Disqualification cases roil Marcos camp; biggest Left political bloc backs Robredo-Pangilinan team

Posted by CenPEG
14 February 2022

The cases filed in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to cancel the certificate of candidacy (C0C) or disqualify Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. from running for the presidency have ignited new problems for the former senator. In a unanimous ruling, the Comelec’s Second Division dismissed the petition seeking to cancel the COC of Marcos, Jr. agreeing with the candidate’s avowal that he had all the qualifications and none of the ineligibilities for the public office he was seeking.

However, the proceedings of the Comelec’s First Division on the disqualification cases met an unexpected twist when its presiding officer, Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, publicly released her own resolution disqualifying Marcos, Jr. in advance of the division’s final ruling on the case. In her resolution, Guanzon sought to disqualify Marcos, Jr. for his “repeated and persistent failure to file his income tax returns for 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1985  (when he was vice-governor and governor of Ilocos Norte), an offense involving moral turpitude”. Guanzon pointed out that this is a clear ground for disqualification under the Omnibus Election Code.

Explaining her unprecedented action to release openly her resolution, Guanzon stated that she wanted the public to know about her own decision since there was a “conspiracy” to delay the release of the division’s ruling in order to exclude her vote after her scheduled retirement on February 2. More tellingly, Guanzon also said that an “influential and powerful senator” was exerting pressure on Commissioner Aimee Ferolino, the division’s designated writer (ponente) to delay the release of the division’s resolution.

Whatever their final outcomes in the Comelec, these legal cases will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court and its consequences for the entire presidential race are immense. A cancellation of his COC before the May elections means that Marcos, Jr., could no longer be substituted for the presidency by anybody else. On the other hand, a disqualification ruling by the Supreme Court before the elections allows Marcos, Jr. to be replaced by another person bearing the same surname and from the same political party. Assuming that Marcos, Jr. tops the presidential contest and is proclaimed the winner, any Supreme Court ruling on cancellation or disqualification after the elections is likely to result in extremely unstable political confrontations. Even the jurisprudence on legally resolving such outcomes is divided and contentious.

Independently of its legal complications, the cases filed against Marcos, Jr. gain added resonance in the context of the campaign since it brings to the public eye many controversial issues and accusations that have long hounded the Marcos family. Initially, Marcos, Jr. has shown uneasiness in openly addressing such issues as shown by his selective appearances in some presidential fora and interviews while boycotting others with a format and interpellators apparently not of his liking. However, this campaign stance could backfire against him even while he continued to lead in the latest presidential surveys released in December 2021.

Also related to the legal cases filed against Marcos, Jr. is the unstated question of who is really behind the reported attempt to influence the Comelec proceedings as asserted by Commissioner Guanzon. For instance, President Duterte has shown in many ways his displeasure at the candidacy of Marcos, Jr. for the presidency even while his daughter, Mayor Sara, is running as the vice-president of the former senator. President Duterte finds himself in a most unusual and exasperating situation as the leader of a ruling party that has failed to put up its own official presidential candidate. Outmaneuvered in the final months of choosing a presidential team by equally powerful political families, Duterte has openly questioned the fitness of Marcos, Jr. for the presidency. However, he has not also endorsed any other presidential candidate so far.

As can be inferred from the latest surveys, the pro-Duterte voters have strongly supported Marcos, Jr. and Mayor Sara but a firm repudiation by the president of Marcos, Jr., or his endorsement of another presidential candidate risks dividing this electoral base. At the root of this tension between the Marcoses and the Dutertes is a strategic rivalry between two powerful political families marked by uneasy relations of opportunistic alliances in the recent past and prospective competition for political dominance in the country. At the very least, President Duterte would like to ensure Mayor Sara’s victory for a major role in the new administration in preparation for a more expansive political agenda, such as a presidential run in the next election cycle. But it now appears that he also doubts that such a grand plan could prosper under a Marcos presidency with its own long-term plans for dynastic rule especially that the successor generations for each of their rival families are now in place. This is one reason why a COC cancellation or a disqualification scenario against Marcos, Jr. even after the elections remains a legal option, notwithstanding its anticipated ominous consequences.

The Makabayan bloc endorsement of Robredo and Pangilinan

In the latest sign of shifting campaign alignments, the Makabayan bloc of left-wing party list organizations endorsed the team of Vice-President Leni Robredo and Senator Kiko Pangilinan. In its announcement of support, Makabayan pointed to the track record of Robredo and Pangilinan in opposing the most abusive policies of authoritarian rule associated with Duterte and Marcos and the common agreement reached in supporting the coalition’s governance platform. The country’s largest legal left party formation organized in 2009, Makabayan has succeeded in electing an average of six to seven party-list representatives in the House of Representatives in the last four election cycles since 2010. It is now composed of 11 active party-list organizations with Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Anakpawis, and Kabataan as the most successful electorally.

Makabayan’s support of the Robredo-Pangilinan team introduces a new dimension of campaign dynamics. Driven largely so far by volunteer networks and resources, Robredo’s campaign seeks to benefit from Makabayan’s hard core electoral base of at least three million votes as shown by its average electoral base in the House of Representatives for the last four election cycles (2010-2019). A more expansive electoral base for Makabayan reaches close to six million votes average nationwide if the results for Senate elections for Makabayan bets are considered, also since the 2010 elections. However, Makabayan’s leading senatorial bet, former Bayan Muna three-term party list representative, Atty. Neri Colmenares, failed to be included in the official senatorial slate of Robredo but was eventually endorsed by the 1-Sambayan coalition that also supports Robredo and Pangilinan.

In another expression of support for Robredo, 23 former high-ranking government officials, including 14 former cabinet secretaries of the Ramos administration also announced their endorsement of the vice-president. Ironically, former president Fidel V. Ramos supported Duterte in 2016 and the party which he founded, Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, is now supporting Marcos, Jr.

Policy Positions by Presidential Bets

Since the start of the year, there have been four major public interviews of the presidential bets that have been broadcast nationwide. These include the interviews done by Jessica Soho of GMA-7 TV network, Boy Abunda of ABS-CBN, the DZBB interviews, and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP- Association of Philippine Broadcasters) presidential forum. Marcos, Jr. did not attend the programs of Jessica Soho and the KBP while Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman was not invited in the Soho interviews. All the other four major presidential bets participated in these interviews. This section will summarize the main policy points that emerged during these interviews, stressing important differences if any. Of course, their government platforms and agenda are also available in their official campaign websites but these ongoing interviews and fora highlight how well the candidates can articulate their programs of government and respond to public interpellation.

All the six major presidential bets generally agreed on the main problems facing the country today including addressing the pandemic and health-related issues, ensuring economic recovery and growth, education problems magnified by the pandemic, pervasive corruption in government, criminal and justice issues specifically as related to the drug war and the extra-judicial killings (EJKs), the peace process, overall weakness of government institutions, and foreign policy issues focused on relations with China and the United States as dramatized by the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issues.

All those present in the Jessica Soho interview (Lacson, Moreno, Pacquiao, and Robredo) had affirmative responses to the following issues: prohibition of political dynasties, continuation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the USA, abolition of the death penalty, resumption of peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF, restoration of Philippine membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC), retention of the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG), mandatory drug testing for all candidates, non-lowering of the age of criminality, reality of EJKs in Duterte’s drug war, mandatory publication of the Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of public officials, joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea by the Philippines and China with the prior recognition by the latter of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling, publication of the medical records of an incumbent president, and preference for a two-party system.

The presidential bets had different responses on the legalization of divorce, same-sex marriage, 100% foreign ownership of corporations, continuation of POGO operations (online gambling operations), legalization of jueteng (small town lottery-based gambling), legalization of medical marijuana, and the prosecution of President Duterte by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

On the issue of the West Philippine Sea, there is general agreement that China should recognize the ruling of the PCA but significant differences emerge in how to address the problem. Senator Lacson has been consistent in arguing that the Philippines should consciously build a military alliance among the country’s allies in order to present a credible countervailing force to China’s military supremacy in the region. In separate interviews, Marcos, Jr. said that the problems on the WPS can best be addressed by bilateral diplomacy with China. De Guzman opposes the continuation of the VFA with the US and bats for an independent foreign policy that eschews entangling alliances with any superpower. While affirming that China should recognize the PCA ruling on the WPS, the candidates also agree that economic relations can go on with the region’s economic powerhouse.

Conscious that the combination of the global pandemic and domestic governance crisis requires a far more effective government intervention and support on all fronts, the candidates generally agree that development priorities and governance practices must change. However, the candidates have largely relied on the election of a singular, effective president as the key solution to all these problems, glossing over the reality that even a most willful leader needs strong institutions and public support to effectively carry out transformative reforms.

In particular, there has been little discussion on the most urgent political reforms necessary to strengthen political institutions, particularly the weak system of checks and balances among the executive, legislature, and the judiciary, a weak party system, the lack of professionalization in both the civil and military bureaucracies, and the government’s antagonistic attitude to critical participation from both the media and peoples’ organizations. For instance, the massive corruption and misuse of government resources by various government agencies with the complicity of high-ranking government officials as investigated by the Senate in the cases of Pharmally corporation and the Malampaya contracts, among others, dramatize the urgency of these problems.

Alarm bells at the Comelec and Smartmatic

About three months before the May 2022 elections, reports about the possible hacking of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) data bases have once again jolted the public about the long-perceived vulnerabilities of the automated election system (AES) started on a national scale in 2010. In late January 2022, Cezar Mancao II, head of the Department of Information and Communications Technology reported about the “compromised features” of the Smartmatic automatic election system. Mancao has reportedly testified before a closed-door Senate session on these problems but no details have yet been released to the public. One presidential candidate, Senator Lacson, has also revealed that his cybersecurity team at the Comelec has also found out that the Smartmatic system is indeed compromised, possibly for extortion purposes. Various election watchdogs have called for immediate investigations and prompt responses to these concerns.


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