Philippines group seeks to bar Marcos from presidency over tax evasion

By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) - The son of late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, an early frontrunner for the May election, is facing a second petition seeking to bar him from the presidential race, centred on a tax evasion conviction nearly three decades ago.

The complaint, filed on Wednesday at the election commission by a group called the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law, argued the conviction should have perpetually disqualified Ferdinand Marcos Jr from holding or running for office.

He was found guilty in 1995 of failing to file income tax returns from 1982 to 1985 while governor of Ilocos Norte province, a verdict upheld two years later by an appeals court.

"He has continuously neglected his penalty and disrespected the rule of law by running and filing his candidacy knowing in fact that he is a convicted criminal," lawyer Howard Calleja told reporters after the filing.

Marcos's spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The internal revenue code states that a public officer convicted of a tax crime will be barred for life from holding public office, voting and participating in any election.

Since his conviction, however, Marcos has been elected governor, congressman and senator and ran unsuccessfully for the vice presidency.

The Marcos family is one of the most famous dynasties in the Philippines and despite its fall from grace after a 1986 "people power" revolution, it has retained its wealth and far-reaching and powerful connections.

Sara Duterte-Carpio, the president's popular daughter, will be the running mate of Marcos.

Antonio La Viña, a law and politics professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said election authorities would typically only disqualify a barred candidate if a complaint is made first.

"People will only complain if you are winnable," he said, adding the case against Marcos could go either way.

Asked if Marcos had ever faced a disqualification case, election commission spokesperson James Jimenez said: "Not that I can recall, no."

Marcos, whose father ruled the Philippines for almost two decades, much of that a harsh era of martial law, led an opinion poll conducted last month on preferred presidential candidates.

The poll body has scheduled a preliminary conference for Nov. 26 on an earlier disqualification complaint against Marcos filed by a group representing political detainees, human rights and medical organisations, who has said that petition "is without merit and has no legal basis".

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Martin Petty)