Bautista impeached

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista

MANILA — After offering to resign by yearend, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista might have to step down sooner than planned after the House of Representatives voted, 137-75, hours later to impeach him.

The plenary vote overrode a motion to adopt the decision of the House justice committee to junk the impeachment complaint against Bautista. The committee had voted 26-2 to dismiss the complaint for being insufficient in form.

After Wednesday’s plenary vote, House Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu directed the justice committee to prepare the Articles of Impeachment.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said in an interview shortly after the plenary vote that Bautista could avoid a Senate impeachment trial if he resigned immediately.

As of last night, however, there was no indication that Bautista would advance the effectivity of his resignation.
In a statement, he said he was prepared to defend himself “at any venue with the right process because this will also give me the chance to clear my name.”

He described the plenary vote as “unfortunate.”

“While it may be an unnecessary move since I already tendered my resignation to the President today effective end of the year to ensure a smooth transition, I will abide by the Constitution and the relevant rules regarding the impeachment process,” he maintained.

Reliable sources told The STAR that Alvarez was angry after Bautista “reneged” on his promise to step down. The Speaker had reportedly given the poll chief until 4 p.m. yesterday to make his resignation effective immediately.

“He should resign now and not on Dec. 31. Apparently he has a record of flip-flopping,” a source related. He said there was no assurance that Bautista would indeed resign, especially since his letter was not addressed to the seven-man Comelec.

Appointed by former president Benigno Aquino III in 2015, Bautista’s seven-year term is supposed to end in 2022.

Alvarez led the House in calling for Bautista’s impeachment, describing the allegations against the polls chief as “very serious.”

Bautista’s estranged wife Patricia Cruz was “shocked at the resignation and doubly shocked at the impeachment. Grateful to Congress.”

Speaking through her lawyer Lorna Kapunan, Cruz said Bautista’s resignation letter “worked against him as it trivialized the seriousness of the charges of plunder and corruption against him and effectively undermined the respect due Congress.” Patricia has accused her husband of amassing more than P1 billion in ill-gotten assets. Her allegations largely formed the basis for the complaint. 

“Congress figured out that chairman Andy may be thinking he can play games with Congress and change his mind about resigning in December. We are prepared to substantiate the charges against chairman Andy in the Senate acting as an impeachment court and cooperate with the House panel of prosecutors,” she said.

House Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia, Reps. Harry Roque of Kabayan, Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte, among many others, joined Alvarez in the move to have Bautista impeached.

“I object to the committee report… because it is perceived that there were some infractions committed by no less than the chair of the Comelec and we never heard any reply on the accusations being hurled at him,” Barbers told his colleagues in plenary.

Bautista declared a total of P176 million in assets in 2016, but his estranged wife revealed that he actually has more than P1 billion in cash and properties, P329 million of which is deposited in 35 accounts in Luzon Development Bank.
The Comelec chief admitted having the amount, but argued it was co-owned by his family.

Complainants former Negros congressman Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio declared that Bautista committed betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution for his failure and refusal to declare his complete assets, graft and corruption, among many others.

Roque, a former UP law professor, earlier filed House Resolution 1171 calling on the House committees on suffrage and good government to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, based on Patricia’s exposé.

“It raises serious questions, if not doubts, on the integrity of Philippine democracy which Comelec is charged to protect and safeguard under the 1987 Constitution,” he said, noting that Bautista may have received bribes from Smartmatic in the hundreds of millions.

Roque claimed Bautista may have received payoffs from the Divina Law office which acts as counsel for Smartmatic, supplier of automated voting machines to Comelec since May 2010.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said yesterday Bautista’s impeachment trial may start by the last week of November or the first half of December, depending on how soon the House of Representatives can transmit the Articles of Impeachment.

Sotto said the Senate could still make preparations for the impeachment during the month-long break of Congress until Nov. 12, especially if the House promptly transmits the articles in the next days.

But before any trial, the chamber must first approve the proposed P3.8-trillion national budget for 2018 and the proposed Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) next month, he stressed.

“Our hands are tied. Once the Articles of Impeachment reach us, we have to act on it,” Sotto said.

He explained that upon receipt of the Articles of Impeachment, the Senate shall set the date and time to consider the articles.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III should inform the House if the chamber is ready to receive prosecutors at specified time and date. 

Pimentel, who is expected to be the presiding officer in the trial, said Bautista’s “expression of intention (to resign) is not resignation.”

“But actual resignation will change a lot of things,” he said. “Our (legislative) calendar will be affected. There’re only 24 hours in a day and you can’t add to that, and work is multiplying, that’s life,” he said, referring to the looming effect of an impeachment trial on Senate work.

Sens. Panfilo Lacson and Francis Escudero said the resignation of Bautista has not taken effect yet so the impeachment process is still valid and available at this time.

“His resignation as announced is prospective, so once the impeachment complaint is transmitted to the Senate and his resignation is still not in effect, then we will proceed with the trial,” Lacson said.

Escudero pointed out that Bautista merely announced his plan or intention to resign but he has not yet actually resigned. “So impeachment is still an available remedy/procedure,” he said.

But Sen. Francis Pangilinan said it would be a waste of the Senate’s time to convene as an impeachment court as the elections chief is on his way out anyway.

“The penalty for a conviction in an impeachment trial is removal from office. Since he has resigned effective end of the year, I don’t see any reason why the Senate should convene as an impeachment court,” Pangilinan said.

“It would be a waste of our time. For all intents and purposes the matter is moot,” he added.

Earlier, Bautista tendered his resignation, effective end of 2017.

He denied insinuations that his resignation was in exchange for the dismissal of his impeachment case.

“There is no ex-deal. You will see that on how the House committee on justice decided on the impeachment case,” said Bautista at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum at the Cafe Adriatico in Manila.

“The standards are similar – the verification had defects, (the petitioners had) no personal knowledge and the documents were not authenticated,” he said, apparently referring to the same bases used by lawmakers for dismissing the impeachment complaint against President Duterte.

“It is with deep sadness that I am informing you about my decision to resign as the Chair of the Comelec by the end of the year. After much prayer and discernment, I believe that it is the right time to step down,” Bautista announced at the Kapihan.

Bautista explained he wanted his resignation to take effect by yearend to allow President Duterte to choose his replacement and to “have a smooth transition.”

Bautista said he submitted his letter of resignation to the Office of the President yesterday morning.

Asked about his next move if the President refuses to accept his resignation, the poll chief replied: “I will cross the bridge when I get there.”

The poll chief said he decided to resign because of the postponement of the Oct. 23 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan polls and the pending approval of the Comelec budget by the Senate.

“Also, for me, family is very important and I felt it is time (to focus) on the healing of the wounds inflicted on my family,” noted Bautista, apparently referring to the controversies between him and his estranged wife Patricia.

In August, Patricia spoke in public about his alleged ill-gotten wealth amounting to almost P1 billion. In response, he revealed that his relationship with his wife turned sour when she began having an affair with businessman Alfonso Lim. The estranged couple has four young sons.

Before announcing his resignation, Bautista met with Comelec officials and employees to inform them about his decision.

“I am thankful for the love, prayers and support you have shown me, most especially during my most challenging times. Amid the hurtful, baseless and malicious accusations hurled against me, most of you never left my side,” he told the poll staff.

The resignation came as a surprise even to poll watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE).

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon claimed she did not expect Bautista to quit at this time.

“I had a feeling he would resign but I was surprised that he announced his intention to resign today, but it is good if he has decided so he will have peace of mind,” Guanzon said. 

Mac Ramirez, president of the Comelec Employees’ Union, admitted they were “shocked and in a state of disbelief.”

LENTE executive director Rona Ann Caritos said Bautista should be praised for his role in the success of the 2016 national and local elections. 
The President’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said Bautista resigned to protect his children from controversies.

“The resignation is an honorable exit given the furor that erupted following the rupture of the marital bond,” Panelo said in a statement.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Malacañang respects the decision of Bautista and wishes him well.

Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting chairman Rene Sarmiento said Bautista’s resignation would enable him to spend more time with his children as well as allow the poll body to focus on electoral reforms. Bautista was a board member of the PPCRV.