By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
InterAksyon

THE IMPEACHMENT complaint against Commission on Election (Comelec) Chairman Andres D. Bautista was dismissed for insufficiency in form Wednesday morning, Sept. 20, by the justice committee of the House of Representatives by a vote of 26-2.

“Finding it insufficient in form, the complaint is deemed dismissed,” Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo V. Umali, the committee chairman, said.

The lawmakers trashed the complaint for using a verification form used only for complaints endorsed by one-third members of the House.

The case against Mr. Bautista was filed by private individuals — lawyer Ferdinand Topacio and former congressman Jacinto Paras — and endorsed by Representatives Gwen Garcia, Harry Roque and Abraham Tolentino.

A last-minute attempt by lawyer Manuelito Luna, counsel of the complainants, to submit a substitute verification, a move defended by Mr. Roque, was rejected by the justice committee.

Pampanga Representative Juan Pablo Bondoc pointed out that the House had earlier decided during the impeachment complaint of Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano against President Rodrigo R. Duterte that it would be the last time the committee on justice would allow liberality for errors in form.

The complaint against Mr. Bautista was deemed initiated after it was referred in plenary on Sept. 7.

According to the Rules on Impeachment Proceedings of the House, no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a year from when it was deemed initiated.

Albay Representative Edcel Lagman and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas both argued that the entire House membership and not the justice committee alone could decide on the substitute verification since the complaint had been referred in plenary.

Mr. Lagman also said the substitute verification had no legal bases in the House rules on impeachment.

“There is no specific rule granting any party the right to amend the verification or the complaint. It is flawed to take the position that just because the pleading or amendment is not prohibited, then it must be allowed,” Mr. Lagman said.

Mr. Tolentino, one of the endorsers, said he would continue to pray that Mr. Bautista resign from Comelec “to save the institution, save himself and his family.”

The complaint alleged Mr. Bautista of culpably violating the Constitution and/or betraying public trust on the following circumstances, among others:

• When he failed to truthfully, accurately or completely disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth

• When he neglected his duties and responsibilities, particularly in collecting and further processing of personal data, which led to the unnecessary exposure of personal and sensitive information of millions of Filipinos

• When he cleared Smartmatic and Comelec IT specialists of any wrongdoing for the so-called script tweak during consolidation and canvassing of results in the May 2016 elections

Before the filing of the complaint, Mr. Bautista’s estranged wife, Patricia, went public and accused him of allegedly amassing as much as P1 billion in unexplained wealth.

Mr. Fariñas said that for the allegations to hold water, Patricia Bautista should have been one of the complainants.

The House justice panel is also deliberating an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, which it earlier found sufficient in form and in substance.

Reacting to the dismissal of the complaint, Mr. Bautista released the following statement:

“I welcome the decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice to dismiss the impeachment complaint filed against me. I would like to thank the Committee and the House leadership for upholding the rule of law and for their objectivity and fairness.

“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.

“With the dismissal of the complaint, it is business as usual at the Commission on Election. We, at the COMELEC, will continue to perform our mandate in respect of the credible conduct of Philippine elections.”

However, his wife called the dismissal just a “bump” in efforts to expose her husband’s alleged misdeeds.

“We remain undeterred, this is just the start, we believe in the system and in the goodness of the people and in their good sense … this is just a bump and go,” she said in an interview after the hearing.