G.R. No. 184836 - Simon B. Aldovino, Jr., Danilo B. Faller and Ferdinand N. Talabong v. Commission on Elections and Wilfredo F. Asilo
[G.R. NO. 184836 : December 23, 2009]
SIMON B. ALDOVINO, JR., DANILO B. FALLER AND FERDINAND N. TALABONG, Petitioners, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND WILFREDO F. ASILO, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Is the preventive suspension of an elected public official an interruption of his term of office for purposes of the three-term limit rule under Section 8, Article X of the Constitution and Section 43(b) of Republic Act No. 7160 (RA 7160, or the Local Government Code)?cralawred
The respondent Commission on Elections (COMELEC) ruled that preventive suspension is an effective interruption because it renders the suspended public official unable to provide complete service for the full term; thus, such term should not be counted for the purpose of the three-term limit rule.
The present petition1 seeks to annul and set aside this COMELEC ruling for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.
The respondent Wilfredo F. Asilo (Asilo) was elected councilor of Lucena City for three consecutive terms: for the 1998-2001, 2001-2004, and 2004-2007 terms, respectively. In September 2005 or during his 2004-2007 term of office, the Sandiganbayan preventively suspended him for 90 days in relation with a criminal case he then faced. This Court, however, subsequently lifted the Sandiganbayan's suspension order; hence, he resumed performing the functions of his office and finished his term.
In the 2007 election, Asilo filed his certificate of candidacy for the same position. The petitioners Simon B. Aldovino, Jr., Danilo B. Faller, and Ferdinand N. Talabong (the petitioners) sought to deny due course to Asilo's certificate of candidacy or to cancel it on the ground that he had been elected and had served for three terms; his candidacy for a fourth term therefore violated the three-term limit rule under Section 8, Article X of the Constitution and Section 43(b) of RA 7160.
The COMELEC's Second Division ruled against the petitioners and in Asilo's favour in its Resolution of November 28, 2007. It reasoned out that the three-term limit rule did not apply, as Asilo failed to render complete service for the 2004-2007 term because of the suspension the Sandiganbayan had ordered.
The COMELEC en banc refused to reconsider the Second Division's ruling in its October 7, 2008 Resolution; hence, the PRESENT PETITION raising the following ISSUES:
1. Whether preventive suspension of an elected local official is an interruption of the three-term limit rule; andcralawlibrary
2. Whether preventive suspension is considered involuntary renunciation as contemplated in Section 43(b) of RA 7160
Thus presented, the case raises the direct issue of whether Asilo's preventive suspension constituted an interruption that allowed him to run for a 4th term.
THE COURT'S RULING
We find the petition meritorious.
The present case is not the first before this Court on the three-term limit provision of the Constitution, but is the first on the effect of preventive suspension on the continuity of an elective official's term. To be sure, preventive suspension, as an interruption in the term of an elective public official, has been mentioned as an example in Borja v. Commission on Elections.2 Doctrinally, however, Borja is not a controlling ruling; it did not deal with preventive suspension, but with the application of the three-term rule on the term that an elective official acquired by succession.
a. The Three-term Limit Rule:
The Constitutional Provision Analyzed
Section 8, Article X of the Constitution states:
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.
Section 43 (b) of RA 7160 practically repeats the constitutional provision, and any difference in wording does not assume any significance in this case.
As worded, the constitutional provision fixes the term of a local elective office and limits an elective official's stay in office to no more than three consecutive terms. This is the first branch of the rule embodied in Section 8, Article X.
Significantly, this provision refers to a "term" as a period of time - three years - during which an official has title to office and can serve. Appari v. Court of Appeals,3 a Resolution promulgated on November 28, 2007, succinctly discusses what a "term" connotes, as follows:
The word "term" in a legal sense means a fixed and definite period of time which the law describes that an officer may hold an office. According to Mechem, the term of office is the period during which an office may be held. Upon expiration of the officer's term, unless he is authorized by law to holdover, his rights, duties and authority as a public officer must ipso facto cease. In the law of public officers, the most and natural frequent method by which a public officer ceases to be such is by the expiration of the terms for which he was elected or appointed. [Emphasis supplied].???ñr?bl?š ??r
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