Even as Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rowena Guanzon released on Jan. 31 her separate opinion on the disqualification case against presidential aspirant Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., the poll body said it may no longer "hold weight" if the First Division fails to release its ruling by Feb. 2 when she retires after seven years of service.
Speaking before reporters, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said that while Guanzon's separate opinion would be "on the record," it all boils down to the ponencia, or the main decision, written by the ponente, or the writer.
"We wait for the ponencia written by the assigned writer. Ultimately, it's the decision that matters," Jimenez said, adding that separate opinions don't form part of pending cases.
"They're just persuasive, instructional, enlightening, and sometimes can be the basis for jurisprudence," he added.
Jimenez also clarified that there are no hard and fast rules if separate opinions may be issued ahead of the main decision.
"It may not hold weight if she's no longer part of Comelec," Jimenez said. "I fail to see that possibility (that Guanzon's opinion will matter) because at the time the decision is released, she may not be a member of the commission."
"Because magre-retire na siya. There's that thing hanging over our heads," he said. "But at least, she will have made her opinion on the road."
Commissioner Aimee Ferolino is in charge of penning the resolution originally intended for a Jan. 17 release, but has been pushed back after Comelec staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
Ferolino has still hasn't come up with a decision as of press time.
Guanzon has since accused Ferolino of deliberately delaying the promulgation of the ruling so by the time she retires on Feb. 2, her vote won't be counted.
Ferolino, meanwhile, said she needs more time to rule on a “complex and highly rated” case, while also accusing Guanzon of "trying to influence" her decision.
Guanzon, according to Ferolino, also supposedly imposed the "impossible" Jan. 17 deadline despite having "no internal agreement" among First Division commissioners.
In the morning of Jan. 31, Guanzon challenged Ferolino to resign with her, saying Comelec's integrity “is now in question.”
Crime of moral turpitude, a 'serious defect in one's moral fiber'
In Guanzon's 24-page separate opinion, she voted in favor of the petitioners who want to disqualify Marcos Jr. from the presidential race.
She said Marcos Jr. committed a crime of moral turpitude, as he failed to file his income tax returns from 1982 to 1985, describing it as a “serious defect in one’s moral fiber.”
“For decades, the government was deprived of the taxes which respondent failed to pay," Guanzon wrote. "In a very real sense, Respondent’s (Marcos Jr.) failure to file his ITRs, which in turn led to the belated discovery of deficiency taxes, had a deleterious effect to public interest.”
Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code states that “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 eighteen 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.”
Guanzon also noted that with Marcos sitting as a government official of Ilocos Norte before, he at the very least must have an office staff that can handle his tax filing. But he still failed to comply “with what everyone else complies with."
"[It] clearly shows that his acts can no longer be casually considered as mere omissions," Guanzon said. "Instead of setting a good example for his constituents to emulate, Respondent acted as if the law did not apply to him."
"[T]he fact that these omissions were repeated, persistent, and consistent is reflective already of a conscious design and intent to avoid a positive duty under the law and intent to evade the taxes due."
“For these reasons, I find that the totality of the circumstances shows that Respondent’s conviction for the offense of non-filing of his tax returns for four consecutive years involves moral turpitude," Guanzon said.
Possible scenarios for Marcos Jr.
Jimenez reiterated that while Marcos Jr.'s Comelec disqualification cases are still pending, he may still campaign as usual.
Should Marcos Jr. be disqualified before the proclamation of the president-elect, his votes will be considered stray and won't reflect in the canvassing tally.
If Marcos Jr., however, becomes president-elect and gets disqualified after the fact, Jimenez said the rules of succession will come into play and the vice president will take over.