House panel junks impeachment complaint vs. Comelec chair

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Updated to include statements of Andres Bautista and Patricia Bautista

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 20) — Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres Bautista is one step closer to surviving an attempt to impeach him.

The House Committee on Justice on Wednesday junked the August 23 complaint filed by former Representative Jacinto Paras of Negros Oriental and Ferdinand Topacio of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).

Voting 26-2, the panel ruled the complaint as "insufficient in form."

"The result of the voting in insufficiency in form of this complaint renders this complaint dismissed," House Justice Committee Chairman Reynaldo Umali said.

Only the complaint's endorsers, Reps. Gwen Garcia and Harry Roque voted to declare it sufficient in form.

They engaged in a lengthy debate against their colleagues, which ended in the rejection of the substitute, corrected verification filed by the complainants on September 13. It was the same day the panel dismissed one of two impeachment raps against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for not having proper verification, as prescribed by the Lower House's rules of procedure in impeachment proceedings.

Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas agreed with majority of his colleagues in saying the verification was "improperly filed" as it was addressed to the House of Representatives, instead of the Justice Committee.

"There was tacit, implicit, implied and expressed admission that the verification is defective," Rep. Doy Leachon said. "Being defective in nature, I think there is no point of belaboring the issue."

Roque made the motion for the panel to accept it. He appealed to his colleagues to set aside technicalities.

"Dahil po sa mga paratang nais ko pong malaman ang katotohanan dahil demokrasya po ang nakasalalay (Because of the allegations I want to know the truth because it is democracy at stake)," Roque said.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, however said, "there are various avenues to know the truth other than an impeachment proceeding."

The committee is expected to submit its report to the plenary.

Under the Constitution, a vote of at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives, or 98 out of the incumbent 292 congressmen, can start an impeachment trial at the Senate.

Dismissing the complaint, on the other hand, shields Bautista from impeachment raps for one year since filing, as stated in the Constitution.

Bautista grateful

Speaking to CNN Philippines after the hearing, Bautista said he felt vindicated.

In a statement, he thanked the House for "upholding the rule of law and for their objectivity and fairness" as he once again denied all allegations in the dismissed impeachment complaint.

"This proves to be a significant step in clearing my name after the malicious accusations hurled against me. As I have always maintained, the allegations are fabricated and baseless," he added.

 

Bautista was not present during the hearing, but his estranged wife Patricia was.

She accused her husband of amassing hundreds of millions in pesos in unexplained wealth during his term as Comelec chair.

During the hearing, Fariñas said Patricia should have filed the complaint because she has personal knowledge of the allegations. He said the complaint, although it contains Patricia's affidavits, was mostly based on newspaper reports.

"Nagugulat nga po ako e (I was surprised), several paragraphs are just quotations from newspaper reports," he said.

Patricia said she did not file the impeachment complaint herself because she was waiting for the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation. She had given the agency documents supporting her claims her husband had ill-gotten wealth.

 

The Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Presidential Commission on Good Governance, which Bautista headed from 2010 to 2015, have also launched investigations into Bautista's allegedly anomalous deals.

Read more: Bautista feels vindicated, wife's camp not giving up on impeachment

Accusations vs. Bautista

In the 18-page impeachment complaint, Bautista is accused of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for "grossly neglecting his duties" as head of the Comelec. These are grounds for officials to be impeached under the 1987 Constitution.

Complainants said Bautista failed to prevent the leak of the personal data of millions of voters prior to the May 2016 polls. They said Bautista also failed to promptly act on the hacking of the Comelec website.

They added, Bautista must be ousted for saying the suspicious new script or command that was fed to the Comelec's transparency server during the transmission and counting of the 2016 election results was merely a "cosmetic change," which will not affect the election results. This is in effect exonerating those responsible for the alteration even before proper investigation, complainants said.

Finally, Bautista is accused of misdeclarations in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

The Comelec chair consistently denied the allegations made by his wife, even accusing her of stealing cash, ATM cards and other documents in November 2016.

Bautista was appointed by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2015. His term expires in 2022.

The 1987 Constitution states the House of Representatives "shall have the exclusive power" to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President, Vice President, members of the Supreme Court, members of Constitutional Commissions such as the Commission on Elections or the Commission on Human Rights, and the Ombudsman.