AMONG the 12 members of the House of Representatives from Cebu, seven represent the seven districts of the province, two from Cebu City, one each from lone districts Mandaue City and Lapu-Lapu City, and one from the TUCP Party-List, which is organized by Trade Union Congress of the Philippines and Associated Labor Unions (ALU).

Representative Raymond Democrito C. Mendoza, whose late father labor leader Democrito Mendoza founded TUCP, represents a sector whose constituency comes from all over the country, not a specific district of Cebu island, the reason he is sometimes not included in some publicized lists of Cebu House members. But he is a Cebuano and ALU is based in Cebu.

Mendoza, born in 1962, is a Bar 1988 lawyer (University of San Carlos) with additional studies on business administration in Ateneo de Manila University and on labor and occupational safety in Turin, Italy. He is married to Cotabato governor, Emmylou-Talino-Mendoza, with two children. He has held a number of national vice president positions at TUCP, including national VPs, successively, for education, national and international affairs, and Mindanao.

ONE OF A FEW. Mendoza may be the only Cebuano who has "beat" the term limit without skipping one term.

He has been congressman as ALU-TUCP party-list nominee in, count them, the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th Congresses -- or five legislative terms: (1) 2007 to 2010, (2) 2010 to 2013, (3) 2013 to 2016, (4) 2016 to 2019, and (5) the current one, 2019 to 2022.

Mendoza has done it without resting for one term. He should've rested in 2016 and resumed in 2019. But for him, there was no break and there will be no break, not until 2025, the 19th Congress. The meter began running only after the third straight term.

Why 3 terms weren't counted

Mendoza didn't start his first term in 2007, when the 14th Congress opened, not until later when the Supreme Court decided that party-list members should fill the 20 percent allocated under the Constitution.

A number of party-lists that didn't get the required two percent of the national vote were given a seat. TUCP, which got only 201,386 votes, was among them. Under the Party-List System Act of March 3, 1995, a party can have a maximum of three seats.

Arturo Barrit, TUCP party-list district officer and ALU executive assistant, explained to SunStar the rest of the non-stop run: "In the second and third terms (starting 2010 and 2013), proclamation was delayed by months since the group of former senator Boy Herrera and Ruben Torres challenged the nominees and offered its own." Comelec heard and adjudicated the case, finally ruling in favor of Mendoza.

In the first three Congresses, Mendoza, TUCP party-list nominee, did not serve complete terms. His camp summed it up thus: "Effectively, while Ray sat in five Congresses, he will have served, at the end of the current Congress, only two complete terms of office."

HOW LONG THE DELAYS. No specific dates for the delays were given, only estimates of the length of time:

For the first term, the TUCP party-list was proclaimed "halfway" or "about one year and a half" of the 14th Congress. Mendoza's stint in the second and third terms (15th and 16th Congresses) were delayed "several months" because of the rump group's challenge. Art Barrit said litigation at Comelec took "two years and six months" of Mendoza's second term and "seven months" of his third term.

NOBODY COMPLAINED? It is not known if the courts ever resolved the issue of term limit. What the Comelec adjudicated, which Barrit said went up the Supreme Court, must have been the Herrera group's claim to the House seat. Perhaps nobody complained against any violation of term limit, Provincial Election Officer Lionel Marco Castellano told SunStar.

Another source said that while Mendoza may not have served the entire period of each of the first three terms, it is doubtful if the funds and perks for his seat were correspondingly slashed for the time and work not served. The shortfall in term enabled him to beat the constitutional limit even as it didn't necessarily reduce compensation and privileges.

The ban on 4th term

The Constitution bans "more than three consecutive terms" for elective officials, except barangay officials. The Local Government Code of 1991 repeats the prohibition. The Supreme Court in one case said the term limit aims to end "monopolization of power" and prevent elected officials from "breeding proprietary interest in their position" and to "enhance the people's freedom of choice."

The operative word is "consecutive," or successive or continuous.

Which means, the Supreme Court says in another case, the ban does not apply if the service is interrupted. The term limit is broken by "a rest period during which the local elective official steps down from office and ceases to exercise power or authority" within a particular local government unit.

Rest period, election protest

What the high court calls the rest period applies to the term-limited official, not his or her spouse, child, or some other relative by blood or affinity. And it is for only one election. Winning the next election after his/her one-term rest will give the chance to go through another three-term, nine-year consecutive stint -- and so forth and so on till death parts him or her from the office, with the pool of kinfolk to keep the office within the family or clan.

A notable exception is an election protest, which can be considered, the SC said, an involuntary interruption. The law prohibits voluntary renunciation of the office to go around the term limit.

In Abundo vs Comelec (GR #201716) -- which Barrit said TUCP relied on in Mendoza's case -- Catanduanes Mayor Abelardo Abundo Sr. argued that he didn't complete his three consecutive terms because his rival was proclaimed the winner in 2004. Abundo protested the result and won but he served only the remaining one year of the term. The SC considered Abundo's three-term stint (2001, 2004 and 2007) as having been broken in 2004.

Mendoza argued along the same line of "interruption": because of the delay in giving more seats for party-lists in the House and blocking moves of rivals in Comelec and the courts, he was able to serve only parts of the first three terms.

Not if preventive suspension

In comparison, the cases of then Cebu City councilors Alvin Arcilla and Sisenio "Bebs" Andales reaffirmed the SC jurisprudence that preventive suspension cannot interrupt the three-term limit. They ran for reelection in 2019 and handily won in Cebu City's north district but were taken out from the roster of winners by the rule on term limit.

Comelec, which declared them ineligible, used as basis SC decisions that say the exception does not apply as the suspended officials didn't lose their office but were just barred temporarily from exercising their duties. [Seares: Arcilla case, June 17, 2019. Avoiding term limit, October 21, 2018]

In the Mendoza case, the congressman claimed he had not assumed office yet because of delay in the allocation of his seat and, later, the opposing claim of his rivals.