Hours after Comelec chief resigns
JUAN Andres Bautista became the first chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to be impeached, just hours after he announced his resignation amid scandal caused by a marital dispute.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the chamber was forced to impeach Bautista as the resignation won’t take effect until the end of the year.
“If he had tendered an irrevocable resignation, there would be no impeachment trial,” he told radio station dzMM.
The House move triggers an impeachment trial in the Senate, where Bautista could either be acquitted or convicted and removed from office.
Lawmakers implied that a deal was behind the decision of the House Committee on Justice to drop the impeachment complaint against Bautista last month.
On Wednesday, 137 lawmakers voted “no” to reject the justice committee decision, while 75 voted “yes” to dismiss the complaint. Two lawmakers abstained.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, the endorser of the impeach raps filed by former congressman Jacinto Paras, said lawmakers saw through the “game” played by the Comelec chief.
Roque said Bautista could be planning to withdraw his resignation later on, making himself immune from impeachment for one year based on impeachment rules.
“I think Bautista is taking me for a fool if he says he is promising to resign because the committee dismissed the complaint. That isn’t sure. First, he prayed for discernment. Then he said that he would not resign. Then he files a resignation letter effective December. If the ‘yes’ vote won then the impeachment complaint is dismissed, and then the resignation is pulled back, he will not be impeached for a year,” Roque told reporters.
“Therefore he could decide to stay for a full year in time to sign all documents for 2019, in time to resolve cases before the 2019 elections which is what we wanted to prevent,” he added.
Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, also one of the endorsers of the complaint, said: “Don’t mess with us. If you promised something, do it. Don’t play games.”
Alvarez said the justice committee was ordered to prepare the articles of impeachment against Bautista.
Bautista is accused of 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 Paz.
The Comelec chief is also said to have accepted illegal commissions from the law firm of UST law dean Nilo Divina, who had served as counsel for election machine provider Smartmatic.
Asked if there was still time for an impeachment trial given the one-month congressional break that begins this week, he said many lawyers had volunteered to help but that it was up to the “mabagal na kapulungan” (slow chamber).
He was referring to the Senate, which has to sole authority to try impeachment cases under the Constitution.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd said the Senate was prepared to accept the articles of impeachment even during the recess, during which preparations for a trial could begin.
“The Senate will accept the impeachment transmittal. We will probably call a caucus on how to conduct ourselves as an impeachment court and then we will adopt the previous impeachment rules, then we will prepare for the trial,” he said, referring to the rules the senators adopted during the 2012 impeachment trial of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.
But Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the House decision was premature because the overturned committee ruling was only on “sufficiency in form” and not on “substance.”
Lagman said the plenary must return the impeachment complaint to the justice committee.
Opposition senator Francis Pangilinan said there was no point holding a trial for Bautista.
“Since he has resigned effective end of the year, I don’t see any reason why the Senate should convene as an impeachment court. It would be a waste of our time. For all intents and purposes the matter is moot,” he said.
‘Intent to resign’
Bautista said on Wednesday that he respected the decision of the House of Representatives and would abide by the Constitution and the rules on impeachment.
He admitted he was saddened by the vote, but acknowledged that all members of the House were entitled to their own views.
“While it may be an unnecessary move since I already tendered my resignation to the President today effective end of the year to ensure a smooth transition, I will abide by the Constitution and the relevant rules regarding the impeachment process,” he said.
In a forum in Manila, Bautista explained that his decision to step down was not a spur-of-the-moment move but
precipitated by previous events and his “continued prayers and discernment for guidance.”
Aside from family reasons, Bautista said there was not much work to do in the Comelec until early 2018 following the postponement of the barangay (village) and youth polls.
“I always weigh things if I can still be of help or be a burden to the institution, and its effect on my family and my position. At this point, my feeling is I should give more time and importance to my family. And that’s really the reason why I have tendered my resignation,” Bautista said
As for the effective date of his resignation, Bautista said he wanted to give the President time to choose a new Comelec chairman and have a smooth transition.
Bautista also said he still had a commitment to fulfil as chairman of the Association of Asean Electoral Authorities, which will meet in Cebu in December.
Bautista’s staunch critic, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, said that what the Comelec chief submitted to the President was not a resignation letter “but an intent to resign, meaning it could change.”
“It was an announcement but not a resignation letter addressed to the Commission En Banc. But it is good that he has decided so he will have a peace of mind and focus on his children,” Guanzon told The Manila Times.
WITH BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO AND WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL