Manila Standard Today - Delaying the inevitable

24 August 2017

By Jojo Robles | Manila Standard Today 

If you believe that there is a concerted effort to bury the charges of alleged ill-gotten wealth against Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista, you need to look no further than the actuations of Senator Franklin Drilon in the first hearing called by the Senate committee on banks on the sensational case yesterday. Drilon, who really should be steering clear of the investigation as the top vote-getter in the elections supervised by Bautista last year, acted like the prosecutor of government probers looking into the case.

“The [National Bureau of Investigation], while it is an investigative agency, you cannot investigate any Tom, Dick and Harry,” Drilon thundered. “And, very critical, you must not use the powers of the NBI to harass a citizen of this country.”

Now, as a former justice secretary, Drilon should be the last person to tell the NBI not to investigate someone like Bautista. Unless, of course, Drilon is deathly afraid of the revelations that may come out of any real probe of Bautista and his supposed accumulation of billions, according to his own wife, Patricia.

My skepticism about Drilon’s new position as the advocate of Bautista’s right to privacy against the big, bad and invasive government is, as usual, informed by the senator’s huge role in the conviction of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012. Back then, Drilon was the staunchest proponent of ferreting out the truth concerning Corona’s supposed non-disclosure of his hidden assets, which were kept away from the chief magistrate’s statement of assets and liabilities.

Now Drilon, who was the surprise topnotcher of the May 2016 elections with more than 18 million votes (two million more than President Rodrigo Duterte’s overwhelming 16 million) is on the side of the protecting the rights of a high government official who is being investigated for committing the same offense that got Corona removed. How’s that for a reversal of roles?

As Drilon said, in his explanation of his vote to convict Corona during the latter’s trial: Res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).

If Drilon had not allowed his panic to get the better of him, he should actually inhibit himself from the Senate probe of the embattled Comelec chairman. As a party of interest because of his unexpected topping of the last elections, he should instead be declaring that Bautista can go hang, if that’s what the evidence warrants; that’s what a real “big man” should be doing.

I really don’t know how long Drilon can keep up the pretense of shielding Bautista from the government’s snooping before he starts looking like he’s obstructing justice. But then, maybe that’s his game plan from the beginning.

* * *

In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, Bautista’s bid to stave off a Corona-like fate suffered a severe beating yesterday when an impeachment complaint was filed by lawyer Ferdinand Topacio and former Rep. Jacinto Paras. And unlike all the earlier impeachment complaints filed against officials who can be removed only by this process, three congressmen quickly endorsed the move, thus clearing an important constitutional hurdle.

The only impeachment complaint that has gotten this far under the Duterte administration was the one filed against the President himself, which was filed and endorsed by Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano. The impeachment moves against Vice President Leni Robredo, Supreme Court Maria Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales have languished after being filed (or have remained unfiled) for lack of a congressional endorser.

This certainly isn’t the case with Bautista. As soon as Topacio and Paras filed the complaint, Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu, Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino and Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque immediately affixed their signatures to it.

The complaint, according to the rules, will go before the House justice committee, which will determine if it is sufficient in form and substance. After this process is completed, the whole House will then vote on whether it will bring the matter to the Senate, needing only one-third of the entire body to impeach.

The Senate will then convene as an impeachment court and try Bautista’s case, which could lead to the acquittal or conviction of the Comelec chairman. And once that process begins, Bautista and his defenders in Congress—like Drilon—will no longer be able to prevent the disclosure of any information about how the elections boss was supposed to have amassed his humongous wealth, as his own wife claims.

I’ve already said that Drilon and the other politicians believed to have benefited from Bautista’s overseeing of the 2016 elections were part of a heavy-handed propaganda effort to use Kian Loyd delos Santos, the 17-year-old student killed in a police anti-narcotics operation in Caloocan City last week, as a diversionary ploy to prevent the prosecution of the Comelec chief. I remain even more convinced of this now, even if the Senate is about to commence its investigation of Kian’s controversial killing today.

Now that Duterte has declared that he is in favor of thoroughly investigating the killing and that he will not intercede for the policemen involved, Kian’s case can no longer be deployed as a tool to bludgeon to the administration and keep it off-balance. The equally important task of finding out if Bautista enriched himself by compromising the elections can now begin.