A petition to disqualify a congressional candidate was filed before election day on the ground that he was convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, which carries the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from public office. Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code provides –
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.
x x x x
In Teves v. Sandiganbayan, the congressional candidate was convicted for violating Sec. 3 (h), Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019), for possessing pecuniary or financial interest in a cockpit, which is prohibited under Sec. 89 (2), Local Government Code of 1991.
The First Division of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) disqualified him and ordered the cancellation of his certificate of candidacy. The COMELEC en banc denied his motion for reconsideration.
Before the Supreme Court (SC), the candidate insisted that his disqualification was erroneous because the crime he was convicted of did not involve moral turpitude. The SC ruled in his favor. Section 3 (h) of R.A. 3019 reads –
Sec. 3. Corrupt practices of public officers. – In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and hereby declared to be unlawful.
x x x x
(h) Directly or indirectly having financial or pecuniary interest in any business, contract or transaction in connection with which he intervenes or takes part in his official capacity, or in which he is prohibited by the Constitution or by any law from having any interest.
There are two modes by which a public officer may violate the aforementioned provision: first, when the public officer intervenes or takes part in his official capacity in connection with his financial or pecuniary business or interest; and second, when he is prohibited from having such interest by the Constitution or by law.
The cadidate was convicted under the second mode, since having any business or pecuniary interest in a cockpit was prohibited by law, in this case, the Local Government Code. But conviction under this mode does not automatically amount to moral turpitude, which has been defined by the Court as “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 to his fellowmen, or to society in general.”
That said, not every criminal act involves moral turpitude. Crimes mala in se, or those that are immoral by nature, involve moral turpitude. On the other hand, crimes mala prohibita, or those that are not themselves immoral but are rendered illegal by law, do not. The crime involved in this case is of the latter type. Held the Court –
Suffice it to state that cockfighting, or sabong in the local parlance, has a long and storied tradition in our culture and was prevalent even during the Spanish occupation. While it is a form of gambling, the morality thereof or the wisdom in legalizing it is not a justiciable issue (Teves v. Comelec, G.R. No. 180363, 28 April 2009, J. Ynares-Santiago).