THE Senate will convene as an impeachment court to try Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Juan Andres Bautista, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd said on Thursday.
Pimentel at the same time assured his colleagues Bautista’s trial won’t interfere with legislative work, particularly deliberations on the P3.8-trillion national budget for 2018 and the tax reform bill, a priority measure.
“There will not be any delay because we will hold trial days when we are off from legislative work. Trial [will be held]on Thursday, Friday [and]Saturday,” Pimentel said in a text message.
Congress went on a month-long break on Wednesday and would resume session on November 13.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon pointed out that the budget was in the period of interpellations, “with many controversial items yet to be tackled.” The proposed tax reform law or the “Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act” is in the period of amendments.
“Our calendar is too tight and the impeachment case will eat up a lot of our time when we resume session in November. Legislative work will be seriously affected and that is a matter that the leadership should highly consider,” he said.
The Senate has sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment, Drilon noted, referring to Section 3 (6) of the Article XI of the Constitution.
“The impeachment trial is a constitutional duty that the Senate is bound to perform without any delay. We should give it the highest priority,” he said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Wednesday said there was no more need to hold an impeachment trial as Bautista had resigned. “It is a waste of time.”
Bautista on Wednesday submitted a resignation letter to the Office of the President that won’t take effect until the end of the year. It was not irrevocable.
This prompted the House of Representatives to impeach Bautista and reverse last month’s decision of the House Committee on Justice to junk the impeachment raps filed by ex-congressman Jacinto Paras.
Endorsers of the impeachment complaint, Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque and Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, said Bautista could still withdraw his resignation and enjoy a one-year immunity from impeachment if the House did not reverse the justice committee decision.
Bautista is being 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 Smartmatic.
Bautista was impeached on Wednesday by a vote of 137-75, and two abstentions, just hours after he announced his resignation.
Comelec chief to face music
Bautista stood pat on his decision to step down from office at the end of the year.
The Comelec chief said on Thursday he was ready to face the ordeal of impeachment proceedings in the Senate.
“I was not expecting it but I respect their (House members) opinion. We’ll just prepare for the articles of impeachment that they will make,” he told reporters.
Bautista admitted that his letter of resignation to Malacañang was not irrevocable, which he said was in deference to the appointing authority and to give the President the opportunity to decide on it.
“Let’s leave it to the President. It was just yesterday, so let’s give him time to decide on it. Whatever his decision will be, I will accept it,” he further said.
Aside from his formal resignation letter to the President, Bautista also wrote a letter to his Comelec family which bore a different signature.
“I signed Andy to my Comelec family [letter], while I used my official signature in my resignation letter to the President,” he said.
Bautista denies he has amassed ill-gotten wealth, and has filed charges against his estranged wife for grave coercion, qualified theft and robbery and extortion.
‘Insincere and unrepentant’
Manuelito Luna, counsel for impeachment complainants former congressman Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, said Bautista appeared “insincere and unrepentant” based on the tenor of his letter to the Comelec staff.
Luna said the House plenary’s decision to impeach Bautista was “total vindication for the complainants.”
Paras on Thursday cited a Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) report showing seven “anomalies” during Bautista’s term in the agency.
The list includes unliquidated cash disbursements from Philippine National Bank dollar bond accounts of the PCGG, hiring of “ghost employees” with salaries ranging from P25,000 to P29,000 monthly, receipts of gift checks from Bataan Shipyard and Engineering Co. (Baseco) and Independent Realty Corporation Group, engagement with Divina Law, abuse of government vehicles, anomalous payment of membership dues to private organizations, and the opening of numerous accounts with Luzon Development Bank.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte told reporters the impeachment of Bautista was a collective decision of the bloc’s caucus on Wednesday.
He explained that those who voted in favor of the committee report junking the impeachment raps last month were not allowed to vote against it in the plenary. This resulted in a mixed decision of the members of the majority on the matter.
Fariñas pushed the motion to declare the impeachment complaint “insufficient in form” in the committee on justice last month.
“We had to maintain our vote in favor of the report, even if we were already in favor of impeachment. Same with [Oriental Mindoro Rep. and House Committee on Justice] Chairman Reynaldo Umali,” Farinas said.
“The Speaker, and those who voted with him, and we who voted in favor of the Report, did not really have any real difference as the decision to impeach was made by us, but there were members like me who could no longer vote against the report,” he said.
“You must have noticed that I was the one who ensured that the will of the majority was followed, and not my actual vote. In fact, I specifically requested my colleagues not to follow my vote on that particular instance,” he added.
Umali told reporters by phone that all 26 members of the committee voted to junk the complaint against Bautista.
He admitted he did not expect to be overruled.
“Personally, it was not too good for me because it was the first time that I was overruled or rejected by my peers. But that is democracy at work,” Umali said.
Palace won’t interfere
Malacañang on Thursday said it would not interfere in Congress’ proceedings on the impeachment of Bautista.
In a news conference, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said impeachment was “beyond our purview.”
“Well, Congress shall decide what to do, you know, with this impeachment in view of his resignation,” Abella told reporters.
with WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL, MARY GLEEFER JALEA, RALPH EDWIN U. VILLANUEVA AND CATHERINE S. VALENTE