Manila Standard Today - A deal with the devil

13 October 2017

By Jojo Robles | Manila Standard Today 

It would have been quietly resolved away from the public eye. But Congress probably forgot that it was dealing with someone who, while he claimed to be quitting his post to save his children, has not been providing financial support for them for nearly a year now.

It turns out that Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista had really struck a deal with the House concerning the impeachment case filed against him: Bautista would resign, he would no longer be impeached and no one would be the wiser.

There would be no messy impeachment trial and Bautista and the congressmen would not have to be confronted with uncomfortable questions about the conduct of the elections last year. But it was not to be.

Bautista, who was given up to 4 p.m. Wednesday to make good his promise to resign, welshed on the agreement. Instead, he sent a resignation letter to Malacañang declaring that he would stay on until the end of the year, allegedly to give President Rodrigo Duterte time to find a suitable replacement and to ensure a smooth transition process at the election agency.

The House called an emergency caucus and retaliated by impeaching Bautista, rejecting the committee on justice report dismissing the complaint filed against him. Bautista’s plan to hang on for 10 more weeks—a timeframe crucial to the conduct of the next elections in 2019—was exposed.

Deputy Speaker and Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, one of the endorsers of the impeachment complaint against Bautista, said the 137 congressmen who impeached the Comelec chairman saw through his ploy. Garcia went along with the dismissal by the House committee on justice—even if she still voted against it—upon being given the assurance by the House leadership that he would quit anyway.

But when Bautista reneged on the deal by “post-dating” his resignation to the end of the year, according to Garcia, “the lonely two [endorsers who voted to impeach him] increased to 137.” “What if after his prayers and discernment he would say I will not resign [by yearend]?” she asked.

“He thought he could take the congressmen for a ride with a very lame claim to resignation [but] the 137 saw through his game,” Garcia said. “Don’t mess with us; if you say something, do it.”

Garcia’s fellow endorser, Kabayan Party-List Rep. Harry Roque, imputed malice on Bautista’s part when he postponed the effectivity of his leaving. “Resignation is always an option for him, but he should not determine when,” Roque said.

Roque alleged that if the full House had upheld the committee report, Bautista would have become immune from impeachment for a year. “And if he changes his mind [by yearend], he would be free to sign [new] contracts” with Comelec’s voting technology and services provider Smartmatic for the 2019 midterm elections.

Roque added: “We don’t want to give him that chance again to sign contracts with Smartmatic.” The Venezuela-based technology provider has been repeatedly accused of rigging previous automated elections with the help of Comelec.

But I guess Congress is also to blame for making a deal with Bautista and forgetting that the public demands explanations from him about how he supervised the last elections. Now it has no choice but to bring a case against Bautista before the Senate impeachment court, when it had really wanted him to just resign and fade into obscurity, taking his secrets with him to the grave.

Bautista can still resign immediately and attempt to go back to the original plan. But I think that glob of toothpaste can’t be brought back into the tube anymore.

So no more deals with the devil. Let the truth-telling about Bautista’s—and Smartmatic’s—shenanigans begin.

* * *

Moving forward, President Rodrigo Duterte would be able clean up the Augean stables of the Comelec if he appoints a replacement for Bautista who is unwaveringly committed to the job. To my mind, that replacement should be the longtime crusader against electoral fraud—lawyer, IT expert and former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong.

Since the start of this country’s experimentation with election automation, Chong—who insists he was cheated out of his Congress post in 2010—has become the conscience of the poll body. His has been a mostly lonely battle against the evil syndicate that the poll agency and its automation provider Smartmatic have become.

In every forum that will have him as speaker and at every opportunity online, Chong has railed against how automation has actually made election cheating a lot easier in this country, where elections have long been decided by who has the most money to buy not only voters but also election administrators. Chong’s experience as a congressman and as an advocate for clean automated elections makes him an even better choice than Gina Lopez was to head up the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

I’m sure that now, with Bautista’s ouster or resignation already a fait accompli, Duterte is looking for a suitable replacement who will bring change to Comelec. The President could do a lot worse than to pick Chong for the job that seems tailor-made for him and that promises to permanently clean up the poll body.