The Supreme Court has refined its ruling on the constitutional provision limiting elective local officials to three consecutive terms by considering an election protest as an involuntary interruption in an official’s term and discounting it from the term limit.
In an en banc decision penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the high court said “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 three-term limit is provided in Section 8, Article 10 of the 1987 Constitution and reiterated in Section 43(b) of Republic Act No. 7160, or the Local Government Code.
The high court revisited its rulings on the three-term limit after Mayor Abelardo Abundo Sr. of Viga, Catanduanes filed a petition challenging his disqualification to run purportedly because of the three-term rule.
Abundo ran for mayor in the 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2010 elections. He emerged winner and assumed the mayorship in 2001 and 2007.
In 2004, however, his rival Jose Torres was proclaimed winner. Abundo successfully protested Torres’ proclamation and he assumed the mayorship from May 9, 2006 to June 30, 2007, or a period of a little over a year.
During the 2010 election, a disqualification case was filed against Abundo before the Virac Regional Trial Court, which ruled Abundo ineligible to serve as mayor becuase he had already served three consecutive terms from 2001 to 2010.
But the high court ruled in favor of Abundo, saying “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.”
The SC also listed the prevailing jurisprudence on issues affecting the three-term rule and and involuntary interruptions. These are:
• When a permanent vacancy occurs and an official merely assumes the position via succession under the Local Government Code, then his service for the unexpired term of the replaced official cannot be treated as one full term.
• If the official again runs for the same position he held prior to his succession to higher office, his succession is by operation of law and is considered an involuntary severance or interruption.
• An elective official, who served for three consecutive terms but did not seek re-election to a fourth term, but later won in a recall election, had an interruption in the continuity of the official’s service because he was a private citizen prior to the recall election.
• The abolition of an elective local office due to the conversion of a municipality to a city does not, by itself, work to interrupt the incumbent official’s continuity of service.
• Preventive suspension is not a term-interrupting event as the elective officer’s continued stay and entitlement to the office remained although he is barred from exercising its functions.
• When a proclaimed election winner assumes office, his term is interrupted when he loses in an election protest and is ousted from office.
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