The Philippines Commission on Elections has rejected a petition to disqualify Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, from running in May’s presidential election.
The petition claimed that Marcos, who is in pole position to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte, was not fit to run for president because he was convicted of failing to file tax returns in the 1980s and then failing to declare the conviction when filing his candidacy papers. But the election body, known as Comelec, ruled that past convictions did not bar the 64-year-old from seeking office indefinitely.
“Respondent cannot be said to have deliberately attempted to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact which would otherwise render him ineligible,” Comelec said in its ruling, according to Rappler. Lawyers who filed the complaint against say they will appeal.
Marcos is currently leading a crowded field of presidential contenders, and is running in partnership with Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is seeking the vice presidency.
The petition was one of eight complaints urging Comelec to bar Marcos from running in the election, most in connection with a 1997 conviction for tax evasion. While he was governor of Ilocos Norte from 1982 to 1985, in the final years of his father’s rule, Marcos failed to pay income tax and file tax returns, which petitioners say carries a lifetime election ban.
Since 1997, however, Marcos has successfully been elected governor, congressman, and senator as well as running unsuccessfully in 2016 for the vice presidency as Duterte’s running mate. Four of the petitions have been dismissed and four remain outstanding.
The Marcos campaign called the efforts to rule him out of the election “frivolous” and unconstitutional. “We thank the Commission on Elections for upholding the law and the right of every bona fide candidate, like Bongbong Marcos, to run for public office, free from any form of harassment and discrimination,” one spokesperson for Marcos told the New York Times.
Comelec says that Marcos’ name will be printed on the election ballots, even if other cases remain unresolved. Were the commission to disqualify him, he would almost certainly appeal the decision up to the Supreme Court, but what would a disqualification mean? According to this handy explainer from Rappler.com, if Marcos were ruled out of contention after the ballots are printed, someone with the same surname could legally substitute for him. If Marcos was ruled ineligible after winning the presidency, he would be succeeded by the vice president.
Many of the petitions have been filed by opponents and victims of Marcos’ father, Ferdinand E. Marcos, who ruled the Philippines for 31 years, including nine under Martial Law. During that time, Marcos père oversaw the murder, imprisonment, and torture of thousands of Filipinos, and pilfered multiple billions from the national accounts, the remains of which are still being tracked down today. Marcos was removed from power by mass public demonstrations in 1986, and died in a disgraced exile in Hawaii three years later.
Far from facing accountability for the galloping corruption and mass human rights violations overseen by its patriarch, the Marcos family was allowed to return to the Philippines and to rapid political prominence, especially in their home province of Ilocos Norte. A return to Malacañang, opponents of the family fear, would mark the full rehabilitation of the former dictator’s legacy.
In October, Loretta Ann Rosales, a former chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights and a political detainee who was detained and tortured during the Marcos era, told the Associated Press that Bongbong’s presidential bid “seeks to institutionalize the dark, corrupt, and tyrannical legacy of his father and sabotage our efforts to exact full accountability from his family.”
But attempts to rule Marcos out of contention by appeals to Comelec, however morally justified and potentially valid on legal grounds, rather than defeating him at the polls, carry a good deal of political risk. Were such attempts successful, they could well prompt a populist backlash claiming that the election laws had been manipulated by shadowy elites in order to forestall a fair electoral contest.
They would also sidestep the deeper question of why so many Filipino voters are apparently willing to consider voting for Marcos in the first place, despite his father’s enormous catalog of crime and theft, nor the broadly corrosive impact that concentrated wealth has had on the country’s politics, of which the Marcos family is far from the only exemplar.