Mayor for 21 years wins again

PAMPANGA, Philippines – The country’s longest-serving mayor since the ratification of the 1987 Constitution has won his re-election bid against 3 rivals in Mabalacat City, some 83 kilometers north of Manila.

Mayor Marino “Boking” Morales has been serving as local chief executive here for 21 straight years. He was first elected as mayor in 1995 after serving a term as vice mayor.

At around 1 am on Tuesday, May 10, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) proclaimed Morales the winner of the mayoralty contest with 39,919 votes. His closest rival, Board Member Crisostomo Garbo of the Nationalist People’s Coalition obtained only 17,553 votes. Independent mayoralty candidates Noel Castro and Pyra Lucas got only 10,696 and 5,750 votes, respectively.

In October of 2015, Morales filed his certificate of candidacy for reelection under the local Kambilan political party but withdrew his candidacy after a week. On December 8, Morales surprised his rivals by substituting his uncle, Wilfredo Feliciano, as the official mayoralty bet of Aksyon Democratiko party.

Castro filed disqualification case against Morales, saying the latter was no longer qualified to run for re-election, as he had already served more than three consecutive terms.

“Morales has been the mayor of Mabalacat since 1995 – for 21 years to be exact – making him the longest reigning mayor in the entire country,” Castro said, adding that it was a repeated violation of the Local Government Code.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution and the Local Government Code of 1991 limit the term of local officials to three consecutive terms.

Either due to sheer luck or having good lawyers, Morales was able to skirt the three-term rule. He had been occupying the mayor’s office here since 1995.

The only breaks in his service were when he, together with then-Governor Manuel Lapid, was suspended by the Ombudsman for 6 months over a quarry-related case in 1999 and when he turned over his seat to his vice mayor for 46 days due to an electoral case before the 2007 elections.

After Morales was reelected in 1998, his rival, the late businessman Anthony Dee, asked the court to conduct a vote recount.

On April 2, 2001, the Angeles City Regional Trial Court Branch 57 ruled that it was Dee who won the 1998 mayoralty contest and ordered Morales to vacate his post.

But due to series of motions and counteractions, the court’s decision became final and executor only on Aug. 6, 2001.

Dee never had the chance to actually serve and perform his duties as mayor.

The court’s decision allowed Morales to seek two more terms, as his second term was declared null and void by the court, though he had actually served the full term.

In 2004, Morales filed his certificate of candidacy for reelection, prompting his political opponents to file a disqualification case against him before the Comelec, arguing that the mayor had already completed his three consecutive terms, as Dee never occupied the mayor’s office despite the Angeles court decision.

The Comelec Second Division initially ruled in favor of the petitioners, saying Morales had actually served three consecutive terms and could no longer run for a fourth term as mandated by the Local Government Code of 1991 which prohibits any person from occupying a local elective office for more than three consecutive terms.

But the Comelec en banc allowed him to file his certificate of candidacy and eventually reversed the second division’s resolution, saying Morales was eligible to run for mayor in the 2004 elections because his term was interrupted when the Ombudsman suspended him for six months in 1999 and because of his defeat to Dee in the 1998 mayoralty race.

When Morales’ rivals elevated the case to the Supreme Court (SC), lady luck gave a bigger smile at him.

Had Morales’s rivals opted to just accept the Comelec en banc’s resolution, the mayor would be eligible to run for reelection only until the 2007 elections, with his lawful term starting in 2001.

Acting on the petitioners’ complaints, the SC issued a decision that allowed Morales to run for reelection until 2013.

On May 9, 2007, only 5 days before the elections, the high court reversed the 2005 Comelec en banc’s resolution and cancelled Morales’s certificate of candidacy for the 2004 elections. The high court ruled that he was not eligible to run in the 2004 as being a fourth-term candidate.

The high court ordered him to vacate his post to then Vice Mayor Prospero Lagman, who acted as the municipal mayor from May 16 to June 30, 2007.

On July 1, 2007, Morales again served as the chief executive of his town after winning the mayoralty race.

The SC decision allowed him to run for reelection in the 2010 for his second term and seek a third term in the May 2013 elections.

The high court also ruled in favor of Morales in a separate electoral case that sought to disqualify him for seeking reelection in 2007.

The SC en banc unanimously ruled on January 30, 2009 that “the assumption by the vice mayor of the office of the mayor no matter how short is may seem (to the petitioner), interrupted Morales’s continuity of service.” “Thus, Morales did not hold office for the full term of 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2007,” the decision stated.

While the SC decision clearly implied that Morales could run for re-election only until 2013, he still filed his candidacy for the 2016 mayoralty race, contending that that he was eligible to run for two more terms because his hometown has changed its status from municipality to component city in 2012.

“Mabalacat’s transformation into a component city made my current term as my first term as a city mayor. Therefore, I’m still eligible to run in 2016. And if I win, I can still run for a third term in 2019 as city mayor,” he said.

Last January 13, the Comelec’s second division dismissed Castro’s disqualification case against Morales due to procedural defects that included "lack of verification, failure to furnish respondent a copy of the petition, and failure to comply with the Efficient Use of Paper Rule (EUPR)." 

The EUPR was issued by the SC and took effect on January 1, 2013. It prescribes the format of pleadings, motions and documents filed in courts.

The rule prescribes that all pleadings, motions and similar papers intended for the court and quasi-judicial body’s consideration and action must be written in single space with 1.5 space between paragraphs, using an easily readable font style of 14-size font, on a 13-inch by 8.5-inch white bond paper, with 1.5-inch left hand margin and an inch right margin, 1.2-inch upper margin and an inch lower margin, and every page consecutively numbered.

The merit of the case was not discussed in the resolution due to the complaints’ basic procedural lapses.

Other winning candidates proclaimed as poll winners in Mabalacat City were Vice Mayor Christian Halili, Board Members Cherry Manalo and Benny Jocson, and Councilors Geld Aquino, Rox Peña, Dwight Morales, Eddie Sotto, Bok Tiglao, Jeng Yumul, Carlo Rivera, Jerry Basilio, Dan Bayani, and Win-Win Garbo. – Rappler.com