The Supreme Court has clarified the “three consecutive terms” limit imposed by the Constitution on local elected officials, saying that a candidate who is eventually declared the winner but is unable to occupy the seat due to an election protest would be considered not to have served a full term.
In a unanimous full-court decision penned by Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the high tribunal reiterated its previous ruling that “it is not enough that an individual has served three consecutive terms in an elective local office, he must also have been elected to the same position for the same number of times.”
Section 8, Article X of the Constitution provides that “the term of office of elective local officials, except for barangay (village) officials, shall be three years and no such official shall serve for more than three consecutive terms.” The three-term limit rule was
reiterated in Section 43(b) of Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991.
The justices, however, said an election protest could be considered an involuntary interruption in the three-term limit even if the subject of the protest were to assume the post after the case is resolved.
The justices thus backed a petition filed by Mayor Abelardo Abundo Sr. of Viga, Catanduanes contesting the nullification of his 2010 election victory by a local court and the Commission on Elections, which both disqualified him because had he also won the mayoral races in 2001, 2004 and 2007.
Abundo claimed that he did not complete three consecutive terms because in 2004, Jose Torres—his rival in all four elections—was proclaimed the winner. Abundo filed an election protest, which he won, and was only able to assume the mayorship on May 6, 2006, a little over a year before the end of the 2004-2007 term.
In 2010, Torres sought to disqualify Abundo from running, citing the three-term limit rule. This was dismissed by the Comelec First Division on June 16, 2010. Abundo, who defeated Torres by 219 votes, was proclaimed the winner and assumed office.
However, an Ernesto Vega filed a separate case against Abundo in the Regional Trial Court in Virac, Catanduanes, on May 21, 2010. The case was based on the same grounds as Torres’ disqualification case against Abundo.
On Aug. 9, 2010, the RTC ruled that Abundo was ineligible to serve as mayor because he had served three terms in 2001, 2004 and 2007. The ruling was upheld by the Comelec’s Second Division on Feb. 8, 2012, and by the commission en banc on May 10, 2012.
Abundo appealed to the Supreme Court, which issued a temporary restraining order on July 3, 2012. However, the following day, he was ousted from office as Vice Mayor Emeterio Tarin and first councilor Cesar Cervantes assumed the post of mayor and vice mayor, respectively.
The justices, voting unanimously, reversed the decisions of the Comelec, ruling that “the almost two-year period which Abundo’s opponent actually served as mayor is and ought to be considered an involuntary interruption of Abundo’s continuity of service.”
“An involuntary interrupted term cannot, in the context of the disqualification rule, be considered as one term for purposes of counting the three-term threshold,” the justices said in their 35-page decision.
The court ordered the immediate reinstatement of Abundo to the post of mayor and the reversion of Tarin and Cervantes to their original posts as vice mayor and first councilor of Viga town.