(UPDATE 8 – 7:12 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines – Hours after announcing his resignation, Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairperson Andres Bautista was impeached by the House of Representatives.
He is the first head of the poll body to be impeached.
More than one-third of the lawmakers rejected the report of the House Committee on Justice that earlier found the impeachment complaint filed against Bautista by former Negros Oriental Representative Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio last August insufficient in form, and was thus, considered dismissed.
A total of 137 lawmakers rejected the committee report and voted for Bautista’s impeachment, 75 legislators voted in favor of the report and against the Comelec chief’s impeachment, while two legislators abstained from voting.
According to House insiders, Congress leaders gave Bautista until 4 p.m., Wednesday, to resign immediately but the poll chief supposedly caught the ire of lawmakers after he announced that he would step down by the end of the year.
This allegedly prompted House members to hold a caucus and move for Bautista’s impeachment three weeks after the House committee trashed the complaint against the poll chief for using a verification form used only for complaints endorsed by one-third of the members of the House.
With the plenary vote rejecting House Committee Report No. 429 on House Resolution No. 1397 and with more than one-third of the 292 House members voting to impeach Bautista, he was deemed impeached.
‘Unfortunate, but I will abide by rules’
In a statement issued early Wednesday evening, Bautista said it was “unfortunate” that the House committee’s decision to dismiss the charges against him, “which was voted upon twice” with 26 panel members trashing the complaint and only two members favoring the complaint, “was overturned this afternoon by the House of Representatives.”
“I acknowledge that all members of the House of Representatives are entitled to their own opinion. While it (impeachment) 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,” the poll chief said.
The House is expected to prepare the Articles of Impeachment to be sent to the Senate, which will sit as an impeachment court for Bautista’s trial.
Earlier in the day, Bautista said he was resigning his post “by the end of the year.”
Bautista disclosed his decision “with deep sadness” in a letter to “my Comelec family” dated Tuesday, October 11, that he posted both on his Twitter account. He also held a news conference after his announcement.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez cast his vote against the committee report, saying the “charges against the Comelec chair were very serious.”
‘Lawmakers saw through Bautista’s game’
Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, who is among the endorsers of the impeachment complaint against Bautista, said what happened today was a “reversal of fortunes.”
“From lonely two, this afternoon, we increased it to 137,” Garcia said, referring to those who had voted for the poll chief’s impeachment.
She said the charges against Bautista were “very serious” and now, the Comelec chief “will be given his opportunity to answer such charges.”
Garcia doubted Bautista’s intention to quit his post because the Comelec chief only posted his resignation letter on social media and did not submit it to President Rodrigo Duterte.
“December pa, eh pa’no kung [He said he would resign by December, what if] after his prayers and discernment he would say I would not resign. He thought na madadala n’ya ‘yong kongresista [He thought he could take congressmen for a ride] with a very lame claim to resignation; the 137 congressmen saw through his game,” she said.
Garcia said if lawmakers did not override the committee report dismissing the impeachment complaint against Bautista, “that would set him free from impeachment for full one year.”
“Don’t mess with us, congressmen and women. Pag meron kang sasabihin, gawin mo [If you would say something, do it]. They saw through your game,” she added.
‘Tingin ko talaga, iisahan kami’
Rep. Harry Roque, another endorser of the impeachment complaint against the poll chief, agreed with Garcia that Bautista allegedly wanted to outwit lawmakers.
“Tingin ko talaga iisahan kami, walang kasiguruhan ang resignation [I think that he really wanted to outwit us, his resignation was not definite]” he said.
“Resignation is always an option for him, pero ‘wag naman n’yang gawin na he will determine when to resign [but he should not determine when to resign],” the lawmaker added.
Roque said if the committee report was approved instead of rejected, then Bautista “would be free of impeachment for one year.”
“And if he changes his mind, he would be free to sign those contracts,” Roque said referring to Bautista’s intention to resign by the end of the year and to the Comelec’s agreements with electronic voting technology and services provider Smartmatic.
“Iniiwasan natin na pumirma na naman s’ya ng contract sa Smartmatic [We are avoiding to give him a chance to again sign a contract with Smartmatic],” he added.
Without Bautista at the Conmelec, Roque said, “We are confident we can restore the credibility and trustworthiness of the electoral process.”
Meanwhile, complainant Paras lauded the House’s move against the poll chief, saying it was “hulog ng langit (heaven sent)” and linked the charges against Bautista to the alleged cheating in the 2016 national polls.
“This will serve as a deterrent and I hope there will be no more issue of cheating in the next elections,” said Paras.
Sotto: Impeach process to stop if Bautista steps down immediately
At the Senate, Bautista’s impeachment trial is a third priority as the plenary deliberations on the proposed P3.7-trillion national budget for 2018 and the Palace-endorsed Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN Bill are still being tackled.
To spare everyone a headache, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III offered the Comelec chief this unsolicited advice: resign immediately, not at the end of 2017, so that the impeachment process stops. A similar scenario had happened in the aborted impeachment of former ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned while the process was still unfolding.
If Bautista ignores that advice to resign immediately and the impeachment runs its course, Sotto estimated the Senate could only prepare to transform itself into an impeachment court, as required by the Constitution, “in November at the earliest.”
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