Infighting erupts at election body

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Comelec chief hit for delay in printing of ballots
PERSONAL issues are getting in the way of the official duties of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Juan Andres Bautista, a Comelec commissioner charged on Sunday, citing delay the in the printing of ballots for the upcoming barangay (village) elections.

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Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon took to Twitter to announce that the printing of ballots for the synchronized Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (youth council) elections in October had been stopped by the National Printing Office (NPO).

This was because Bautista failed to sign the required memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the state-owned printer, Guanzon alleged.

Guanzon said she learned about it only during the Comelec en banc’s meeting on Tuesday.

Nobody in the en banc, or the full commission, including Bautista, knew about the status of the printing of ballots for the village and youth polls, she claimed.

(From left) Comelec Chairman Juan Andres Bautista and Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon

“During the last en banc meeting I asked about the status of the [printing of]ballots. And according to the lawyer in charge, printing was stopped. I asked why? The lawyer said that it was because there was no MOA yet with NPO,” said Guanzon.

“Who should sign it? Is it not the chair? We authorized him (Bautista) to sign the contract which he did not do. Even the suppliers of signage in the last elections have not been paid yet,” Guanzon added.

Bautista was quick to deny Guanzon’s claims, saying that he was not solely to blame for the printing problem.

“Hindi po totoo` yan. Wala pa pong pinirmahan kasi wala pa pong en banc approval ng mga presyo ng mga i-imprenta na ibinigay lang nu’ng Tuesday’s meeting (It is not true. Nothing was signed because there was no en banc approval yet on the cost of printing, which was only submitted in Tuesday’s meeting),” Bautista told The Manila Times.

Guanzon claimed that Bautista’s personal problems have rendered him ineffective to perform his job as chairman of the Comelec, thus her and five other commissioners’ appeal for him to resign or file a leave of absence.

‘Unfair to govt’
The commissioner said Bautista should wait for the resolution of his dispute with his wife Patricia, which had led to the filing of an impeachment complaint before the House of Representatives.

Guanzon pointed out that an impending impeachment trial would definitely eat all of Bautista’s time.

“If we have a personal problem, we need to leave because it is unfair to the people and unfair to the government that Andy [Bautista] could no longer function, and he remains in office. He should first focus on his children,” she said.The impeachment process against Bautista has started rolling, with three lawmakers endorsing an impeachment complaint filed against him on Wednesday.

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.

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.

Consummate contracts
Guanzon stressed that pending the passage of a law postponing the village and youth polls, the printing of ballots must proceed, contracts must be consummated and checks must be signed, which, she pointed out, Bautista could not longer do as he was preoccupied with his personal problems.

Asked to react on his colleagues call for him to either resign or file a leave of absence, Bautista said: “Pinagdadasalan pa po (Still praying).”

Guanzon said Bautista cannot serve two masters, adding: “Don’t worry about the work [in the Comelec], we can do it.”

If Bautista files a leave of absence or steps down from office, the six other members of the en banc will decide who among them will be acting chairman.

The post usually goes to the most senior commissioner, who is Christian Lim.

Some P6 billion has been allotted for the twin polls, which includes the printing of ballots and procurements of election materials.

The Comelec has a timetable of three months for the coming polls – two months for ballot printing and one month for the delivery of ballots.

The poll body needs to print 78 million ballots. Of the total, 57 million will be for the barangay elections and 21 million for the youth polls.

On August 14, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms approved a bill postponing anew the October 23 barangay and youth elections to May 2018.

The twin polls were originally scheduled to be held in October 2016 but were postponed to October 23 this year. The last election was held in October 2013.

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