, May 21, 2024

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‘Moral turpitude’ Not Esoteric, Ensnares Marcos, Jr.

  •   4 min reads
‘Moral turpitude’ Not Esoteric, Ensnares Marcos, Jr.
Photo via Flickr
By Rep. Edcel C. Lagman

CONTRARY to the notion of some publicists, the term “moral turpitude” is not obtusely esoteric or incomprehensibly legalese. It developed as a doctrine in common law which was adopted in the American and Philippine jurisdictions, among other forums.

The word turpitudo originated in the 15th century. According to Meriam-Webster, “the Latin turpitudo comes from ‘turpis’, which means ‘vile’ or ‘base’. The word is often heard in the phrase ‘moral turpitude’, an expression used in law to designate an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community. A criminal offense that involves ‘moral turpitude’ is considered wrong or evil by moral standards, in addition to being the violation of a statute.”

The legal concept of moral turpitude is found in Philippine laws, starting with the 1901 Code of Civil Actions and Special Proceedings on the disbarment or suspension of a lawyer upon conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude. This is reiterated in the Rules of Court.

Conviction of any crime involving moral turpitude disqualifies the following persons from: a) appointment as notary public under Act No. 2711 or the Administrative Code; b) solemnizing a marriage as a priest or minister under Act No. 3613 or the Marriage Law; c) admission to military service under Commonwealth Act No. 1 or the National Defense Act; d) naturalization as Philippine citizen under Commonwealth Act No. 473 or the Revised Naturalization Law; e) entry to the Philippines and deportation under Commonwealth Act 613 or the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940; f) discharge as a state witness under the Rules of Criminal Procedure; and g) admission to the bar under the Rules of Court.

Elected officials and government personnel who commit any crime involving moral turpitude shall be: a) suspended or removed under Batas Pambansa Blg. 337 or the Local Government Code and subsequently under R.A. No. 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991; b) disqualified from running for any elective local position under Sec. 40(a) of R.A. No. 7160; and c) disciplined under R.A. No. 2260 or the Civil Service Act.

The Civil Code has three provisions on moral turpitude: (1) the concealment of one’s conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude constitutes fraud for annulment of marriage; (2) a person convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, when the penalty imposed is six months imprisonment or more, is disqualified from adopting; and (3) a donor may revoke a donation if the donee imputes to him any act involving moral turpitude. The first two are adopted in the present Family Code.

Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code mandates that any person “who has been sentenced by final judgment 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”, and such disqualification “shall be deemed removed … after the expiration of a period of five years from the service of sentence.”

The offense of failure to file an income tax return (ITR) is akin to tax evasion for being an effective mode of non-payment of a tax. It is impressed with moral turpitude because it manifests the violator’s baseness, vileness, and depravity which is inimical to good morals and upright conduct. The turpitude is even graver in tax offenses which violate the basic obligation of a citizen to pay taxes which constitute the lifeline of a nation.

Under Section 228 of the 1977 National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC), conviction is warranted if one “willfully fails … to make a return”. Hence, the conviction of Marcos, Jr. of failure to file ITRs was attended by willfulness, which by moral standards, is characterized as moral turpitude.

In Fernando Ruiz vs. Gonzales, it was held that “precedent generally requires ‘willfulness’ or ‘evil intent’ in order for a crime to be classified as one involving moral turpitude.”

The Supreme Court in Tak Ng vs. Republic ruled that moral turpitude constitutes “an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes his fellow men, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted or customary rule of right and duty between man and man.” In Teves vs. COMELEC, Justice Arturo Brion explained that moral turpitude “includes everything which is done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals.”

In Zari vs. Flores, the enumeration of crimes involving moral turpitude included evasion of income tax. In the United States, conviction of tax evasion was considered a crime involving moral turpitude justifying the deportation of errant aliens (Chanan Din Khan vs. Barber and Tseung Chu vs. Cornell).

Verily, Marcos, Jr.’s willful and repeated failure to file his mandated ITRs is a crime penalized under the Tax Code. Due to his final conviction, he is “perpetually disqualified from holding any public office” under Sec. 286(c) of the 1977 NIRC. Moreover, such final conviction, is a crime involving moral turpitude and consequently, he is “disqualified to be a candidate and to hold any public office” under the Omnibus Election Code.

However, even granting that Sec. 12 of the Omnibus Election Code no longer applies to Marcos, Jr. because five years may have elapsed after his service of sentence of the penalty of fine, although such service or payment does not appear on record, he still suffers perpetual disqualification from holding any public office under Sec. 228(c) in relation to Section 228 of the 1977 NIRC, which does not distinguish whether or not the final conviction of a crime punishable under the Tax Code involves moral turpitude.

Marcos, Jr.’s disqualification under the Tax Code is perpetual. It has no prescription. It does not become moot by the passage of time. Its invocation is seasonable at any time, particularly now when he is running for president, a premier office which demands the highest degree of morality and integrity.

A convicted tax dodger obviously does not fit the job description of a Philippine president.

This article also appears in The Manila Times

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