EDITORIAL

House betrays public interest, lets Bautista off the hook

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Normally, the House of Representatives is the one that accuses a public official in an impeachment case; it charges the official with betrayal of public trust, among other various offenses.

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Today, it is the House – as personified by the House justice committee – that stands accused of betraying public trust for allowing Mr. Andres Bautista to go scot-free.

The reversal of roles has arisen because the justice committee, contrary to wide public expectations of the impeachment pushing through, has ominously decided to dismiss the impeachment complaint.

The committee dismissed the complaint on the ground that it did not satisfy a requirement to be sufficient in form. Twenty-six members of the committee cited the technicality in their vote to dismiss. Only two insisted on pressing for the complaint to push through. The seriousness of the charges was never addressed.

We, in the Times, feel constrained to raise our voice against the decision, because the verification rule was strained to absurd limits. And we think that Comelec Chairman Bautista is being allowed to walk in spite of mounting evidence pointing to his accumulation of unexplained wealth, and failure to report various incomes in his SALN. We should not forget that former Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona was convicted at his impeachment trial for a supposed irregularity in his SALN.

The House committee chose to dismiss the Bautista complaint, rather than examine the evidence and argue the issues in its proceedings. No less than the wife of the Comelec chairman, Mrs. Patricia Bautista, appeared before the committee to testify against her spouse and to the countless account passbooks of Bautista in one obscure rural bank.

The committee used the tyranny of numbers in the justice committee to silence the complaint against Bautista – via a vote of 26-2.

This puzzles us. A good number of legislators have endorsed the complaint to meet the impeachment requirement. Now their voices, too, will be drowned out by the noise of their peers in the justice committee.

We think there is merit to investigating the allegations that House members, and especially the chamber’s leadership, are protecting Bautista because he may know too much about their own violations of election laws during the 2016 elections.

There may be a conspiracy to hide the truth.

The anti-corruption advocacy group, Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC), says the House “rammed [the vote]through by sheer numbers, without reason and wisdom.”

The verification requirement is merely a formality and should never be used to thwart substantial justice.

As things stand, hard evidence that could have been presented to show the ill-gotten wealth of Andres Bautista may no longer be heard, if the dismissal of his case becomes final. The truth about Bautista’s getting money from Comelec supplier, Smartmatic, may not come to the fore at all.

This abominable situation should be rectified by every means available in the House process. If, as one legislator says, the impeachment complaint is not yet fully closed, then the sensible, conscientious ones in the chamber should employ all efforts to save it.

Otherwise, the House will have failed its duty of being the exclusive filer of impeachment complaints in our constitutional system.

And the nation will then have to turn for hope to the Ombudsman to get to the truth of Bautista’s unexplained millions and his evident betrayal of public trust.

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