House starts impeach hearings vs poll chief
The House of Representatives started taking up on Wednesday the impeachment complaint lodged against Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairperson Andres Bautista for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution over allegations of ill-gotten wealth.
The justice panel began its deliberations on the form and substance of the complaint filed by former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras, and duly endorsed by Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia, Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque, and Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino.
The complaint is now under House scrutiny despite a technicality issue for its failure to comply with the proper verification form, which is seen to pose a problem during discussions on the complaint’s sufficiency in form.
The poll chief’s wife, Patricia “Tish” Bautista, attended the proceedings. She first blew the lid on her husband’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
In a press conference on Tuesday, the wife said she has full trust on the justice committee that it would not let a technicality issue bring down the truth.
Bautista faced an impeachment complaint for betrayal of public trust and culpable violations of the Constitution for not declaring his true wealth in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), as well as for alleged graft and corruption for allegedly receiving commissions from Divina Law Offices, the legal counsel of Venezuelan election technology supplier and Comelec’s biggest contractor Smartmatic.
According to the impeachment complaint, Bautista betrayed the public’s trust when he failed to declare his foreign currency accounts, other bank accounts, two condominium units in Taguig City and California, and other foreign investments in his SALN.
“It is crystal clear that Bautista illegally acquired these assets as they 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 complaint stated.
The complaint asserted that the allegations may be verified with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and other government offices the House of Representatives may summon in an impeachment proceeding.
The complaint also cited Bautista’s receipts of referral fees from Smartmatic through the Divina Law Office, which is “tantamount to indirect bribery under the Revised Penal Code and constitutes a violation of Sec. 3(b) Republic Act 3019.”
Another ground for impeachment stated in the complaint is Bautista’s alleged neglect of his duties and responsibilities in implementing the Data Privacy Act that could have prevented the data breach in the Comelec, an incident that came to be known as the “Comeleak.”
Bautista has been accused of failing to urgently act on the hacking of the Comelec website, and assume control and supervision of the Task Force that was created to look into the data leak.
“He need to be told that the hacking of the Comelec website before the 2016 national and local elections – wherein which the personal data of millions of voters were breached – was a serious privacy violation or personal data breach requiring swift and decisive actions. Had he acted with utmost urgency, the damage could have been minimized,” the complaint read.
Lastly, Bautista allegedly obstructed justice when he downplayed that a “script tweak” in the 2016 election results was merely “cosmetic,” which practically cleared allegations made by the camp of defeated vice presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos that the script tweak resulted in the victory of Vice President Leni Robredo.
“Bautista obstructed justice for saying that the script tweak was merely a cosmetic change which was in effect an exoneration of Smartmatic and Comelec IT specialists pending investigation,” the complaint read.
“Such action constitutes betrayal of public trust… Obviously, Bautista is unworthy and undeserving of the office of Chairman, Commission on Elections, and should be impeached. No less than six commissioners of the Commission had denounced his ‘failed leadership’ and other transgressions,” it added. /kga
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