The people are not yet through with Andy Bautista

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

THE elected representatives of the people, or at least the 26 members of the justice committee of the House of Representatives, including majority leader Rudy Fariñas and its chair, Rep. Rey Umali, have decided to dismiss the impeachment complaint filed against Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andy Bautista on the grounds that it was insufficient in form.

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The fatal flaw ranged from a wrong verification, to the claim that it appeared to have been submitted to the
House and not to the justice committee, to the allegation that those who filed it have no personal knowledge of what they alleged.

The junking of the petition was simply based on a technicality, and not on the substance of the allegations.

And yet we already heard Andy Bautista proclaiming that the dismissal is the beginning of his exoneration.
It behooves one to ask by what figment of imagination Bautista could claim that a dismissal based on alleged deficiency in form can lead to a celebration of his innocence of the charges.

Bautista should be reminded that while he may have the presumption of innocence on his side, this is simply because the people’s representatives have denied the complainants the chance to prove his guilt.
But we, the people, are not yet done with him.

The people have an enormous interest in Andy Bautista’s case, and it has nothing to do with his marital problems but with the allegations made about his possible wealth which he did not declare in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). Also of interest is his alleged taking of commissions from a law firm in relation to a legal service provided to Smartmatic, which was the provider for the automated election system,

At the very heart of these allegations is the fact that they could cast a cloud of doubt over the integrity of our election system, one that Andy Bautista presides over.

In fact, if it is true that the electoral process was compromised by his acts, then such would have been a blatant attack on our democratic institutions, and would have violated the political rights of the people.

Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) explicitly states that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedures.” This is reiterated in letter b or Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Hence, Andy Bautista’s case is of utmost importance to our democracy, for its integrity hangs in the balance based on his guilt or innocence. Such would have been clearly established had the House justice committee allowed substance to take precedence over mere technicality.

While one can be skeptical of the remaining remedy in the hands of the House, where one third of the entire membership can decide to reverse the decision of the justice committee, which frankly is a remote possibility, everything is not yet lost for the people.

Even if Andy Bautista is an impeachable official, and the dismissal of the impeachment complaint filed against him effectively inoculates him with another year of immunity, there is nothing in the Constitution and the laws that prevent the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice through the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from investigating his actions.

Also, there is nothing that bars the Senate, and even the House, from investigating matters pertaining to the issues raised in the impeachment complaint, either in their oversight functions or in aid of legislation.

We also have to take comfort in the fact that many of the allegations against Andy Bautista are in the nature of a conspiracy. He allegedly has received commissions from a private law firm on an election-related matter. He has admitted that the bank accounts that he failed to declare in his SALN are all joint accounts for which his co-depositors are not impeachable officials, and therefore do not have the same kind of immunity that he has. As such, parties who are mentioned can be investigated, and if found with probable cause then appropriate cases can be filed. Even as Andy Bautista is immune from suit, his acts will be scrutinized through the acts of others. The nature of conspiracies is that finding a co-conspirator guilty can imply the guilt of the other. Putting those others named on trial will technically, and indirectly, implicate Andy Bautista.

Hence, even if he remains in his post as Comelec chair for the next 12 months, thanks to the House justice committee, his political capital and his legitimacy will be severely eroded in the event that anomalies involving him will be found in legislative inquiries, or found to have probable cause in investigations by the NBI or the Ombudsman.

The pressure will be intense on Andy Bautista. And after one year if he survives and refuses to step down, then a more robust impeachment complaint can be filed, fortified by findings from the investigations that can be initiated against him and others with whom he had joint deposits, or had questionable transactions with.

By then, the people would have the prudence to follow the correct format. And there would be no more need to establish personal knowledge since allegations will now be based on the outcomes of the official investigations. Hence, the House justice committee will no longer have any reason to dismiss such impeachment complaint on the basis of a mere technicality.

Andy Bautista said that the recent dismissal of the impeachment complaint will enable him to live a normal life, with business as usual.

The people will have to make sure that he will not have that pleasure.

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