Too late a move to exit gracefully

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Juan Andres Bautista finally resigned on Wednesday as chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), “with deep sadness” and “with much prayer and discernment.”

Let it not be said, however, that the nation owed him a favor for his decision to step down, which was, in fact, long overdue because of his many sins of commission and omission.

That Bautista’s intended departure was not supposed to take effect until the end of the year probably compelled the House of Representatives to impeach him just hours after he announced his resignation. This act by the lower chamber reversed last month’s unceremonious decision by the House justice committee to drop the impeachment case filed against the Comelec chief by a group of complainants led by former congressman Jacinto Paras. The initial dismissal of the impeachment complaint was likely a deal to allow Bautista to exit gracefully.

Technically, Bautista will still face trial at the Senate impeachment court after the congressional break, unless he amends his resignation and makes it effective immediately.


The political pressure on Bautista is undeniable, but Bautista’s 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 Paz.

Bautista should have resigned as early as January, when the National Privacy Commission released a damaging report recommending criminal charges against him and other Comelec officials for the massive hacking of voters’ data now infamously known as “Comeleaks.”

His negligence led to the leak of the personal data of millions of Filipinos – enough to break into bank accounts and credit cards, among others – to the dark corners of the Web.

In other countries, a public official would have resigned posthaste. But this is the Philippines, where public officials surround themselves with prayer brigades rather than take command responsibility.

Not even an honest-to-goodness apology was heard from Bautista. His flimsy defense was that the Comelec was an agency of lawyers, not information technology practitioners.

Yet as a lawyer, he should have known that under the Data Privacy Act, “all sensitive personal information maintained by the government, its agencies and instrumentalities shall be secured, as far as practical, with the use of the most appropriate standards recognized by the information and communications technology industry, and as recommended by the commission. The head of each government agency or instrumentality shall be responsible for complying with the security requirements mentioned herein…”

So it took a personal embarrassment – Patricia’s very public washing of their dirty linen – for the Comelec chairman to finally announce his resignation.

Bautista now has a tough choice to make – to resign immediately and face the likelihood of criminal charges being filed against him, or stay until the end of the year and go through an impeachment trial.

Whatever his decision, he will go down in history – as Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque said – as the first Comelec chairman to be impeached.

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