Com­elec’s Bautista should re­sign now, not later

Manila Bulletin - - Views • Features - By GETSY TIGLAO

COM­MIS­SION on Elec­tions (Com­elec) Chair­man Juan An­dres Bautista should have re­signed way back in Au­gust when he saw the ev­i­dence pil­ing up in front of him – amid the charges of hid­den wealth brought by the ul­ti­mate in­sider, his wife Pa­tri­cia. But he had a last-minute gam­bit that he prob­a­bly thought would work.

Bautista re­leased a let­ter of res­ig­na­tion on Wed­nes­day but this was ef­fec­tive only in De­cem­ber, 2017. The let­ter was an ob­vi­ous sham, a de­lay­ing tac­tic weakly hinged on a hope that po­lit­i­cal winds would change between now and De­cem­ber.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the House lead­er­ship saw through the farce and on the same day, moved quickly to over­turn the jus­tice com­mit­tee de­ci­sion to drop the im­peach­ment com­plaint against Bautista. The House ple­nary voted 137-75 to im­peach Bautista, the first time a sit­ting Com­elec chair­man has been im­peached.

Fol­low­ing this his­toric move by the House, the Ar­ti­cles of Im­peach­ment will now be pre­pared by the jus­tice com­mit­tee, and then sent to the Sen­ate which will con­vene as an im­peach­ment court. If found guilty of the charges Bautista will be re­moved from of­fice.

We can ex­pect a long drawn-out trial that would make for high po­lit­i­cal the­ater. All man­ner of un­sa­vory de­tails will be dis­cussed, and if Bautista truly loves his chil­dren and fam­ily, he should spare them from wit­ness­ing his ig­no­min­ious fall by im­me­di­ately re­sign­ing his post.

But this is the Philip­pines. Many here have hides thicker than a carabao’s, and shame is just the anti-virtue in the same league as hypocrisy. Is the Com­elec post that im­por­tant to Bautista (or to the op­po­si­tion party) that he would hold on to it for dear life?

“If he had ten­dered an ir­rev­o­ca­ble res­ig­na­tion there would be no im­peach­ment trial,” House Speaker Pan­ta­leon Al­varez said. He added that no one is stop­ping Bautista from step­ping down “to­day, tonight, to­mor­row.”

Other law­mak­ers were more in­censed at the “game” that Bautista was at­tempt­ing to play. Rep. Harry Roque, one of the en­dorsers of the im­peach­ment com­plaint, let it rip against the Com­elec chair­man:

“Bautista is tak­ing me for a fool if he says he is promis­ing to re­sign be­cause the com­mit­tee dis­missed the com­plaint. That isn’t sure. First, he prayed for dis­cern­ment. Then he said that he would not re­sign. Then he files a res­ig­na­tion let­ter ef­fec­tive De­cem­ber. If the ‘yes’ vote won then the com­plaint is dis­missed, and the res­ig­na­tion is pulled back, and he will not be im­peached for a year.”

Bautista is ac­cused of be­trayal of pub­lic trust and vi­o­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, for fail­ing to dis­close his peso and for­eign cur­rency bank hold­ings; con­do­minium units in Boni­fa­cio Global City and in Cal­i­for­nia; and for­eign in­vest­ments in re­ported tax havens, in his State­ment of As­sets, Li­a­bil­i­ties and Net Worth.

Bautista is al­leged to be hold­ing about 11.2 bil­lion in cash and as­sets, and his wife Pa­tri­cia has is­sued an af­fi­davit af­firm­ing this, and has turned over all rel­e­vant fi­nan­cial doc­u­ments and other ev­i­dence to the in­ves­ti­gat­ing agen­cies. Mrs. Bautista has also ex­pressed will­ing­ness to tes­tify in any im­peach­ment trial.

De­spite his brother Martin fly­ing into town to try and claim the money as his, Bautista has not prop­erly ex­plained how he was able to ac­quire th­ese as­sets that are dis­pro­por­tion­ate to his salary as a pub­lic of­fi­cial. “Be­sides, his non-re­port­ing of the same in his SALN fur­ther lends cre­dence to the al­le­ga­tions that they are ill­got­ten,” the im­peach­ment com­plaint read.

The most damn­ing charge against Bautista are those in­volv­ing graft and cor­rup­tion as he al­legedly re­ceived com­mis­sions from the Div­ina Law Of­fice, which is also the le­gal coun­sel of Smart­matic. The Venezue­lan firm was the Com­elec’s big­gest con­trac­tor, the sup­plier of the con­tro­ver­sial vote­count­ing ma­chines used in the May 2016 elec­tions.

“What is very fa­tal here is he ad­mit­ted that he took money from Smart­matic through Div­ina Law of­fice,” said for­mer Rep. Jac­into Paras, who filed the im­peach­ment com­plaint against Bautista in Au­gust. The com­plaint said that ac­cept­ing re­fer­ral fees from Smart­matic was “tan­ta­mount to in­di­rect bribery” based on the Re­vised Pe­nal Code.

The com­plaint also took note of “Come­leak” and Bautista’s al­leged fail­ure to ful­fill his duty in im­ple­ment­ing the Data Pri­vacy Act fol­low­ing the hack­ing of the Com­elec be­fore the 2016 elec­tions. The per­sonal data of mil­lions of vot­ers were re­port­edly breached by this hack­ing, the com­plaint said, and Bautista al­legedly failed to act on this se­ri­ous pri­vacy vi­o­la­tions.

The vot­ing pub­lic also want to know if their votes were in any way tam­pered with dur­ing the last elec­tions. The Com­elec chief was charged with al­low­ing a change in the “script” in the trans­parency server just as the vote count was on­go­ing.

A Smart­matic of­fi­cial was al­lowed ac­cess to the server al­legedly to “tweak” the script but the camp of vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bong­bong Mar­cos said this was done to give Vice Pres­i­dent Leni Ro­bredo a slight vic­tory of just 200,000 votes.

Bautista has a lot of ex­plain­ing to do in the next few months. But we hope he would just re­sign and spare ev­ery­one from see­ing his fi­nal di­min­ish­ment.

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