A Primer on the Issues
BY ATTY. JOSE MARIA B. SANTOS AND ATTY. KATRINA CRISTA M. ARTIAGA
Election season has always been an exciting time for any country. In the Philippines, however, the stakes seem higher, and the atmosphere grows more intense with each moment we come closer to election day.
For the candidates, glory awaits those who win, while political persecution is expected to follow those who lose. The atmosphere is not less interesting for the electorate as election season often brings out the best and sometimes the worst in the voting population. A diverse political landscape this 2022 has certainly led to colorful, if not toxic, political discourse between friends and strangers alike.
This article hopes to shed light on some of the legal issues which have been raised against certain candidates in the upcoming 2022 national elections.
DISQUALIFICATION OF CANDIDATES
In every election season, petitions for disqualification of candidates are filed left and right. A petition for disqualification may be filed by any individual of voting age, or duly registered political party, organization or collation of political parties1, who believe that a candidate should not be one of the choices in the upcoming elections.
The legal basis for disqualification is found in Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code which provides that “any person who… has been sentenced by final judgment… for any offense for which he has been sentenced to a penalty of more than eighteen (18) 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.”
While there are several grounds for disqualification, we shall focus our discussion on disqualification based on a candidate having been sentenced by final judgment for a crime involving moral turpitude.
This is for readers to understand what exactly is meant by the term “moral turpitude” and how it may affect the upcoming elections and even beyond.
WHAT IS MORAL TURPITUDE?
Moral turpitude has been defined to mean everything which is done contrary to justice, modesty, or good morals; an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals2.
Through the years, there has been a noticeable shift in the Supreme Court’s appreciation of what constitutes a crime involving moral turpitude.
In a 1979 decision3, the Supreme Court held that “moral turpitude implies something immoral in itself, regardless of the fact that it is punishable by law or not. It must not merely be mala prohibita, but the act itself must be inherently immoral. The doing of the act itself, and not its prohibition by statute fixes the moral turpitude. Moral turpitude does not, however, include such acts as are not of themselves immoral but whose illegality lies in their being positively prohibited.” Essentially, the Supreme Court’s basis for determining moral turpitude was whether the crime was mala in se or mala prohibita.
However, in later cases, the Supreme Court re-assessed its previous decision and ruled that the question of what constitutes moral turpitude cannot be solely determined by classifying the act as being either mala in se or mala prohibita. The Supreme Court went on to explain that there are crimes which are mala in se and yet rarely involve moral turpitude and there are crimes which involve moral turpitude and are mala prohibita only4. The Supreme Court thus declared that the meaning of moral turpitude should ultimately be left to sound judicial discretion depending on the circumstances of each case5.
Given the foregoing, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) must be guided by recent Supreme Court decisions to resolve petitions for disqualification based on a candidate’s conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude. Even then, whatever the COMELEC decides on may still be subject to further review and ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.
MALA IN SE AND MALA PROHIBITA CRIMES
In the previous section, we discussed that crimes involving moral turpitude have been determined based on their classification as either a mala in se or a mala prohibita crime. But what do these concepts mean?
Acts mala in se are those that are inherently wrong or immoral, while acts mala prohibita are those not inherently wrong but are punishable because a law forbids their commission. In mala in se, intent governs; while in mala prohibita the only inquiry is whether the law was violated6. In mala prohibita, when an act is illegal, the intent of the offender is immaterial7.
An example of a mala in se crime is murder under the Revised Penal Code, while an instance of mala prohibita is carnapping under the New Anti-Carnapping Act of 2016.
A lot of people assume that crimes under the Revised Penal Code are mala in se, while those under special penal laws are automatically mala prohibita. This is inaccurate. The Supreme Court has already ruled that plunder, which is a crime under a special penal law, is a heinous offense which makes it mala in se8. The Court has likewise also ruled that technical malversation under the Revised Penal Code is a mala prohibita crime9.
Perhaps the most often-quoted principle in taxation law is that taxes are the lifeblood of the government. Thus, taxes must be collected without unnecessary hindrance10. As a result, when a taxpayer refuses to pay his/her taxes or fails to file his/her annual Income Tax Return (ITR), there are consequences for its violation under the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC). Indeed, our government has all the resources to run after erring taxpayers if it wanted to, so long as due process and proper procedure are followed.
Estate tax is a type of national internal revenue tax that is not commonly heard of by ordinary individuals. By definition, estate tax is a tax charged on the privilege of transmitting property upon the death of an individual. It is not a tax on an individual because the owner of the estate is already deceased. The responsibility, therefore, of paying estate tax falls on the executor, administrator or the legal heirs of the deceased upon the filing of the estate tax return11. Failure of any of these individuals to pay the estate tax makes them criminally liable under Section 255 of the NIRC.
Some pundits have opined that if one has unpaid taxes then his wealth could never be “ill-gotten.” In other words, unpaid taxes mean legal sources of income. This argument is wrong and baseless.
In taxation law, income derived from whatever source12, whether legal or illegal, forms part of a taxpayer’s gross income and is thus taxable. This means that ill-gotten wealth, once discovered as being under a claim of ownership by an erring taxpayer, is always taxable.
ENFORCEMENT AND COLLECTION
The unfortunate reality, however, is that several erring taxpayers, particularly those with the right connections and deep pockets, have faced minimal consequences for their actions.
On this point, several people have questioned why the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), the government agency primarily charged with assessing and collecting taxes, has been inefficient in running after erring taxpayers, particularly those with political influence.
At the outset, the BIR should not shoulder this heavy burden alone. It must be pointed out that the BIR is not wholly equipped with the proper legal authority and resources to directly run after every erring taxpayer. The BIR does not even have the power to issue warrants of arrest13, so it cannot, on its own whims, arrest any person who fails to pay their taxes. At most, the BIR can only file criminal complaints against erring taxpayers before the Department of Justice (DOJ) for their violations of the NIRC. The DOJ can then prosecute the case before the appropriate court.
All in all, the BIR and the DOJ, along with the courts, have to work hand-in-hand in running after taxpayers who have been remiss in their duties in paying taxes. It is thus imperative for the government to apply the law equally to all, so as to avoid criticisms from the public that they have promised to serve.
RELEVANCE TO THE 2022 ELECTIONS
The foregoing concepts have been at the forefront of the discussion surrounding the 2022 national elections. These issues have hounded one presidential candidate who was previously convicted for non filing of his ITR which was used by several parties to file a petition for disqualification with the COMELEC. These petitions alleged that non-filing of an ITR is a crime of moral turpitude which should disqualify one from running as president.
The COMELEC dismissed several of these petitions for disqualification and ruled that non-filing of one’s ITR is not considered mala in se and is therefore not a crime involving moral turpitude that could disqualify a presidential candidate. The COMELEC First Division’s decision cited the 1979 case of Zari v. Flores14 which held that “moral turpitude implies something immoral in itself, regardless of the fact that it is punishable by law or not. It must not merely be mala prohibita, but the act itself must be inherently immoral.”
Those who seek a reversal of the COMELEC decision might refer to the more recent case of ABS-CBN Corporation v. Gozon15, where the Supreme Court held that the determination of whether a crime involves moral turpitude cannot be limited to the question of whether the crime is mala in se or mala prohibita. At any rate, the question of which crimes involve moral turpitude depends on the facts of each case and is ultimately for the Supreme Court to determine16.
1. Part V, Rule 25, COMELEC Rules of Procedure.
2. International Rice Research Institute v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 97239, 12 May 1993.
3. Zari v. Flores, A.M. No. (2170-MC) P-1356, 21 November 1979.
4. International Rice Research Institute v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 97239, 12 May 1993.
6. Calleja v. Executive Secretary, G.R. Nos. 252578, 07 December 2021.
7. Department of Finance-Revenue Integrity Protection Service v. Enerio, G.R. No. 238630, 12 May 2021.
8. Estrada v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 148560, 19 November 2001.
9. Ysidoro v. People, G.R. No. 192330, 14 November 2012.
10. Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Algue, Inc., G.R. No. L-28896, 17 February 1988.
11. Title III, Chapter 1, Sec. 91(A), National Internal Revenue Code.
12. Section 32(A), National Internal Revenue Code.
13. Title I, National Internal Revenue Code.
14. A.M. No. (2170-MC) P-1356, 21 November 1979.
15. G.R. No. 195956, 11 March 2015.
16. Dela Torre v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 121592, 5 July 1996.
Atty. Jose Maria B. Santos joined GSE Law Firm’s Litigation, Labor, and Immigration
Practice Groups in June 2019. In law school, he interned at ACCRA Law, Romulo Mabanta
Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles Law, and Garay Law Office. Santos previously
worked as an associate at Gatmaytan Yap Patacsil Gutierrez and Protacio Law Firm.
He earned his Juris Doctor degree from the Ateneo de Manila University and Bachelor of
Science degree in Legal Management from the De Lasalle University. Santos was admitted to
the Bar in 2018.
Katrina Artiaga is a part of GSE Law Firm’s Litigation and Labor Practice Group. She
graduated with a degree in Journalism in 2017 at the University of the Philippines, and Juris
Doctor in 2021 from the same university. She recently passed the 2020/21 Bar Examinations.