MABALACAT CITY – Will Mayor Marino Morales, already reputed to be the longest staying mayor now on his sixth successive term by the quirk of politics, be entitled to fresh three successive terms after this town’s conversion into a component city last Saturday?
Following the referendum that confirmed Republic Act 10164 declaring Mabalacat as Pampanga’s third city, the question has been the subject of debates among local folk.
Local newpapers have referred to Morales as the last mayor of Mabalacat as municipality, and its first mayor as city.
Morales, in an earlier interview, said this issue would be “up to the courts to decide.”
But Florida Dijan, regional director of the Department of Interior and Local Goverments (DILG) told Punto that in 2007, her department came out with an “opinion” in a similar case involving the cityhood of Digos in Davao del Sur.
“The opinion was that the current mayor could not be entitled to a fresh three successive term privilege since his mandate covered the same constituents and the same geographic location,” she said.
Dijan said that such opinion had been enforced in other similar cases nationwide.
Morales was first elected Mabalacat mayor in 1995. Except for brief interruptions, he is now virtually on his fifth mayoral term and is entitled to run for reelection in the polls next year and even in 2016.
If he would be entitled to a fresh three successive reelections, then he could run even in the 2019 polls.
Morales’s peculiar fortune was triggered by electoral protests by his political opponent in the series of local elections starting 1995 when he became mayor.
After three terms that he served fully, Morales ran anew for mayor in 2004 in what could be interpreted as a fourth term, on the argument that his opponent was found, although belatedly by the Comelec, to have been the true winner in the 2001 mayoral elections. Morales argued that his three-successive term privilege was interrupted.
When Morales won in 2004, a supporter of his opponent filed a protest insisting he was on his fourth term contrary to law.
Again in a belated move, the Comelec ordered Morales to turn over his post to his vice mayor on May 17, 2007, only a few months before the next elections.
In 2009, the Supreme Court came out with a unanimous verdict saying Morales “was not the duly elected mayor of Mabalacat, Pampanga for the 2004-2007 term and that he did not serve his full term.
“Morales cannot be deemed to have served the full term of 2004-2007 because he was ordered to vacate his post before the expiration of the term. Morales’ occupancy of the position of Mayor of Mabalacat from 1 July 2004 to May 16, 2007 cannot be counted as a term for purposes of computing the three-term limit,” the court said.
Thus, the High Court said the term of office of Morales from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2010 “is effectively his first term for purposes of the three-term limit rule” for local elective officials.
The Supreme Court concluded in 2009, Morales was serving a first term as mayor and is entitled to re-election for another two more terms. Morales could still run for mayor in the 2013 and 2016 elections, the court said.