3 lawmakers endorse Bautista impeachment

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THE impeachment process against Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Juan Andres Bautista has started rolling, with three lawmakers endorsing an impeachment complaint filed against him on Wednesday.

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Former representative Jacinto “Jing” Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio accused Bautista of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution. The impeachment complaint was immediately endorsed by Rep. Abraham Tolentino of Cavite, Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu and Rep. Harry Roque Jr. of Kabayan party-list.

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED From left: Impeachment complainants Ferdinand Topacio and Jacinto Paras stand beside endorsers Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu, Rep. Harry Roque Jr. of Kabayan party-list and Rep. Abraham Tolentino of Cavite. PHOTO BY RUY L. MARTINEZ

Bautista’s alleged offenses include neglect of duty that resulted in the hacking of voters’ personal information, allowing automated election machine provider Smartmatic to tinker with the script of the “transparency” server that broadcast the 2016 election results, and hiding nearly P1 billion in ill-gotten wealth as alleged by his estranged wife, Patricia.

“Respondent betrayed the public trust for neglecting his duties and responsibilities as head of agency, in that he failed to adopt safeguards as mandated under RA (Republic Act) 10173, or the Data Privacy Act of 2012, that could have prevented the data breach or hacking of the Comelec website, to the great prejudice and damage of millions of Filipinos,” the complainants said.

Bautista also “betrayed the public trust for neglecting his duties and responsibilities as head of agency, in that he failed to promptly act on the hacking of the Comelec website as well as declined to assume direct control and supervision of the Task Force created after the incident.”

In January, the National Privacy Commission recommended the filing of criminal charges against Bautista for negligence over the hacking of the Comelec website, or what is known as “Comeleaks.”

Bautista, the complaint alleged, also “obstructed justice for saying that the [transparency server]script tweak was merely a cosmetic change which was in effect an exoneration of Smartmatic and Comelec IT specialists pending investigation.”

Moreover, “Bautista culpably violated the Constitution and/or betrayed the public trust when he failed to truthfully, accurately, or completely disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.”

In an affidavit executed on August 1 and submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation, Patricia Paz Bautista claimed her husband amassed nearly P1 billion in ill-gotten wealth and had 35 accounts at the Luzon Development Bank, but declared a net worth of only P176.3 million in his 2016 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth or SALN (see related story on A1).

She also accused her husband of receiving illegal commissions from Nilo Divina, whose law firm was retained by sequestered companies that Bautista dealt with when he was head of the Presidential Commission on Good Government.

Patricia, 47, with whom Bautista has four children, is demanding her legal share of her husband’s legitimate income.

Due course sought

Paras and Topacio asked that their complaint be given due course and that Bautista “be impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.”

The Constitution gives the House of Representatives exclusive power to initiate impeachment cases. Citizens may file complaints, provided that they get a lawmaker’s endorsement.

The complaint is then referred to the House justice committee, which determines whether it is sufficient in form and substance.

A vote of one-third of House members is needed for the complaint to proceed to the Senate, which, under the Constitution, has the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases.

In 2012, Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted by the Senate impeachment court for allegedly misdeclaring his SALN, a charge similar to that now lodged against Bautista.

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