CASE BrieF NO. 2019-0024

CASE: Christian C. Halili vs. COMELEC, Pyra Lucas, and Crisostomo Garbo/[G.R. No. 231657] Marino P. Morales vs. Pyra Lucas and COMELEC /Christian C. Halili and Crisostomo Garbo (Intervenors) [G.R. No. 231643, January 15, 2019]

PONENTE: Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio

SUBJECT:

  1. 1987 Constitution:
    i. Three-term Limit
    Limitations/Conditions
    Interruption of Service;meaning
    Conversion of a municipality into a city; Effect
  2. Election Laws:
    i. Petition for Cancellation of the COC and/or Disqualification – effect;
    ii. Rule on Succession

“Conversion of a municipality into a city does not constitute an interruption of the incumbent official’s continuity of service.”


FACTS:        Marino P. Morales (Morales) was elected and served as Mayor of the Municipality of Mabalacat, Pampanga from 2007 to 2010. He was elected again as mayor during the 2010 elections. On 15 May 2012, or during Morales’ second term, Congress passed Republic Act No. (RA) 10164, converting the Municipality of Mabalacat into a component city. Thereafter a plebiscite was held. In the 2013 elections, Morales ran again and was elected as mayor of the new Mabalacat City. On 8 December 2015, Morales filed his Certificate of Candidacy(COC) for the 2016 elections for the position of mayor of Mabalacat City.

Pyra Lucas (Lucas), also a candidate for the position of mayor of Mabalacat City, filed a Petition for Cancellation of the COC and/or Disqualification of Morales before the COMELEC. Lucas alleged that Morales was disqualified to run for mayor, since he was elected and had served three consecutive terms prior to the 2016 elections. Lucas also alleged that the conversion of the Municipality of Mabalacat into Mabalacat City did not interrupt Morales’ service for the full term for which he was elected.

Morales filed his Verified Answerclaiming that his candidacy did not violate the three-term limit rule, because the conversion of the Municipality of Mabalacat into Mabalacat City interrupted his term. According to him, his term as mayor of Mabalacat City is not a continuation of his term as mayor of the Municipality of Mabalacat.

Morales won the 2016 elections and was proclaimed as elected city mayor, and Christian C. Halili (Halili) as elected city vice mayor.

On 20 May 2016, Crisostomo Garbo (Garbo), another candidate for the position of mayor of Mabalacat City, filed a Motion for Leave To Intervene alleging that he was interested in the outcome of the case, since he obtained the second highest number of votes and he should be proclaimed as mayor of Mabalacat City should Morales’ COC be cancelled.

On 28 June 2016, Halili also filed a Verified Motion for Leave to Intervene and Admit Attached Answer-in-Interventionalleging that, as incumbent vice mayor of Mabalacat City, he should be proclaimed as mayor of Mabalacat City should Morales’ COC be cancelled pursuant to the rule on succession under Section 44 of RA 7160, or the Local Government Code.

In a Resolution dated 3 August 2016, the COMELEC First Division granted the petition, cancelled Morales’ COC, and ordered the proclamation of the qualified mayoralty candidate with the next higher number of votes.

ISSUES:

A.       What are the conditions for the application of the disqualification of a candidate based on violation of the three-term limit rule?
B.       Whether the conversion of a municipality into a city constitute an interruption of the incumbent official’s continuity of service.
C.       Whether Morales has committed false misrepresentation as to his eligibility.
D.      Whether or not disputes as to Morales’ COC became moot since he had been proclaimed and had assumed office as mayor in 2016.
E.       Whether the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it did NOT dismiss the Lucas Petition despite the fact that there is no prior “authoritative ruling” yet on Morales’ eligibility by any competent court or tribunal, following the doctrine laid down by this Court in the case of Poe vs. Comelec.
F.       What is the effect of a void ab initio COC due to violation of the three-term limit?        
G.      Who should assume as Mayor of Mabalacat City, Garbo who garnered the second highest votes or Halili, the incumbent Vice-Mayor?

RULING:

A.       The three-term limit rule is embodied in Section 8, Article X of the 1987 Constitution, to wit:

Section 8. The term of office of elective local officials, except barangay officials, which shall be determined by law, shall be three years and no such official shall serve for more than three consecutive terms. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of his service for the full term for which he was elected.

It is restated in Section 43 of the Local Government Code, thus:

Section 43. Term of Office. – (a) x x x.

b) No local elective official shall serve for more than three (3) consecutive terms in the same position. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of service for the full term for which the elective official concerned was elected.

x x x x

The intention behind the three-term limit rule is not only to abrogate the “monopolization of political power” and prevent elected officials from breeding “proprietary interest in their position” but also to “enhance the people’s freedom of choice.” There are two conditions which must concur for the application of the disqualification of a candidate based on violation of the three-term limit rule: (1) that the official concerned has been elected for three consecutive terms in the same local government post, and (2) that he has fully served three consecutive terms.

B.       No.

The Court have already ruled upon the same issue in the case of Latasa v. COMELEC (2003), where it held that the conversion of a municipality into a city does not constitute an interruption of the incumbent official’s continuity of service. To be considered as interruption of service, the “law contemplates a rest period during which the local elective official steps down from office and ceases to exercise power or authority over the inhabitants of the territorial jurisdiction of a particular local government unit.”

Similarly, in Laceda, Sr. v. Limena, (2008),the Court held that the merger and conversion of the municipalities of Sorsogon and Bacon into Sorsogon City did not interrupt petitioner’s term as Punong Barangay for three consecutive terms.

Applying our ruling in Latasa, the provisions of RA 10164 mean that the delineation of the metes and bounds of Mabalacat City did not change even by an inch the land area previously covered by the Municipality of Mabalacat. Consequently, the inhabitants are the same group of voters who elected Morales to be their mayor for three consecutive terms, and over whom he held power and authority as their mayor. Accordingly, Morales never ceased from acting and discharging his duties and responsibilities as chief executive of Mabalacat, despite the conversion of the Municipality of Mabalacat into Mabalacat City.

C.       Morales insists that his declarations in his COC are material representations of his honest to goodness belief that he was eligible to run.

In Aratea v. Commission on Elections (2012), the Court explained that:

In a certificate of candidacy, the candidate is asked to certify under oath his or her eligibility, and thus qualification, to the office he or she seeks election. Even though the certificate of candidacy does not specifically ask the candidate for the number of terms elected and served in an elective position, such fact is material in determining a candidate’s eligibility, and thus qualification for the office. Election to and service of the same local elective position for three consecutive terms renders a candidate ineligible from running for the same position in the succeeding elections.

In the present case, Morales’ alleged lack of knowledge or notice of ineligibility is negated by the previous cases involving the three-term limit rule and his eligibility to run, specifically in the cases of Rivera III v. Commission on Elections (2007) and Dizon v. Commission on Elections (2009).

In Rivera, Morales, the present petitioner, was elected mayor of the Municipality of Mabalacat, Pampanga for the following consecutive terms: 1995-1998, 1998-2001, and 2001-2004. In the 2004 elections, Morales ran again as mayor of the same town and was proclaimed elective mayor for the term commencing 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2007. A petition for quo warranto was later filed against Morales alleging that he was ineligible to run for a “fourth” term, having served as mayor for three consecutive terms. Morales answered that his supposed 1998-2001 term could not be considered against him, because although he was proclaimed the elected mayor and discharged the duties of mayor from 1998 to 2001, his proclamation was later nullified by the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City (RTC) and his closest rival was proclaimed the duly elected mayor.

The Court found that Morales exceeded the three-term limit rule, because he was mayor for the entire period from 1998 to 2001, notwithstanding the decision of the RTC. The Court ruled that the fact of being belatedly ousted, which was after the expiry of his term, could not constitute an interruption in Morales’ service of the full term, and Morales could not be considered as a mere “caretaker of the office” or “de facto officer” for purposes of applying the three-term limit rule. Section 8, Article X of the Constitution is violated and its purpose defeated when an official serves in the same position for three consecutive terms. Whether as ‘caretaker’ or ‘de facto’ officer, he exercises the powers and enjoys the prerequisites of the office which enables him ‘to stay on indefinitely.

In Dizon, Morales was a respondent in a disqualification proceeding when he ran again as a mayoralty candidate during the 2007 elections. This time, the Court ruled in his favor and held that for purposes of the 2007 elections, the three-term limit rule was no longer a disqualifying factor against Morales, to wit:

Our ruling in the Rivera case served as Morales’ involuntary severance from office with respect to the 2004-2007 term. Involuntary severance from office for any length of time short of the full term provided by law amounts to an interruption of continuity of service. Our decision in the Rivera case was promulgated on 9 May 2007 and was effective immediately. The next day, Morales notified the vice mayor’s office of our decision. The vice mayor assumed the office of the mayor from 17 May 2007 up to 30 June 2007. The assumption by the vice mayor of the office of the mayor, no matter how short it may seem to Dizon, interrupted Morales’ continuity of service. Thus, Morales did not hold office for the full term of 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2007.

Accordingly, the Court find that Morales misrepresented his eligibility because he knew full well that he had been elected, and had served, as mayor of Mabalacat, Pampanga for three consecutive terms; yet, he still certified that he was eligible to run for mayor for the next succeeding term.


D.      Morales argued that since he had been proclaimed and had assumed office as mayor in 2016, disputes as to his COC became moot and the proper remedy is to file a quo warranto proceeding questioning his eligibility.

The Court held in Velasco v. Commission on Elections(2008)  that if the disqualification or COC cancellation/denial case is not resolved before election day, the proceedings shall continue even after the election and the proclamation of the winner. In the meanwhile, the candidate may be voted for and be proclaimed if he or she wins, but the COMELEC’s jurisdiction to deny due course and cancel his or her COC continues. This rule applies even if the candidate facing disqualification is voted for and receives the highest number of votes, and even if the candidate is proclaimed and has taken his oath of office. The only exception to this rule is in the case of congressional or senatorial candidates with unresolved disqualification or COC denial/cancellation cases after the elections. Pursuant to Section 17 of Article VI of the Constitution, the COMELEC ipso jure loses jurisdiction over these unfinished cases in favor of the respective Senate or the House of Representatives electoral tribunals after the candidates take their oath of office.


E.       Morales’ argument that a prior authoritative ruling is necessary pursuant to Poe-Llamanzares v. Commisioin on Elections (2016)  has no leg to stand on.

The held in Francisco v. Commission on Elections that the COMELEC can be the proper body to make the pronouncement against which the truth or falsity of a material representation in a COC can be measured. The COMELEC, as an adjunct to its adjudicatory power, may investigate facts or ascertain the existence of facts, hold hearings, weigh evidence, and draw conclusions from them as basis for their official action. The Court upheld its ruling in Aratea that no prior judgment recognizing a candidate’s service for three consecutive terms was necessary to effect the cancellation of his COC.

At any rate, the Court also held in Poe that self-evident facts of unquestioned or unquestionable veracity and judicial confessions are bases equivalent to prior decisions against which the falsity of representation can be determined. Since Morales admits having been elected and having served for three consecutive terms, his admission already served as basis against which the falsity of his representation can be determined.

Knowing fully well that he had been elected and had fully served three consecutive terms for the same local government post, Morales’ representation in his COC that he was eligible to run as mayor constitutes false material representation as to his qualification or eligibility for the office, which is a ground for a petition to deny due course to or cancel a COC.

F.       As the Court held in Aratea, a violation of the three-term limit rule is an ineligibility affecting the qualification of a candidate to elective office and the misrepresentation of such is a ground to grant the petition to deny due course to or cancel a COC. A person whose COC had been denied due course and/or cancelled under Section 78 is deemed to have not been a candidate at all, because his COC is considered void ab initio and thus, cannot give rise to a valid candidacy and necessarily to valid votes.

In Jalosjos, Jr. v. Commission on Elections (2012), the Court explained that:

Decisions of this Court holding that the second-placer cannot be proclaimed winner if the first-placer is disqualified or declared ineligible should be limited to situations where the certificate of candidacy of the first-placer was valid at the time of filing but subsequently had to be cancelled because of a violation of law that took place, or a legal impediment that took effect, after the filing of the certificate of candidacy. If the certificate of candidacy is void ab initio, then legally the person who filed such void certificate of candidacy was never a candidate in the elections at any time. All votes for such non-candidate are stray votes and should not be counted. Thus, such non-candidate can never be a first-placer in the elections. If a certificate of candidacy void ab initio is cancelled on the day, or before the day, of the election, prevailing jurisprudence holds that all votes for that candidate are stray votes. If a certificate of candidacy void ab initio is cancelled one day or more after the elections, all votes for such candidate should also be stray votes because the certificate of candidacy is void from the very beginning. 

G.      The rule on succession under Section 44of RA 7160, as espoused by Halili, would not apply if the permanent vacancy was caused by one whose COC was void ab initio. In case of vacancies caused by those with void ab initio COCs, the person legally entitled to the vacant position would be the candidate who garnered the next highest number of votes among those eligible. In this case, it is Garbo who is legally entitled to the position of mayor, having garnered the highest number of votes among the eligible candidates. Thus, the COMELEC correctly proclaimed Garbo as mayor of Mabalacat City.

Related Case Briefs:

  1. Latasa v. COMELEC (2003)
  2. Laceda, Sr. v. Limena, (2008)
  3. Aratea v. Commission on Elections (2012)
  4. Rivera III v. Commission on Elections (2007) 
  5. Dizon v. Commission on Elections (2009)
  6. Velasco v. Commission on Elections (2008)
  7. Jalosjos, Jr. v. Commission on Elections (2012)
  8. Poe-Llamanzares v. Commisioin on Elections (2016)

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THINGS DECIDED:

A. There are two conditions which must concur for the application of the disqualification of a candidate based on violation of the three-term limit rule: (1) that the official concerned has been elected for three consecutive terms in the same local government post, and (2) that he has fully served three consecutive terms.

B. To be considered as interruption of service, the “law contemplates a rest period during which the local elective official steps down from office and ceases to exercise power or authority over the inhabitants of the territorial jurisdiction of a particular local government unit.”

C. If the disqualification or COC cancellation/denial case is not resolved before election day, the proceedings shall continue even after the election and the proclamation of the winner. In the meanwhile, the candidate may be voted for and be proclaimed if he or she wins, but the COMELEC’s jurisdiction to deny due course and cancel his or her COC continues. This rule applies even if the candidate facing disqualification is voted for and receives the highest number of votes, and even if the candidate is proclaimed and has taken his oath of office. The only exception to this rule is in the case of congressional or senatorial candidates with unresolved disqualification or COC denial/cancellation cases after the elections. Pursuant to Section 17 of Article VI of the Constitution, the COMELEC ipso jure loses jurisdiction over these unfinished cases in favor of the respective Senate or the House of Representatives electoral tribunals after the candidates take their oath of office.

D. No prior judgment recognizing a candidate’s service for three consecutive terms was necessary to effect the cancellation of his COC.

E. A violation of the three-term limit rule is an ineligibility affecting the qualification of a candidate to elective office and the misrepresentation of such is a ground to grant the petition to deny due course to or cancel a COC.

F. The rule on succession under Section 44 of RA 7160, would not apply if the permanent vacancy was caused by one whose COC was void ab initio. In case of vacancies caused by those with void ab initio COCs, the person legally entitled to the vacant position would be the candidate who garnered the next highest number of votes among those eligible.


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