Three-term municipal mayor cannot run for city mayor

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The conversion of a municipality to a component city does not allow a municipal mayor who has served for three consecutive terms to run for city mayor immediately thereafter.

The municipal mayor of Digos, Davao del Sur, won and served for three terms, in 1992, 1995, and 1998. During his third term, the Municipality of Digos was declared a component city and its charter was ratified by the constituents of Digos. Under Sec. 53, Article IX of the Charter, the mayor was mandated to serve in a hold-over capacity as mayor of the new City of Digos. He took his oath as the city mayor.

The mayor then filed his certificate of candidacy for city mayor for the May 2001 elections. In his certificate of canididacy he stated that not only is he eligible for the position, but that he has served three consecutive terms as municipal mayor of Digos and was then running for city mayor for the first time. His opponent filed a petition before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to deny the mayor’s certificate of candidacy on the ground that the mayor misrepresented himself as eligible to run for city mayor since he had already been elected and served three consecutive terms as mayor from 1992-2001.

The certificate of candidacy of the mayor was denied due course by the Comelec’s First Division. However, his motion for reconsideration was not acted upon by the Comelec en banc before election day and he was proclaimed the winner having garnered the most number of votes. Only after the proclamation did the Comelec en banc issue a resolution that declared him disqualified from running for mayor of Digos City, and ordered that all votes cast in his favor should not be counted. Since he was proclaimed winner, the proclamation was considered null and void.

On appeal to the Supreme Court (SC), the mayor argued that when Digos was converted from a municipality to a city, it attained a different juridical personality separate from the municipality of Digos. So when he filed his certificate of candidacy for city mayor, it should not be construed as vying for the same local government post.

The SC denied the mayor’s petition and ruled that he was disqualified from running for city mayor since the position of municipal and city mayor were one and the same position despite there being substantial distinctions between a municipality and a city –

True, the new city acquired a new corporate existence separate and distinct from that of the municipality. This does not mean, however, that for the purpose of applying the subject Constitutional provision, the office of the municipal mayor would now be construed as a different local government post as that of the office of the city mayor. As stated earlier, the territorial jurisdiction of the City of Digos is the same as that of the municipality. Consequently, the inhabitants of the municipality are the same as those in the city. These inhabitants are the same group of voters who elected petitioner Latasa to be their municipal mayor for three consecutive terms…

This Court also notes that the elective officials of the Municipality of Digos continued to exercise their powers and functions until elections were held for the new city officials (Latasa v. Comelec, G.R. No. 154829, 10 December 2003, J. Azcuna).

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