From resignation to impeachment: Chairman Bautista's longest day

IMPEACHED. Comelec chairman Andres Bautista is impeached on the same day he announces his resignation effective December 31, 2017. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

IMPEACHED. Comelec chairman Andres Bautista is impeached on the same day he announces his resignation effective December 31, 2017.

File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

(UPDATED) It began with a resignation and ended with an impeachment.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista became the first official to be impeached under the Duterte administration on Wednesday, October 11, after the House voted to overturn an earlier justice committee resolution that junked the complaint.

Before 7 pm that same day, the articles of impeachment were forwarded to the committee on justice. (LOOK: What Comelec's Bautista told Duterte in his resignation letter)

It goes without saying that the events on October 11 happened quickly.

Wednesday morning, Bautista announced to media that he was resigning from his post effective December 31, 2017, through a letter addressed to the Comelec.

He later tendered his resignation before President Rodrigo Duterte, his appointing authority.

Kabayan Representative Harry Roque, one of 3 complaint endorsers, initially welcomed the resignation, even “congratulating” Bautista “for putting the interest of the Comelec as an institution ahead of his own.”

“I hope that he sticks to his word and pushes through with his resignation,” added the legislator, among those who took on the cudgels for pushing the complaint, even if the committee rejected it. With his resignation, Roque noted, the cases filed against him – for allegedly receiving referral fees from Smartmatic through law firm Divina Law – could proceed.

But House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez sang a more ambiguous tune, in an impromptu press conference held minutes after Bautista resigned. (READ: House can still act on Bautista impeachment complaint – Alvarez)

“It’s okay. It’s his prerogative. But the committee report of the Committee on Justice dismissing the impeachment complaint is already scheduled before plenary. We will vote on it later,” he said.

Alvarez went on to explain that if, during plenary, the report is not approved, Bautista will be impeached, and the complaint, forwarded to the Senate as articles of impeachment.

When asked about the chances that this would happen, Alvarez said: “It will happen because his resignation does not affect our deliberation on the committee report.”

Thinking of 2019

Roque would later change his tune during a noontime press conference with the House minority.

“Despite Chairman Bautista's announcement that he will resign at the end of the year, after much contemplation, I will still support the reversal of the dismissal of the impeachment complaint filed against Chairman Bautista and move to proceed with the articles of impeachment,” said Roque in a statement.

The scenario, as Roque laid it out, was this: Bautista supposedly had a tendency to be unclear about whether he was really planning to resign or not.

Had the House voted to affirm the committee report, that would have meant that for an entire year, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista would be protected from other impeachments complaints. This alarmed Roque, who pointed out that contracts for the 2019 elections would be signed in 2018.

By 3 pm, House members from all blocs were summoned to a caucus at the South Wing Annex.

While no member of Congress would divulge the topic of the meeting on record, those privy to the discussion pointed out the obvious: that the House would overturn the committee report, therefore impeaching Bautista.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas in a text message to reporters on October 12, would later explain that the impeachment was a decision “arrived at during our caucus yesterday that I convened precisely for that purpose.” 

Under the rules, said Fariñas, legislators who had already voted in favor of the committee report “without any reservation or qualification” would not be allowed to change tune during plenary. 

“Thus, we had to maintain our vote in favor of the report, even if we were already in favor of impeachment. Same with Chairman Umali,” said Fariñas. 

The irony is that it was Majority Leader Fariñas – who championed the rejection of the complaint based on its insufficiency in form – who led the caucus and even moved to divide the House. 

“You must have noticed that I was the one who ensured that the will of the Majority was followed, and not my actual vote. In fact, I specifically requested my colleagues NOT TO follow my vote on that particular instance,” said Fariñas.

The irony is that it was Fariñas – who championed the rejection of the complaint based on insufficiency in form – that led the caucus.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez did not attend the caucus.

According to a House member present, it seemed that Bautista had made a gentleman’s agreement with the House: that the impeachment complaint would be dropped as long as Bautista resigned.

The problem? Bautista’s resignation didn’t sit well with many legislators, who apparently expected it immediately.

Opposition member Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, in a statement, said he “cannot help but think that the resignation of Chairman Bautista may have been an arrangement pitched with the Duterte administration in exchange [for] dismissing the impeachment complaint.”

Alejano, who did not make it to the caucus, pointed out that the treatment of the Bautista impeachment differed vastly from the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, which is still pending before the justice committee.

At the caucus, it was also agreed that the 26 legislators who initially voted to reject the impeachment complaint before the committee would vote to accept it during plenary.

A little past 5 pm, voting during session ended. 137 rejected the resolution, 75 voted to adopt the resolution, while two abstained.

The House will now begin preparations for the trial of Bautista. Roque forwarded the articles of impeachment within hours of the House vote.

Alvarez, in an interview after session, said they would soon be forming an impeachment team that would include prosecutors from the House and the private sector.

In a statement released after the voting, Bautista said he would “abide” by the rules of the House. – Rappler.com