Rule of Law / Rule of Lawyers

Is Bongbong Marcos legally qualified to run for president in 2022? Or should his certificate of candidacy (COC) be invalidated? Once again, lawyers will speak out on a crucial issue in determining the country’s future. Whoever they are inclined to support for the presidency, voters should follow the deliberations on Bongbong’s COC invalidation lawsuit and, exercising their right and obligation, make their views heard. In a field of five competitors, the elimination of a strong candidate will have a material, perhaps decisive, impact on the electoral results.

Forget the media accounts of Bongbong Marcos’ family history, personality and career path for a moment. Or the protests and dramatic drama from his camp, projecting the absurd and laughable image of Bongbong as a helpless victim of political persecution – “inaapi si Bongbong”. Focus on the issue: Did Bongbong file a valid COC? Did Bongbong sincerely respond, under oath, to his eligibility to run for president? Or did Bongbong commit perjury? Fortunately, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban simplified the case to make it understandable to non-lawyers.

The facts are clear: Bongbong’s COC contained “material misrepresentations”, which means that Bongbong lied, as he did on other matters. Bongbong lied when he claimed he was eligible to run for president. He was not. In 1997, the Court of Appeal rendered a final judgment condemning Bongbong for not having filed and settled the income tax returns from 1982 to 1985. He thus lied by denying that he had been found responsible for an offense punishable by ” permanent ban on holding public office”. For these lies, the Omnibus Election Code mandates the cancellation of the COC.

Bongbong’s Lawyers Dismiss Lies as Not “Malicious”; the Court of Appeal did not find him guilty of “committing a crime involving moral turpitude”. But doesn’t fraud necessarily imply malice? Would the BIR and tax courts grant waivers of punishment to other Filipino tax evaders who claim that their non-payment of taxes was not “malicious” and did not involve “moral turpitude”?

Shifting argument from question of non-arguable fact to more slippery speculation about motives gives slippery lawyers more leeway for legalese. Non-lawyers may wonder about the absence of any debate about motivation or malice when Maria Lourdes Sereno’s nomination as chief justice was struck down because she had failed to present the SALNs that professors of the UP were to file. Was this failure more serious than Bongbong’s lies about his COC? Yet the Supreme Court justices did not find it necessary to go beyond the fact that Sereno did not comply with the requirements.

The lawyers also argue that despite Bongbong’s conviction in the tax cases, he ran for and won elections and, therefore, should be allowed to run for public office again. Rather, this story should make the case for invalidating the Bongbong COC for the 2022 elections. disproportionate pain it inflicts on them. How then can citizens accept the logic of allowing another violation of the law because the criminal has skillfully evaded justice for prior violations? Why should proof of impunity, whether obtained through negligence or incompetence, corruption or coercion by law enforcement, serve to protect the serial criminal?

The facts about the invalidation of the Bongbong COC appear plain and simple to lawyers and even laypersons not trained in law. But we should listen to lawyers on both sides of the issue to detect who is deploying technical jargon and playing puns to confuse the public. We want to understand by what principle of law, language or logic, even disregarding ethical and moral standards, the Comelec, and perhaps the Supreme Court, can reject the lawsuit against Bongbong’s candidacy.

Respecting the facts and the innate human ability to discern right and wrong must be an essential first step in applying the rule of law. Unless it is applied clearly, consistently and even-handedly to all, the rule of law is not what prevails, but the rule of lawyers and their different motivations.

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Edilberto C. de Jesus is Professor Emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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