Seares: Arcilla case: It’s not up to the people; they can’t elect disqualified candidates

News Sense

“My lawyers are positive because I was already proclaimed and the people had already spoken by electing me. It is all up to my lawyers.”

-- Cebu City Councilor Alvin Arcilla

The complaint of disqualification against Cebu City north Councilor Alvin Arcilla was filed before the May 13 election, after he and his BOPK colleague Councilor Sisinio Andales filed their candidacy papers despite having served three consecutive terms in 2010, 2013 and 2016.

Comelec’s first division found Arcilla ineligible to run last March 19, weeks before election day. The ruling said his certificate of candidacy was “hereby CANCELLED” (capital letters were Comelec’s). Now Arcilla is using the argument that since he won (#6, with Andales in #5) and was proclaimed by the board of canvassers, he can no longer be barred from serving his fourth term that starts on June 30.

Comelec’s first division rejected Arcilla’s argument that term limit was interrupted by his brief suspension in 2016. Then last May 18, Comelec en banc affirmed the division ruling, which was served on Arcilla last June 14. (Andales’s case, with the same facts and issues, is expected to go the same route: Comelec en banc most likely will affirm another division’s ruling against Bebs.)

Arcilla must think that since the voters knew about the disqualification when they voted for him, “the people” in effect condoned the flaw in his candidacy.

Interpreting the ban

The ban is provided not just by the Local Government Code of 1991 but also by the Constitution of 1987. And what the Constitution means is what the Supreme Court says the fundamental law means.

The high tribunal, in many disputes brought before it, has laid down a basic rule about interruption of term limit. The term limit, the SC says, is broken only when the elected public official loses his right to the office and not when he retains his title but cannot exercise powers and duties because he is barred by a suspension order. Arcilla and Andales were still councilors during the period of suspension, which was enforced a few weeks before the end of their 2013-2016 term.

I mentioned the SC precedents in two columns (Sept. 16, 2018: “Term limit bans Andales and Arcilla”; and March 25, 2019: “Arcilla and Andales expect to finish the race. But do voters see the risk?”). And the cited high court rulings harp on the nature of interruption of service. Arcilla and Andales didn’t lose their seats and no new councilors took over.

That is the crucial issue the Comelec division and en banc tackled separately and decided on with a similar ruling, basing, no doubt, on SC’s decided cases. It is the issue that both Arcilla and Andales have chosen not to discuss during the campaign and now. They haven’t told the public the argument that may refute the doctrine on term limit adopted by SC and Comelec.

Arcilla’s hope

Going to the high court, which Arcilla said he would do, is not entirely a wasteful process. The SC might change its mind and come up with some doctrine of condonation: the vote washes away the defect.

The rest of the legal process may not buy much time for Arcilla. If the complainant, one Allen Canoy, will move for execution of judgment, Comelec en banc will direct the local board of canvassers to reconvene and declare Jerry Guardo as replacement councilor.

Arcilla’s hope is for the SC to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the Comelec from declaring a new councilor to fill his place. Without the TRO, it will be Guardo (and Joel Garganera, #10, for Andales) who’ll be sitting in the City Council in July. Not a bright prospect for the BOPK councilors, given the clear-cut issue and undisputed facts.

In a sense, by operation of law, voters will still get what they voted for: those who ranked next to Arcilla and Andales in the count.


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