided.

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon (Philstar.com / Efigenio Toledo IV)

In her explanations in media and her social media postings, Guanzon insinuates that a powerful outsider has been trying to influence her division’s decision. She said she was ready to deal with the consequences of her statements and actions as commissioner.

It would be enlightening to see as part of her explanation her identifying the person/s who was/were influencing the division outside the hearings. Short of that, it might be better for her to shut up and not make her and the Comelec’s situation any more complicated.

But the feisty Guanzon said she was ready to take the consequences even if it would mean her being reduced to planting “tubó” (sugarcane).

Guanzon said she voted for DQ (disqualification) based on Marcos’ prior conviction for not paying income taxes in the 1980s, a failure that she said disqualified him from holding any public office.

As of yesterday, the division’s ruling on the consolidated DQ petitions has not been promulgated. “May nakikialam na,” Guanzon said earlier, implying that attempts to influence the commissioners have contributed to the delay.

The other division members are Commissioners Aimee Ferolino-Ampoloquio (the ponente assigned to write the decision) and Marlon Casquejo, both of whose votes have not been disclosed.

Guanzon’s talking of influence or pressure being made to bear on her fellow commissioners may not be fair to them as their vote or position in the DQ cases could be suspected as having been influenced by the unidentified outsider.

That’s why we suggested in the head of this column that Guanzon, while evincing fierce independence, may have to put up (including saying who influenced whom and how) – or shut up.

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Guanzon said in a GMA News interview on Thursday that she informed her fellow commissioners as early as Jan. 17 of her vote to disqualify Marcos. That disclosure may have triggered reactions that caused a delay in the release of her division’s ruling.

She said in Filipino: “That’s why this is happening. Because my vote is to disqualify Marcos Jr. I think there is moral turpitude based on evidence and the law.”

For reference, Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code on disqualifications says:

“Any person who has been declared by competent authority insane or incompetent, or has been sentenced by final judgment for subversion, insurrection, rebellion or for any offense for which he has been sentenced to a penalty of more than 18 months or for a crime involving moral turpitude, shall be disqualified to be a candidate and to hold any office, unless he has been given plenary pardon or granted amnesty.”

Petitioners Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party and the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law’s Bonifacio Ilagan also cited Marcos’ conviction for his failure to file Income Tax Returns for four years.

They contended that Marcos is perpetually disqualified from holding public office, whether he was convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, and/or because of his conviction carried a penalty of more than 18 months.

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Some of us non-lawyers looking in have been wondering about some other points:

* If the first division’s decision is promulgated after Guanzon’s retirement on Feb. 2, will her vote still count or be simply set aside?

* What if one of the two other division members also voted for DQ? If the decision is promulgated before Feb. 2, that would mean a 2-1 DQ vote against Marcos? This is highly improbable but if that were the case, could it be a reason for delaying a decision till Guanzon is out?

* But if only Guanzon voted for DQ, that would still be 2-1 in favor of Marcos. Why the need to delay promulgating a favorable decision? Does the alleged outside influencer want a 3-0 unanimous vote?

Guanzon has said that having submitted her opinion before promulgation, her vote should be included: “That should already be on the record that I voted already. That should be counted and considered by the next presiding commissioner after me.”

Anyway, it’s still a long toll road ahead for the contending parties. From the divisions, the DQ cases go to the Comelec en banc, and the loser has the option of running to the Supreme Court for the final word.

If Marcos argues that the Court of Appeals did not sentence him to imprisonment for more than 18 months on his tax cases (which would have spelled DQ), the parties pursuing him can cite his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, another basis for DQ.

What is “a crime involving moral turpitude?” It may rhyme with “torpe” as Filipinos understand it in this former Spanish colony, but it does not mean that.

The SC has adopted the Black’s Law Dictionary’s definition of moral turpitude as “an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and woman, or conduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.”

But ultimately, “moral turpitude” as a ground for a presidential candidate’s disqualification is what the Supreme Court says it is.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 30, 2022)

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