By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) was asked Monday to declare unconstitutional the election of eight incumbent “termed out” senators and several members of the House of Representatives and to compel the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to enforce the term limits on elective officials, particularly those in Congress, in the 2022 elections.
In a petition, the incumbent “termed out” senators were identified as Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and Senators Franklin Drilon, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Pangilinan, Lito Lapid, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Pia Cayetano and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
The petition pleaded that “the election of the termed out legislators and local elective officials be declared unconstitutional such that if this case would be determined prior to the expiration of the term of the termed out elective officials, the remaining balance of their unexpired term be declared vacant to pave the way for the election of fresh aspirants who would not suffer from the inhibition of the term limit rule.”
The petition which was filed by a group of lawyers and private individuals told the SC that under the 1987 Constitution a senator cannot serve for more than two terms of six years each or a total of 12 years, while a member of the House of Representative has a term limit of nine years for three consecutive terms of three years each.
This means, the petition stated, that once a person is elected senator and has served consecutively for two terms or a total of 12 years, he or she cannot run again and be elected senator for the rest of his/her life.
It added that the same rule applies to those elected for three consecutive terms or a total of nine years for members of the House of Representatives. They cannot run again and be elected congressmen.
The petition was filed by Vladimir Alarique T. Cabigao, Yen Makabenta, Mary Wendy A. Duran, Monolito Coronado, Socorro Marcel Namia Nepomuceno, Jef Nalus Aquino, Antonio Santos and Cesar Evangelista.
The Comelec was named respondent.
They cited Sections 4 and 7, Article VI of the Constitution.
Section 4 provides, among other things, that “the term of office of the Senator shall be six years and shall commence, unless otherwise provided by law, at noon on the thirtieth day of June next following their election and that no Senator shall serve for more than two consecutive terms.”
Section 7, on the other hand, provides, among other things, that “the members of the House of Representatives shall be elected for a term of three years which shall begin, unless otherwise provided by law, at noon of the thirtieth day of June next following their election, and no Member of the House of Representatives shall serve for more than three consecutive terms.”
The petitioners told the SC that the Comelec “has failed, for the past 32 years, to implement Sections 4 and 7, Article VI, 1987 Constitution that makes this petition imperative to be filed with the Supreme Court in the absence of ‘other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.’”
Exceeded term limits
Citing examples, the petition stated that “the following individuals sat and served as senators for more than two consecutive terms in violation of Section 4, Article VI of the Constitution:
“Edgardo J Angara, served as senator in 1987, 1992, 2001, 2007; Juan Ponce Enrile in 1987, 1995, 2004, 2010; Aquilino Pimentel Jr. in 1987, 1998, 2004; Teofisto Guingona Jr., in 1987, 1992, 1998; Miriam Defensor-Santiago in 1995, 2004, 2010;
“Gregorio Honasan in 1995, 2007, 2013; Rodolfo Biazon in 1992, 1998, 2010; Loren Legarda in 1998, 2007, 2013; Vicente Sotto III in 1992, 1998, 2010, 2016; Franklin Drilon, in 1995, 2001, 2010, 2016;
“Panfilo Lacson in 2001, 2007, 2016; Francis Pangilinan in 2001, 2007, 2016; Lito Lapid in 2004, 2010, 2019; Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. in 2004, 2010, 2019; Pia Cayetano in 2004, 2010, 2019; Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III in 2007, 2013, 2019.”
The petition stated that those listed incumbent and former senators should have not been allowed to run and be elected to office “for more than two consecutive terms.”
In the House of Representatives, the petition cited many examples, among these were:
“In the City of Manila, Jaime C. Lopez served the second district in 1987, 1992, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2007; Amado S. Bagatsing in the fifth district in 1987, 1992, 1995, 2007, 2010, 2013; Rosenda Ann M. Ocampo in the sixth district in 1992, 1995, 1998, 2010, 2013, 2016.
“In the first district of Batangas, Ma. Elenita R. Ermita-Buhain served and continues to serve in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2016, 2019; in the second district of Bulacan, Pedro M. Pancho in 1992, 1995, 1998, 2004, 2007, 2010.
“In the third district of Bulacan, Lorna C. Silverio served and continues to serve in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2016, 2019; in the first district of Cagayan, Juan C. Ponce Enrile Jr. in 1998, 2001, 2004, 2010.
“In the first district of Leyte, Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez served and continues to serve in 2007, 2010, 2013, 2019; in the second district of Leyte, Sergio Antonio F. Apostol in 1992, 1995, 1998, 2010, 2013; in the fourth district of Pangasinan, Jose C. De Venecia Jr. in 1987, 1992, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2007.
“In the sixth district of Pangasinan, Conrado M. Estrella III in 1987, 1992, 2001, 2004, 2007; in the first district of Isabela, Rodolfo B. Albano Jr. in 1987, 1992, 1995, 2001, 2010; and in the lone district of Nueva Vizcaya, Carlos M. Padilla in 1987, 1995, 1998, 2001, 2007, 2010, 2013.”
The petition, filed through lawyer Socorro Maricel Nepomuceno, asked the SC to compel the Comelec to deny the certificates of candidacy of senators, members of the House of Representatives and local elective officials in the upcoming May 2022 elections and in future elections for having served beyond their term limits.
It said that the Comelec has failed, to enforce the term limits by allowing elective officials to have respite or “hiatus,” despite the absence of such permission in the text of the said provisions in the Constitution.
It stressed that the provisions in the Constitution on term limits are regulatory rules whose aim is to restrict conduct for particular purposes such as to “guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service.”
“Sections 4 and 7, Article VI, 1987 Constitution do not grant power. Rather, they limit the grant of power. If they are limitations to a grant of power, the more that they should be construed narrowly or restrictively,” it said.
“Hence, the respondent Comelec cannot expand the limitation of power by allowing aspirants for the office of a senator or member of the House of Representatives to seek a third or fourth term after serving ‘two or three consecutive terms,’ respectively,” it added.