History in the making: House impeaches Comelec chairman

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RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO

RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO

WE are seeing history in the making: The House of Representatives’ overriding of its justice committee’s report not to impeach Commission on Election Chairman Andres Bautista.This starts the process of indicting the head of this entity that had been exploited so much by the Yellow Cult in the past three national elections.

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Indeed, it was only the unexpected groundswell of popular support for President Duterte in the 2016 elections that stopped the Comelec from installing Mar Roxas as President. It seems to have succeeded though in the case of the vice-presidential post.

Unless the Senate proves itself another debased institution like the Comelec, Bautista’s impeachment trial is an opportunity to finally clean of corruption this institution that is supposed to be at the heart of our democracy, but in reality has been the tool of the Yellow Cult since 2010 and of the Philippine political elite.

It is a singular demonstration of political will and leadership on the part of the low-profile Speaker, Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. and his camp of President Duterte’s supporters to get 137 of the 297 House members— more than the 1/3, or 99 required—to override the dismissal by the committee on justice of the impeachment complaint against Bautista.

Speaker Alvarez (left): ”We will repair this damaged institution.” Comelec head Bautista, right, probably surprised at the sudden turn of events.

According to the House rules on impeachment adopted in 2005, the 51-member committee on justice was required to determine whether an impeachment complaint is “sufficient in form and substance”. The committee in September 21 voted to dismiss the complaint for being “insufficient in form,” on the very technical—and really absurd—grounds that one of documents wasn’t “attested to” before the House’s secretary-general (who is not even an elected representative).

The committee rejected what was a very logical argument by Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia, one of the impeachment complainants, that the House rules allow a “defective verification” to be corrected.

Arrogance

In a display of arrogance, Bautista even portrayed the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against him—which was entirely on technical grounds—as the Congress’ declaration of his innocence. “This proves to be a significant step in clearing my name after the malicious accusations hurled against me. As I have always maintained, the allegations are fabricated and baseless,” Bautista said in his statement on the dismissal last month.

However, because impeachment is not a legal process, but a political act, the House itself is not bound by such a guideline, which isn’t in the Constitution. The Constitution only stipulates that by a vote of one-third of all members of the House, it can override the decision of the justice committee. It does provide for any “sufficiency in form and substance”. Under the House’s rules, upon rejection of its dismissal of the complaint, the committee is now tasked to prepare the articles of impeachment.

The rejection of the committee’s decision upon the House leadership initiative is by itself historical. This is the first time this has happened.

Hence, those in constitutional bodies suspected of corruption or partisanship can no longer use as their shield the technicalities of rules. After all, these were designed not to be the refuge of scoundrels in government but only to make the process of impeachment, even if it is political in essence, an orderly one.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and former Supreme Court justice, now Ombudsman Conchita Morales-Carpio, must have lost sleep last night after news of the Congress’ move broke out. All their legal prowess, or in Sereno’s case, all the wisdom sycophant lawyers she could call upon because of she is Chief Justice won’t be any help to them when the Congress decides to impeach them.

In a brief telephone interview, Alvarez said: “We in the Duterte administration are determined to repair such a damaged institution as the Comelec, and the impeachment trial of its head will be a venue for this.”

“How can anybody believe that the 2013 and 2016 elections were not tampered, when there were so many areas in which there were zero votes for candidates for whom for instance the Iglesia ni Cristo had declared its support?” Alvarez pointed out. “Even their ministers didn’t heed the command of their ‘Central’? Why did Bautista, without the authorization by the Comelecen banc open Smarmatic’s source code?” he added.
Corruption

Indeed, it is so difficult to believe that Bautista—brought into government by former President Aquino and believed to be close to Yellow leader Sen. Franklin Drilon—hadn’t profited from corruption as Comelec head, or even in his earlier post as chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government.

It is his wife, Patricia, who accused him of corruption, and even presented to the public his actual bank passbooks and documents which, together with his real property, were valued at P1.2 billion, to prove it. She said she didn’t want to be accused in some future time of being part of her husband’s corruption or even profiting from his dirty money.

We would be so stupid to believe that Bautista deposited P329 million in a small Laguna-based thrift bank named Luzon Development Bank (Luzon Bank) owned by known Liberal Party supporters, only because “he knew its owners.” The only logical explanation would be that he could rely on its owners to keep his deposits secret.

We would be total morons if we believe the claim of his brother Martin, a gastroenterologist in the backcountry municipality of Guymon, Texas (population: 11,703), that most of those deposits were his money, which were just change for him because he is a billionaire. After a short press tour, Martin, who was a senatorial candidate of the Liberal Party in 2010, is back in Guymon.

Deputy minority leader Harry Roque, one of the impeachment complainants, said that the draft of the articles of impeachment he has submitted to the committee involves the following.

• The anomalous bank accounts, funds, businesses, corporations and financial transactions involving Bautista and/or his family members;

• Bautista’s supposed commissions from private law firm Divina &Uy law offices;

• Bautista’s failure to properly disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth; and

•Bautista’s failure to address the hacking of the Comelec website in March 2015.

Not by any logic can anybody claim that these are flimsy accusations.

Invoking God

Bautista thought he would keep these allegations buried—for the damage to the Comelec as an institution to be never corrected—and pre-empt the Congress in its impeachment move by announcing the other day, hours before the House vote, that he would resign by the end of the year. He thought that would give him enough time for a graceful exit, for the nation to forget the crimes he has been accused of.

It is just sickening how Bautista has been constantly invoking guidance from God for his decision. Indeed, Bautista has been a clever operator and had developed the sympathy of a significant part of media.

The Comelec has managed all these years to have a relatively good image. Yet if you ask any politician who has run or lost in an election, he would say the Comelec has been as corrupt as, well, the Bureau of Customs or local city administrations. I have heard horror stories recently of party-lists having bought their purported victories for P5 million from Comelec officials. It has managed to have a relatively good image, since no politician would dare expose its corruption. After all, he may run again in a future election.

The impeachment move against Bautista, for the first time in our history, will break the longstanding taboo on investigating this institution that is supposedly responsible for having the ctizens choose their leaders.

Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao

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