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Doomed impeachment

The recent dismissal of the impeachment complaint against Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andy Bautista came as no surprise. Days before the House of Representatives committee on justice junked the complaint, majority floor leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas was already hinting to media that congressmen have misgivings on whether the complainants had “personal knowledge” of their accusations against the embattled Comelec chief.

True enough, the House justice committee – voting 26-2 last Sept. 20 – dismissed the impeachment complaint for “insufficiency” both in form and substance. The House panel, chaired by Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali insisted the House rules requires a complainant to attest before the chamber’s secretary-general that his allegations are “of his personal knowledge or based on authentic documents.”   

This attestation is also known as “verification” process and followed in every impeachment proceedings undertaken at the House of Representatives. During the hearing, committee members took turns lambasting the verification signed by former Negros congressman Jacinto Paras and co-complainant lawyer Ferdinand Topacio.

As it turned out, the complainants obviously had only secondhand, if not third-hand, sources of information. A number of their allegations and attachments to the complaint consisted of newspaper clippings. Thus, the House panel members ruled that the complainants glaringly failed the “personal knowledge” test.

Thus, the House committee on justice was justified in junking the complaint. No matter how grave or serious the charges are, the House committee sternly reminded that complainants in impeachment proceedings must strictly comply with the basic rules and procedures of this constitutional process.

After all, they’re seeking the ouster of impeachable officials performing critical functions for the State like the constitutional body that Bautista heads. Even if it were too easy or if the rules were relaxed, as advocates of Bautista’s impeachment passionately argued for, it would be foolhardy to be trapped into these emotional arguments.

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Worst, it may open the floodgates to the filing of complaints by any Tom, Dick and Harry for any reason they could think of against impeachable officials of the land.

It would also put the entire bureaucracy on standstill with top officials having to face one flimsy impeachment complaint after another. The recent fiasco serves as a bitter lesson to those who haphazardly file complaints. Such reckless and wanton acts threaten the very foundation of our country’s democracy.

An example was that of the first impeachment case filed against President Rodrigo Duterte during the first regular sessions of 17th Congress. Barely less than a year into office at Malacañang, President Duterte went through the impeachment complaint initiated by Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano. As expected, the House committee on justice—by overwhelming votes of the Duterte allies in Congress—dismissed the complaint in both form and substance.

In obvious tit-for-tat, Duterte supporters initiated also an impeachment case against Vice President Leni Robredo. However, the case against the Vice President still has no endorser in Congress, as required by laws.

Aside from Bautista, another impeachment case was  filed against Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. Losing senatorial candidate in last year’s elections and lawyer Lorenzo Gadon initiated the impeach complaint against Sereno.

The House committee on justice found Gadon’s impeachment complaint as sufficient in form and substance. Last week, the SC chief justice threw a monkey wrench in the House impeachment proceeding when she asked that  her lawyers be the ones to cross-examine her accusers in the next public hearing.

The 17th Congress would adjourn for recess this Oct.14. This is their first break since the second regular sessions started last July 24. They would spend one month in recess and would resume sessions on Nov.12. So most likely, the impeachment hearing against Sereno could only take place by next month.

Unfazed by the House-junked impeach bid against the Comelec chairman, Paras reportedly is geared to set into motion his prepared formal complaint against another impeachable official, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. However, Paras has yet to secure any House member to endorse his impeach complaint against Morales.

With the latest junking of the impeach complaint against Bautista, the Comelec chief has a respite of one year before another possible attempt to unseat him can be filed. The same is true with President Duterte who hurdled his own impeachment in May this year. 

This is a Constitutional safeguard to prevent complainants from abusing the system to suit personal or political ends. For all intents and purposes, impeachment is a political process though guided by court rules and procedures.

As for Chairman Bautista, the one-year respite would give him enough time to ponder his future and cleanse his name from the serious accusations of his estranged wife Trish. Especially so that certain members of the seven-man Comelec arguably have only moist eyes to grab the chairman’s seat of Bautista.

Bautista’s fellow Comelec commissioners made it all too obvious when they went behind his back to demand he take a leave of absence or resign. After having joined Bautista at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City to attend the House budget hearing, the six Comelec commissioners called a hastily organized press conference in Quezon City to call for his resignation.

To his credit, Bautista took it in stride. As Comelec chairman, he has a seven-year fixed term which ends in 2022 yet.

Under his watch, the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections – although postponed – must still be done once the 17th Congress pass it into law. The Senate adopted the House version of the bill to postpone the barangay and SK polls supposedly set to take place this Oct. 23 but will be moved to May, 2018 instead. President Duterte earlier certified it as urgent administration measure. So it’s certain to be signed into law any time soon.

There are also preparations for the mid-term polls in May, 2019 which should be the focus of the entire Comelec, not just chairman Bautista. With his doomed impeachment, Bautista should concentrate now on the very important tasks ahead of preparing for the coming electoral process in our country.

 

                 

 

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