MABALACAT CITY – This town’s Mayor Marino “Boking” Morales, who has occupied the mayoral post here since 1995 except for interruptions that lasted only about seven months, said yesterday he is entitled to re-election in
the 2016 and 2019 local polls.
“My lawyers tell me that I can seek re-election in 2016 and 2019 without violating the law,” Morales said during
his media briefing on his proposed P150-million new road project to provide direct link between his city and northern provinces. He cited top-notch election lawyer Romulo Macalintal as among his legal counsels.
Morales counted his current term as his first under Mabalacat as a city. In a plebiscite last year, local folk overwhelmingly voted for cityhood for their town. The Local Government Code limits the term of local elective officials to only three successive terms.
Florida Dijan, regional director of the Department of Interior and Local Goverments (DILG) recalled that in 2007,
her department came out with an “opinion” in a similar case in Digos, Davao del Sur after it was also declared a city. The current mayor then also held the view that cityhood gave him a fresh mayoral term that entitled him to two more re-elections.
Dijan said, however, that “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” and that this view was enforced in similar cases nationwide.
Morales, however, noted that the case of Mabalacat was different, as its cityhood was premised on change in constituents and geographic status. “The law that bestowed us cityhood noted that our geography increased from 8,000 square kilomters to 14,000 because we rightly included areas within the former US military base at Clark that used to be ignored as part of our territory,” he said.
Morales also said that the wider coverage has also inevitably increased local population, on top of increasing migration from other areas arising from job opportunities at the Clark Freeport. He said these two considerations alone would exempt him from the current DILG position.
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 an illegal fourth term, but he argued that his opponent was found, although belatedly by the Comelec, to have been the true winner in the 2001 mayoral elections.
Morales thus insisted 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 in 2007. “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.
With Mabalacat declared a city last year, Morales’s supporters have dubbed him as “the first mayor of Mabalacat
City.” Morales has taken this in the light of the law and, backed with some enlightenment from his lawyers, believes he can run for two more mayoral terms in the 2016 and 2019 local polls.