By Camille Elemia
Human rights advocates and people victimized by martial law under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos asked the Philippines’ election commission Wednesday to disqualify his son from the 2022 presidential race because of a past conviction for a tax violation.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. lied on his certificate of candidacy in saying he had never been convicted of any crime – an omission that would automatically disqualify anyone from seeking public office – alleged the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law (CARMMA), a group petitioning the Commission on Elections to remove his name from the presidential slate.
Marcos Jr., 64, who is nicknamed “Bongbong,” is seeking the presidency with the popular daughter of the current president as his running mate.
“The petitioners … seek succor from the Honorable Commission to consider the instant petition, or to at least undertake its mandatory administrative obligation to cancel the candidacy of the respondent, convicted candidate Marcos Jr., as he is indubitably suffering from disqualification because he is a convicted criminal,” they said in their 55-page petition obtained by reporters.
In 1995, a trial court found Marcos Jr. guilty of four counts of tax evasion for failing to file income tax returns from 1982 to 1985. An appeals court upheld the conviction two years later.
Marcos Jr., who comes from one of the most famous political dynasties in Asia, is vying to replace Rodrigo Duterte, whose single, six-year term ends in 2022 – as stipulated by the Philippine constitution – and whose 2016 presidential campaign was endorsed and bankrolled by the Marcos family.
On Tuesday, the president’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is running for vice president, confirmed that she had formed an alliance with Bongbong to campaign for office under his ticket.
Marcos Jr. dismissed the new petition as mere propaganda, expressing confidence that the commission would throw out the case.
“I’ve personally seen the documents for our defense and discussed them with our legal team, who, along with some reputable and respectable legal experts, concluded without doubt that the petition … is without merit and has no legal basis,” he said in a brief statement.
This was the second petition to block Marcos Jr.’s bid for the presidency. The first, filed by another group of Filipinos opposed to the Marcoses, has not gained widespread attention.
The commission did not immediately respond to queries about when it would take up the latest petition. The outcome of both petitions could be elevated to the Supreme Court.
Marcos Jr. has been elected to public office before – serving as a governor, congressman and senator. He also ran for the vice presidency in 2016, which he lost. During his past candidacies, there were no petition seeking to block his electoral runs.
Petitioners tortured under Marcos Sr.
Those whose names appeared in the petition filed on Wednesday included victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos era, including Bonifacio Ilagan, congressman and former journalist Satur Ocampo, former congresswoman Liza Maza, and Carol Araullo.
They were jailed, tortured or harassed during the Marcos presidency, which lasted from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s and included 14 years of martial law.
The group also alleged that Marcos Jr. “was an active participant in the dictatorship, actively claiming [a] stake to enjoying the fruits of the stolen millions and preventing the government from reclaiming these assets.”
It warned the Commission on Elections that his win “might lead to a white-washing and further proliferation of historical revisionism of the gravely inhumane abuses and extremely grand corruption” committed by his father.
Allegations of human rights abuses were rife as thousands of activists went missing or were killed during the rule of the Marcos family patriarch, who declared martial law in 1972.
Under his rule, the Marcos family also added to the general hardship of Filipinos by plundering billions of dollars from state coffers. The elder Marcos was chased out of the country by the people power revolt in 1986 and died in Hawaii in 1989, where he lived in exile. His wife, Imelda, and children were allowed to fly home three years later and started rehabilitating the family name.
Marcos Jr., who is trying to follow his father’s footsteps to the Malacañang presidential palace, has come out atop in recent opinion polls.
His most formidable rival would be Leni Robredo, the outgoing vice president and opposition coalition’s bet, who beat him in the 2016 election.
The respected pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) said that 47 percent of those Filipinos surveyed last month said they would choose Marcos Jr. with Robredo a far second, at 18 percent.
Other serious bets are former world champion boxer and Sen. Manny Pacquiao; Francisco Domagoso, the popular mayor of Manila; Sen. Panfilo Lacson; and Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, a former aide to President Duterte.
In the SWS poll, Domagoso placed third, followed by Pacquiao in fourth position.
On Wednesday, Duterte-Carpio said that her father had rejected her decision to join hands with Marcos Jr. Two days earlier, Rodrigo Duterte filed papers for election to the Senate, reversing course on his earlier announcement that he planned to retire from politics after leaving the presidential palace.
“Our party made an alliance and sought support for myself and Bongbong Marcos after accepting the challenge to run,” she said.
According to a Filipino political scientist, they may be from different parties, but the names on the Marcos-Duterte-Carpio ticket represent second-generation members of influential Philippine families.
The Philippines has “always been ruled by dynasties,” Aries Arugay, a professor at the University of the Philippines and a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore said Wednesday.
He gave a bleak outlook in speaking about what he called “dynasty cartels” joining forces to control government in the Philippines.
“It could spell the end of Philippine democracy or at least the end of liberal democracy,” Arugay said during a webinar organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank.
John Bechtel contributed to this report from Washington.