He didn’t see it coming

COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva

Embattled by his estranged wife’s public disclosures of marital problems and alleged corruption in office, the approval by the 17th Congress of the impeachment complaint against him has not sink in to Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Juan Andres “Andy” Bautista until now. The House of Representatives has – by majority vote – reversed in plenary session the Committee Report dismissing the impeachment complaint for lack of form and substance and grounds to oust the Comelec chairman.

Until yesterday, Bautista swears he has yet to understand what hit him last Wednesday afternoon. Until mid-morning that day, when he appeared as guest in my weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Bautista was still seemingly relieved from last week’s decision by the House committee on justice to junk the impeachment complaint.

Bautista’s impeachment was triggered by Trish, his estranged wife, who came out in a press conference to denounce his alleged wealth that were undeclared in his annual statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). Accompanied by lawyers, Trish presented bankbooks to show her husband’s alleged impeachable offenses of betrayal of public trust. 

His post-dated resignation though caught everyone by surprise, including the Comelec reporters who regularly cover him. Actually, it was only last Tuesday morning when he accepted to guest in my Kapihan sa Manila Bay. Originally, he begged off due to the previously scheduled Comelec budget session that he must attend to at the Senate, which coincided with my breakfast forum.

We regularly hold the Kapihan sa Manila Bay every Wednesday from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate.
 At past 10 o’clock Wednesday morning, Bautista was still a no-show but posted in his Facebook personal account a copy of the statement announcing his resignation effective Dec. 31, 2017. At first, we doubted its authenticity given the blue ink he used to sign “Andy Bautista” to his statement. With the proliferation of “fake” and hacked FB accounts, there is no telling if the resignation statement is genuine or not. 

In a letter addressed to his Comelec “family,” Bautista cited personal reasons for his resignation: “After much thought and prayer, I believe that this is the right time for me to step down…It was not an easy decision. But my family, especially my children, need me now more than ever.” 

As it turned out, Bautista decided to formally announce his resignation at my Kapihan sa Manila Bay after he first went to Comelec head office in Intramuros to bid goodbye to Comelec employees who he considers as his “official family.” His voice cracking in emotions and on the verge of tearing, Bautista thanked the Comelec rank-and-file for being supportive to his leadership since he took office in May 2015.

Bautista told them he has transmitted to Malacañang his resignation letter a day after meeting with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea. As of press time yesterday, there is no official word yet from President Rodrigo Duterte on the resignation of Bautista.

In the Kapihan breakfast forum, Bautista revealed his discernment that it is the “right time” for his resignation noting that the impeachment case was officially dismissed by the House committee on justice last week. And, since President Duterte signed into law the postponement of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) polls, Bautista believed he could now let go.  

 Bautista denied his resignation was quid pro quo for the dismissal of the impeachment case against him. But 137 members of the House of Representatives, or more than the required one-third, later that day voted to override the House Committee Report recommending dismissal of the case.

But the woes of the Comelec chairman are far from over even after he announced his resignation.

The articles of impeachment against the Comelec chief will hence be elevated to the Senate as the impeachment court. Voting to impeach the Comelec chairman, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez advised Bautista he could still avoid an impeachment trial if he makes his resignation effective not later but immediately. 
The same piece of advice was echoed by Senate president Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III who counts on the better judgment of the Comelec chairman to spare himself and Comelec from the burdens of an impeachment trial with Senators acting as judges.

Reacting to the demands for his resignation to take effect immediately, Bautista had this to tell them: “If the President finds my replacement right away, then so be it. Dec. 31 is not cast in stone. That was only to give the President enough time to ensure smooth and orderly transition.”

Had the Committee Report been upheld by a majority of Congressmen, Bautista would have enjoyed one year of immunity from another impeachment and stay on until his resignation takes effect on Dec. 31, 2017.

Himself a lawyer, Bautista conceded he would lose his immunity from prosecution once he steps down from office but swears he is ready to face any of the criminal cases his wife and others threatened to file against him.

With the 17th Congress set to adjourn starting next week for a one-month recess, Pimentel said the Senate could convene as impeachment court only after they resume their sessions on Nov. 13. The entire impeachment process will commence only at the Senate once the Lower House transmits the articles of impeachment.

At present, the Senate has two less votes out of the 24 Senators. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano resigned to become the Secretary of Department of Foreign Affairs while Sen. Leila de Lima remains in detention in Camp Crame on illegal drug charges. Nonetheless, only 16 or two-thirds of the Senate members are needed to convict an impeachable official. With Bautista’s resignation though, the Senators themselves doubt if they will still convene as an impeachment court.

But who knows? A political numbers game, the Comelec chairman didn’t see it coming when Congress got more than the required number to reverse its own House panel decision not to impeach him.

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