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House votes to impeach Comelec Chairman Bautista

During the plenary debates on the complaint, 137 representatives voted to reject the committee resolution that dismissed the impeachment charge against the poll chief while 75 House members voted to adopt the resolution. File

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2 6:50 p.m.) — The House of Representatives has overturned the decision of its justice committee by voting to impeach Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista, who earlier in the day announced his decision to step down from his post at the end of this year.

During the plenary debates on the complaint, 137 representatives voted to reject the committee resolution that dismissed the impeachment charge against the poll chief while 75 House members voted to adopt it. Two representatives abstained during the voting.

"The vote shows that the resolution is overridden and pursuant to Section 11, Article 3 of the Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings a vote of at least one-third of all the members of the House shall be necessary to override such resolution. I am directing the Committee on Justice to prepare the articles of impeachment immediately," Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu (Batangas) said after receiving the results of the voting.

The House Committee on Justice earlier junked the impeachment case filed by lawyer Ferdinand Topacio and former Negros Occidental Rep. Jacinto "Jing" Paras for insufficiency in form.

The House has the power to overturn the committee decision should one-third of its members vote to do so.

The vote of the House paves the way for the justice committee to prepare the articles of impeachment, which will be sent to the Senate for an impeachment trial.

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Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay), however, dismissed the notion that the articles of impeachment should now be formulated after the plenary vote.

"Only form was discussed and voted upon this afternoon. The plenary should return to the committee on justice for further proceedings the complaint against Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista," he said.

Reps. Gwendolyn Garcia (Cebu) and Robert Ace Barbers (Surigao Del Norte) objected to the motion of House Justice Committee Chairman Reynaldo Umali (Oriental Mindoro) for the plenary to approve House Resolution 1397 dismissing the Paras-Topacio case.

According to Garcia and Barbers, the case should proceed as they believe that the charges against the Comelec chairman should be heard at the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.

The two added that an impeachment trial would give Bautista an opportunity to present his side and defend himself from the allegations in the charge.

"It is perceived that there was (sic) some infractions that was (sic) committed by no less than the chairman of the commission. We never heard any reply to the allegations being hurled at him," Barbers said during the plenary deliberations.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (Davao Del Norte) also voted to reject the committee resolution and said that the charges against Bautista were serious.

According to Umali, his committee dismissed the complaint since it did not conform to the verification required by the rules of the House.

He added that no authentic records were attached to the complaint to support the charges it contained.

"The verification stated that the complainants had personal knowledge and/or belief of the allegations contained therein which is not consistent with what the rules require that it must be based on authentic records," Umali explained.

Lagman, who voted to affirm the resolution, said after the vote that the plenary should have supported the decision of the justice panel.

He said that the decision to override the panel resolution was a "no-confidence" vote on Umali and the leadership of the committee.

"I think we should have supported the integrity of our committee system," he said, adding that the dismissal of the complaint has precedent.

The allegations in the Paras-Topacio complaint were based on the accusations of Bautista's estranged wife, Patricia, that the poll chief had wealth not reflected in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

He also betrayed public trust when he failed to adopt safeguards that could have prevented the data breach or hacking of the Comelec's website, the two alleged.

Paras and Topacio said the failure of Bautista to "promptly act" on the hacking of the Comelec website constituted betrayal of public trust.

Another ground for impeachment was obstruction of justice when the Comelec chairman cleared the personnel of the poll body's technology provider, Smartmatic, and the IT specialists of the electoral agency of any wrongdoing after they tweaked the script of a program during the canvassing of the results of the May 2016 elections.

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