Bautista’s fate left to Congress

Com­elec chief ready to stay if Duterte re­jects re­sign bid; Se­nate pre­par­ing for im­peach­ment trial

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page - By ARGYLL CYRUS B. GEDUCOS, SAM P. MEDENILLA, and VANNE P. TERRAZOLA

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

on De­cem­ber.

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)

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