Bautista’s fate left to Congress
Comelec chief ready to stay if Duterte rejects resign bid; Senate preparing for impeachment trial
Malacañang prefers to keep its hands off of the impeachment of outgoing Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Congress should be the one to decide the fate of Bautista.
“Well, Congress shall decide what to do, you know, with this impeachment in view of his resignation,” Abella said during the Palace press briefing Thursday.
“After his successor is named, we look forward to a smooth transition and preparations for Barangay and SK (Sangguniang Kabataan) Elections next year, midterm polls, and if possible, BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) and Charter Change plebiscites in 2019,” he added.
In a radio interview on Thursday, Bautista said it will be up to Malacañang to decide whether to keep or replace him as the head of the poll body before the effectivity of his resignation
In a radio interview, Bautista said he is ready to vacate his post at an earlier date if Malacañang will be able to immediately find his replacement.
He also said that he’s prepared to stay if President Duterte decides to reject his resignation.
“The Dec. 31 date is not cast in stone... it only aims to give the President enough time to make the transition (for my resignation) smooth and orderly,” Bautista said during an interview over radio DZRH.
“At this point, I would just wait for the decision of the President,” Bautista added.
How to avoid trial Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said that should the embattled Comelec chair resign sooner, no impeachment trial will be conducted, adding that Bautista is not prevented from stepping down “today, tonight, tomorrow.”
“Actual resignation will change a lot of things, not the expression of any plan to resign because otherwise, that can be delayed,” said Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
Pimentel said the Upper Chamber has yet to receive a copy of Bautista's supposed resignation letter.
“Kung meron talagang (If there is really a) resignation letter... and deemed separated from government service na siya, wala na, stop na yung impeachment (then the impeachment trial will stop) .... Kung umalis na siya, wala na pong point na magtuloy-tuloy pa (If he is resigned, there’s no point to continue),” he said.
Pimentel on Thursday said they are now reviewing the rules to adopt for the impeachment trial of Bautista.
Senators will have caucus after the Lower House has transmitted to them the articles of Bautista's impeachment, he said.
House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said he will recommend to the Justice panel the holding of two committee meetings to better prepare the chamber in finalizing the Articles of Impeachment.
Fariñas said the two meetings will also be used in choosing the 11-man prosecution panel that will represent the chamber in the Senate trials.
Alvarez disclosed that the chamber is currently being swamped with offers from lawyers volunteering to become part of the impeachment team.
Pimentel said that besides the rules of impeachment, senators would also have to map out their schedule, and consider hiring additional staff, or trial practitioners as consultant, if necessary, especially for neophyte senators.
The trial may start around November 20, a week after the Congress resumes its session on November 13, he said.
Opposition unconvinced Notwithstanding the preparations being undertaken by the two chambers, the House independent opposition remained unconvinced about the regularity of the plenary proceedings.
“Section 11 of Rule III of the House Rules on Impeachment regarding the disposition by the plenary of the recommendation for dismissal of the impeachment complaint by the Committee on Justice presupposes that the recommendation is based on the insufficiency of the complaint, lack of sufficient grounds or absence of probable cause,” noted Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who voted to uphold the Justice Committee report.
He pointed out that by rejecting the panel’s recommendation, the one-third vote of members of the Lower House cannot be considered as an approval for the filing of impeachment against Bautista.
“Since Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista has resigned effective December 31, 2017, then any impeachment proceedings against him is unnecessary because the purpose of an impeachment is the ouster of the respondent,” said Lagman.
On the other hand, Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano pointed to Malacañang as the plotter of the impeachment case as he noted that the rebuff of the committee report was unprecedented.
“I cannot help but think that the resignation of Chairman Bautista may have been an arrangement pitched with the Duterte administration in exchange of dismissing the impeachment complaint,” Alejano stated.
Lawyer Manuelito Luna, counsel for impeachment complainants former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras and legal practitioner Ferdinand Topacio, lauded the impeachment decision as he noted that the “tenor of” Bautista’s resignation letter indicated that he is “insincere and unrepentant.”
“This is a total vindication for the complainants who had earlier saw their complaints dismissed though sufficient in form as they merely followed the verification format in the House impeachment rules,” Luna said.
In House Resolution 1397 that contained Committee Report 429, the Justice Committee chaired by Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali recommended that the Paras-Topacio complaint be dismissed for failing to meet the requirement on sufficiency in form.
The House panel said the verification contained in the complaint was “defective.”
When presented for plenary voting on Wednesday, the recommendation was rejected by a vote of 75 for and 137 against.
What’s the motive?
Makabayan bloc member ACTTeachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio believes that the Duterte administration has a somewhat sinister motivation for wanting to remove Bautista from his post.
“Ang motivation dito is control of the elections. Obviously malapit na yung 2019 (The motivation here is to control the elections. Obviously the 2019 local elections are near),” Tinio said during the militant bloc's press conference Thursday.
“(Chairman Bautista's impeachment is a clear attempt from President Duterte and his administration to control all vital offices, especially the supposedly independent Constitutional bodies,” Tinio claimed.
He said these bodies include the Comelec, the Supreme Court (SC), and the Office of the Ombudsman.
Incidentally, SC Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is one Justice panel hearing away from being deemed impeached by the House, while Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales is allegedly the subject of at least three ouster raps to be filed soon before the Chamber.
While Tinio theorized that Sereno and Morales were being “targeted” by President Duterte for their stance against the spate of extrajudicial killings and allegations of hidden wealth, respectively, the same cannot be said about the poll chief.
“We've seen how this administration has been messing with the elections. The Barangay elections has already been postponed twice,” he noted.
Originally slated in October, 2016, the village and youth polls were deferred by Congress to October, 2017, and then again to May, 2018 upon Duterte's prodding. He cited the involvement of 40 percent of barangay officials to the local drug trade as the reason.
No elections, term extension
Tinio went on to link his concerns with Bautista's impeachment to the administration's goal of switching to a federalized government, which will have to be preceded by amendments to the 1987 Constitution.
“We will have Charter Change when we resume sessions in November. That will move forward by next year. I think that will affect the elections,” he said.
“Most likely the proposal there would be not to have elections for the moment, term extension, and so on and so forth. That's why it's crucial for this administration to have total control over Comelec,” Tinio said.
The switch from the current unitary government to a federal government will ultimately be decided on by the Filipino people through a referendum, which will be handled by Comelec.
“Our view is that basically, they will be fronting federalism but they will instead end up institutionalizing term extension and more powers for President Duterte,” stressed Tinio.
The month-long recess for both Houses of Congress began Thursday. (With reports from Ben R. Rosario and Ellson A. Quismorio)