What Comelec must do
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (The Freeman) - April 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The 1987 Philippine Constitution directs Congress to enact a local government code that provides, among others, “for the qualifications, election appointment and removal, term, salaries, powers and functions and duties of local officials”. In obedience of this constitutional directive, Congress passed, in 1991, a law which is now known as Republic Act No. 7160, the Local Government Code. This law, in its Section 43, provides that “no local elective official shall serve for more than three (3) consecutive terms in the same position.”

I surmise that the term limits for local elective officials were set forth to achieve a more democratic objective. Strategists call it the leveling of the playing field for all of those aspiring to enter public service. History tells us that the longer a personality stays in an elected local government position, the more difficult it is for a new face to dislodge him in an electoral contest. The official’s exposure to the voters, no matter how minuscule, is a huge advantage in terms of name recall. By putting the cap of three consecutive terms, monopolies are avoided as multi-termed public servants are, by some reasonable force of law, disallowed to keep interminable control of certain public offices. Opportunities are this opened to other members of the society who may decidedly be less popular but not necessarily less competent.

A situation has come up in Cebu City. Councilors Sisinio Andales, a fellow lawyer, and Alvin Arcilla were elected members of the Sanggunian Panlungsod of Cebu City in 2010, 2013 and 2016. In layman’s understanding of the three-term limit for councilors, the third consecutive terms of Andales and Arcilla will have ended in June 2019. In other words, the disqualification provision in the local government code applies. They are no longer qualified to run in this May 13 election which tantamount to their seeking a fourth consecutive term. But, they must have a different reading of the law that is why they filed their certificates of candidacy. Or it is possible that the leader of their political group persuaded them to run for a fourth term in the absence of viable candidates.

It did not surprise me to read a news report saying that the Commission on Elections disqualied both councilors. Lawyers have the term “open and shut case” to apply. I mean no offense when i say so. The legal bar was written in simple English such that all the Comelec had to do was to apply it. There was no need for Comelec to interpret the meaning of the law. Indeed, the Comelec did not find it difficult to rule that Andales and Arcilla were disqualified.

Reports had it that both candidates timely filed their motions for reconsideration. To be honest about it, doing so is their legal right. So, let us not begrudge them. What they are doing is a part of due process. They just want the tribunal to listen to their side and perhaps, reverse its initial decision.

The situation brought about by the Andales and Arcilla candidacies casts a spell of uncertainty to many Cebuanos, including me. It has dawned on me that a simply written disqualification provision may be viewed differently.

When Cicero was a respected member of the Roman senate, he always spoke in nationalistic language. At one time, he asked his peers to give their best gift to the republic by doing whatever they thought was their best. If Cicero were alive to view the Andales and Arcilla situation, he would have asked the Comelec to rule on the motions for reconsideration filed by both councilors before election day. The electorate of the city’s north district should be spared the anxiety of finding out if both are disqualified. Let that ruling come.

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