July 23, 2018, 2:01 am
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House panel dismisses Bautista impeach bid

THE House committee on justice yesterday dismissed the impeachment complaint against Elections chairman Andres Bautista for insufficiency in form despite the appeal of endorsers to allow complainants to rectify the defect.

The panel chaired by Rep. Reynaldo Umali (PDP-Laban, Oriental Mindoro) voted 2-26 on the motion of Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu to declare the complaint sufficient in form.

The two who voted for the motion were Garcia and her fellow endorser, Rep. Harry Roque (PL, Kabayan), who insisted that the panel could have allowed former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, the complainants, to rectify the errors  since the rules of impeachment do not prohibit it.

Bautista welcomed the panel’s decision, saying: “This proves to be a significant step in clearing my name after the malicious accusations hurled against me.” 

“As I have always maintained, the allegations are fabricated and baseless,” Bautista said, adding the complaint was anchored on the claims of his estranged wife, Patricia, that he has amassed ill-gotten and undeclared wealth.

The committee’s decision can still be reversed by the plenary if 98 or one-third of all its members will vote to send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for trial.

If not, Bautista will be immune from impeachment attempts for a year as the Constitution provides.

“It is what it is (decision) and we continue,” said Patricia, who wanted to testify on her allegation that the poll chief amassed some P1 billion and did not disclose this in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

Patricia’s lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, said they respect the committee’s decision “and hopefully when this is brought to the plenary with the greater number of congressmen who will see the wisdom of the complaint.”

After the committee rendered the decision, Garcia insisted that the complaint be returned to the complainants and allow them to cure the defect by filing a new verification form, insisting that the rules of court apply suppletorily to the impeachment rules.

“Nothing in the (impeachment) rules says it should be dismissed,” Garcia said after Umali asked her to cite any provision in the impeachment rules that would allow complainants to rectify the use of a wrong verification form which caused the dismissal of the complaint.

Umali said the House cannot deviate from its previous decision to dismiss the impeachment complaint filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for exactly the same reason.

The complainants “copied” the defective verification form used by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) which the justice panel dismissed last week for insufficiency in form last week.

The Paras-Topacio complaint used a verification form for impeachment complaints endorsed by one-third of the members of the House for an automatic transmittal of the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate even if only three congressmen – Roque, Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia and Rep. Abraham Tolentino (PDP-Laban, Cavite) –   endorsed it.

Roque, however, pointed out that the committee upheld the sufficiency in form of the impeachment complaint filed by Rep. Gary Alejano (PL, Magdalo) against President Duterte earlier this year even if the complainant used the same verification form that Paras and Topacio used.

The panel reminded Roque of an earlier agreement among members that it was the only time that the committee would be liberal in the implementation of the rules, especially that the Alejano complaint was eventually dismissed for insufficiency in substance.

Before dismissing the complaint, the committee voted to reject Roque’s motion for the panel to accept the substitute verification form filed by the complainants last September 13.

Majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas pointed out that even the substitute verification form seems to be defective since it was addressed to the plenary and not the committee which, presently, has the jurisdiction over the complaint.

The complaint accused Bautista of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution and indirect bribery. Bautista was also accused of bribery for allegedly receiving referral fees from the Divina Law Office. One of the firms was Smartmatic, the Comelec’s technology provider in the automated elections.

The complaint alleges that Bautista failed to disclose in his SALN money and real estate properties “which were way beyond the amounts he declared in his SALN.”

It quoted Mrs. Bautista as saying in a press conference that she had discovered several passbooks as well as bank and real property documents under her husband’s name and some of his relatives, and these were not included in his 2016 SALN in which the chairman declared a net worth of P176.3 million. – With Gerard Naval
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