The mano-a-mano battle for the Philippine presidency between Vice-president Leni Robredo and former senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. may not take place next year if the latter is disqualified, either by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) or by the Supreme Court.

Retired SC senior associate justice Antonio Carpio raised this possibility last week by saying Marcos Jr. could be barred from running due to his prior conviction for tax evasion.

Writing in his column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Carpio said that if the conviction is deemed a crime involving moral turpitude, the Comelec could prevent the son of the late dictator from pursuing his bid to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte.

Thus, if the high tribunal affirms the Comelec’s possible decision to disqualify Marcos Jr., it will end his presidential ambitions for good.

While there are actually six serious candidates for president, most surveys say that the ultimate contest will be between Robredo and Marcos Jr., with Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, and Senators Manny Pacquiao, Ping Lacson, and Ronald dela Rosa given little to no chance of winning.

Carpio told local media that a complaint first has to be filed against Marcos Jr. before the poll body, after which “the Supreme Court has the final say.”

Marcos Jr. followers accused Carpio of politicking as the retired justice was also heavily involved in the 1Sambayan movement that declared Robredo as the opposition candidate for president. The other candidates are or were known supporters of President Duterte although Moreno, Pacquiao, and Lacson have apparently broken their ties with the President.

Marcos Jr. was convicted of four counts of tax evasion in July of 1995. He was found to have failed to file income tax returns from 1982 to 1985.

In one of those cases, a Quezon City court sentenced Marcos Jr. to three years in prison plus a fine of PHP30,000 (about US$600).

While the crime with which Marcos Jr. had been convicted carried a mandatory prison sentence, Carpio also said that a legal technicality complicated the situation.

After filing an appeal before the Court of Appeals, which still found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the court dropped the jail time penalty. This, despite the mandatory imprisonment based on the country’s Tax Code, according to Carpio.

Marcos Jr. then filed an appeal before the SC, which he later withdrew.

Carpio surmised that Marcos Jr. was very likely waiting for the SC to correct the CA’s error of excluding the mandatory imprisonment as required by law.

For now, pending resolution of the case by the SC, Marcos Jr. cannot be disqualified from running based on the faulty CA judgment, said Carpio.

He can, however, still be disqualified if the crime he committed is considered to have involved moral turpitude, which is another basis for being stopped from running according to the Omnibus Election Code.

The retired SC justice said that a single case of tax evasion may not be considered as proof of Marcos Jr’s intention to avoid paying taxes, his repeated failure to file income tax returns for four consecutive years “can evince an intent to evade such payment…amounting to moral turpitude.”

Marcos Jr. appeared to be out of the woods when in August 2009, the high court said that his conviction “did not amount to moral turpitude.”

But again, on a technicality, Carpio said the SC’s “incidental remark” did not hold water as the conviction of Marcos Jr. “was then still under appeal.”

Carpio said Marcos Jr. could still be disqualified based on his “overall conduct” regarding his claim on his father’s ill-gotten wealth.

Both the SC and the Sandiganbayan had found the Marcos family guilty of amassing hidden, ill-gotten wealth of between US$5 billion and US$10 billion.

If the SC and the Comelec decide to disqualify Marcos Jr. based on his conviction for tax evasion, the only way he can still run for president is if he receives either a plenary pardon or is granted amnesty.

In either case, his fate would be in the hands of President Duterte, who has the sole discretion of granting an amnesty or a pardon to Marcos Jr.