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Tuesday, October 17, 2017 30° Partly cloudy

Comelec’s Bautista should resign now, not later

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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 P1.2 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 ill-gotten,” 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 vote-counting 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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