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Commentary

Term of office

/ 05:16 AM October 25, 2018

In political theory, “term of office” and “tenure of office” are terms oftentimes contrasted with each other.  Term of office refers to the period, either fixed by the Constitution or a statute, within which a public official may hold office. Tenure of office, on the other hand, is the period within which a public official actually held office within a prescribed term. In other words, term of office is fixed, while tenure of office is variable.

The term of office of congressmen and senators is fixed by the Constitution, while the term of office of local government officials is fixed by the Local Government Code of 1991.

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Among the early filers in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) recently was a former Senate president who assumed office as senator pursuant to the 2007 national elections for a six-year term ending in 2013. After emerging victorious in an electoral protest, the senator had only less than two years’ tenure of office within a six-year term. In other words, the senator did not serve a full term. He was reelected in 2013 and served a full six-year term.

A constitutional issue arises with his filing of candidacy for senator in the forthcoming May 2019 elections. Can he serve a third consecutive term of office, given the constitutional proscription that senators shall serve only two consecutive terms?

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A textual reading of the Constitution might generate an interesting thesis. Section 4, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution provides: “The term of office of the Senators shall be six years and shall commence, unless otherwise provided by law… No Senator shall serve for more than two consecutive terms. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of his service for the full term [0f] which he was elected.”

The last sentence implies that the Constitution mandates that a senator must serve the full term of his office of six years. Service less than six years would only mean that this particular senator in question has not served a term corresponding to 2007-2013. And, having served only a full term during 2013-2019, the senator is still eligible to serve another full term for 2019-2025.

Thus, to bar him from running for a consecutive third term might unduly restrict the constitutional right of the people to choose whom they wish to govern them.

But what about a senator elected in a special election in case of vacancy, pursuant to Section 9 of Article VI, which  provides that the senator or congressman thus elected shall serve only for the unexpired term?

In Borja vs Comelec (1998), the discourse on the issue in the 1986 Constitutional Commission was revisited. Thus:

Commissioner Jose E. Suarez: “For example, a special election is called for a Senator, and the Senator newly elected would have to serve the unexpired portion of the term. Would that mean that serving the unexpired portion of the term is already considered one term? So, half a term, which is actually the correct statement, plus one term would disqualify the Senator concerned from running? Is that the meaning of this provision on disqualification, Madam President?”

Commissioner Hilario G. Davide Jr.: “Yes, because we speak of  ‘term,’ and if there is a special election, he will serve only for the unexpired portion of that particular term plus one more term for the Senator and two more terms for the Members of the Lower House.”

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Does the 1987 Constitution thus distinguish between the terms of office of those elected in regular and special elections?

Interesting indeed.

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Frank E. Lobrigo practiced law for 20 years. He is a law lecturer and JSD student at San Beda College Graduate School of Law in Manila.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, Comelec, Frank E. Lobrigo, Inquirer Commentary, Local Government Code, Philippine politics, term of office
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