THE JUSTICE committee of the House of Representatives dismissed on Wednesday the impeachment complaint filed against Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Juan Andres Bautista on a technicality, as it was “not sufficient in form and substance.”
Twenty-six members of the justice committee voted against the complaint filed by former representative Jacinto Paras of Negros Oriental and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio on behalf of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), while only two voted for it.
The complaint accused Bautista of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, for offenses such as hidden wealth and negligence.
Only Representatives Harry Roque of Kabayan party-list and Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu endorsed the complaint, while Rep. Abraham Tolentino of Cavite abstained.
Under House rules, for an impeachment complaint to be upheld, it has to be “sufficient in form and substance.”
According to the complaint, Bautista neglected his duty as Comelec chairman, resulting in the massive hacking of voters’ personal information in March 2016 and the tampering of the “transparency server” that broadcast election results.
Bautista’s estranged wife Patricia claimed last month that her husband had at least P1 billion in ill-gotten wealth consisting of various properties and deposits in 35 accounts with the Luzon Development Bank.
The Comelec chief, Patricia claimed, also received illegal commissions from lawyer Nilo Divina, whose Makati law firm services election automation firm Smartmatic.
The committee determined that the verification of the complaint, or the endorsement of members of the House that is required to allow it to be heard in the justice committee, did not follow the prescribed format.
Before voting began, Roque moved for a substitution of the verification.
“Since it is not prohibited, since the rules contemplate even that formal defense are being rectified, why then should we not allow the substitution as pleaded by the complainants if only because we need to get to the truth of the allegations as it affects all of us? It is the very integrity of our democracy that is at stake,” Roque said.
Last week, the second impeachment against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno was dismissed because of a problem in verification.
Pampanga Rep. Juan Bondoc, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal, Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo, Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun and Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas objected to Roque’s motion.
“The substitute verification has no legal basis in the rules of procedures in the impeachment cases. There is no specific rule granting any party a substitute verification,” Lagman said.
Patricia’s lawyer Lorna Kapunan lamented the junking of the impeachment rap on a technicality.
“We are hoping that [the congressmen that will debate in the plenary]will let justice prevail over technicality because the truth of the allegations it will not see the light of day. If you dismiss a complaint because of wrongful verification, what is the message? Do you really want to know the truth?” she said.
VACC condemns vote
The anti-corruption advocacy group VACC said the committee vote was a “failure of the rule of law.”
In a statement, VACC Chairman Dante Jimenez said the House justice panel “dispensed unreasonably” the impeachment complaint filed by Paras and Topacio against Bautista.
“Clearly the House has rammed [the vote]through by sheer numbers, without reason and wisdom,” he said.
“The verification required in a complaint is merely a formal requirement and can never be used to thwart substantial justice. Hard evidence that could have been presented by [Patricia] Bautista showing the ill-gotten wealth of Andres Bautista would have been unfolded had the House Justice Committee not dismissed the case against Bautista simply based on technicality, which the House just pulled out of its sleeves without any legal basis, contrary to established jurisprudence on the matter,” it added.
“Today is the death of democracy and the victory of the corrupt public officials.”