MANILA, Philippines (AP) — One of three Philippine election commissioners handling petitions to disqualify late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ son from the May presidential polls said Thursday that she voted in favor of the petitions and suspected there were efforts to nullify her vote against the leading candidate criticized by human rights groups.
Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said she voted to uphold the petitions, which sought Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s disqualification from the race because of a previous tax conviction. An offense of “moral turpitude” is one of the grounds to bar a candidate from seeking and holding public office.
Two other commissioners, however, have not disclosed their votes on the petitions. A majority vote is needed to either uphold or reject the petitions, most of which were filed by left-wing and anti-Marcos activists.
The 64-year-old Marcos Jr. had already served as a provincial governor and a senator. He has been leading in pre-elections polls to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte.
Any ruling by Guanzon and two other commissioners can be appealed.
Guanzon said she voted against Marcos’ candidacy “because he was convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude,” citing his non-payment of taxes for four years starting in 1982, when he was still governor of northern Ilocos Norte province.
Marcos Jr. did not comment immediately.
Last week, another group of election commissioners rejected a separate bid to oust Marcos Jr. from the race. The petitioners in that case said he falsely stated that he had not been convicted of any crime. Guanzon said any decision by the Commission on Elections on his candidacy would most likely be challenged before the Supreme Court.
Guanzon, who is retiring from the commission on Feb. 2, said she disclosed her vote ahead of two fellow commissioners to preempt what she said was an effort to nullify her vote. “I believe there is political interference here,” she said without elaborating. “They think if I retire, my vote will not count, which is not true.”
She tweeted separately without providing details on Thursday: “To whom it may concern: Do not influence the commissioners. And do not try to buy me, threaten me, or seduce me.”
The other major contenders for the presidency include Vice President Leni Robredo, an opposition leader who narrowly defeated Marcos Jr. in the 2016 vice presidential race, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.
The elder Marcos placed the Philippines under martial rule in 1972, a year before his term was to expire. He padlocked Congress and newspaper offices, ordered the arrest of political opponents and ruled by decree.
He was toppled in an army-backed “people power” revolt in 1986. He died in exile in Hawaii three years later without admitting any wrongdoing, including accusations that he and his family amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion while he was in power.
A Hawaii court found him liable for human rights violations and awarded $2 billion from his estate to compensate more than 9,000 Filipinos who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, incarceration, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
His widow, Imelda Marcos, and her children were allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991. They have made a political comeback, winning seats in Congress and powerful provincial posts that brought them closer to the top job they said was stolen from them.
Marcos Jr. has called the allegations against his father “lies,” angering human rights and pro-democracy activists.
He has joined hands with Davao city Mayor Sara Duterte, Duterte’s daughter, as his vice presidential running mate. Duterte backs his daughter’s run but opposes her pairing with Marcos Jr. and has vowed to never support him.