By Francisco Tatad | The Manila Times
IT is not this columnist’s business to prejudge the case of Juan Andres “Andy” Bautista, the embattled chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), accused by his own estranged wife of having made over P1 billion from illegal sources during the last presidential elections. My only concern as a citizen and journalist is that the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should come out and that justice should prevail. There is no other legal way of making sure this happens except through impeachment. Bautista is an impeachable official, and therefore immune from suit for now, but he can be impeached for, and removed from office upon conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust.
Mrs. Patricia Paz Bautista has filed an affidavit with the National Bureau of Investigation accusing him of having illegally amassed over P1 billion during the 2016 elections, which he allegedly hid in 35 separate accounts in an obscure thrift bank. The NBI has decided to investigate. And so has the Bureau of Internal Revenue, according to reports. This could be useful in assessing the viability of an impeachment complaint, and in finding out whether or not Bautista, whose reported net worth is P176.3 million, has been paying the right taxes. But some senators, with an acute sense of political theater, would also like to plunge the Senate into the mess.
It is not enough to say this is out of place. It is simply absurd and perverse.
The impeached are tried here
The Senate is the body that tries and decides every impeachment case brought to it by the House of Representatives. The House impeaches, and the Senate acquits or convicts the impeached. As we saw in the Estrada and Corona impeachment trials, all the senators sit at the Senate impeachment court as senator-judges. Were the Senate to investigate Bautista now on anything that could eventually lead to his impeachment, it would risk investigating him twice for the same alleged offense. This would be a repugnant violation of his constitutional rights and a travesty of due process.
It would give the defense a perfect excuse to demand the recusal of all the senator-judges, and the instant dissolution of the Senate impeachment court. No impeachment trial could then take place. If his wife’s allegations and some people’s long-held suspicions are correct, Bautista may have directly or indirectly helped a number of senatorial and other candidates in the 2016 elections where the counting machines supplied by the Venezuelan firm Smartmatic did not carry the mandated safety and accuracy features to ensure the accuracy and credibility of the results.
These officials may now want to return the favor and protect Bautista from any impeachment process. I am not saying this is, in fact, the case. But unless there is an administration plan to prevent Bautista from getting impeached, the Senate cannot allow any of its members to railroad a highly improper inquiry “in aid of legislation” into his alleged sins. It will serve no useful or legitimate purpose, except perhaps to indulge the grandstanding appetite and skills of some senators.
Were Bautista not immune from criminal prosecution while in office, he should have been instantly brought to a competent criminal court, which has the competence to hear and try his alleged offenses. But since he cannot be held liable for any criminal offense unless and until he has been removed from office, the only place for him now is the House of Representatives, through its committee on justice, after an impeachment complaint against him has been filed.
Naturally, the public is anxious to see what it has seen before, without learning any useful lesson. In the case of the alleged mother of all pork barrel scams, the Senate held interminable hearings on the alleged P10 billion pork barrel scam of Janet Napoles, but at the end of the day she was sentenced to jail in connection with a charge of illegal detention, nothing to do with the pork barrel, which the Supreme Court on one of its better days had ruled as unconstitutional. She has since been released on appeal, justly because the best people I know who knew about the case well swore she was the victim of trumped-up charges. Many other Senate inquiries had been attended by lightning and thunder, fire and brimstone, creating pompous soundbites and sensational headlines for the legislators, but ended in a lot of hot air. This obviously is what some honorable members of the Upper House would like to stage again, with Mr. and Mrs. Bautista at the center.
Part of one’s basic rights
Andy Bautista may or may not be guilty of the charges aired by his estranged wife, but his constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise includes the right not to be molested by any entity that may wish to poke their nose into this case for their own ends. Still, one suspects that under the guise of wanting to unearth the truth behind the wife’s allegations and the husband’s counter-allegations, some politicians would actually like to preempt any explosive issue that might come up in an impeachment trial by focusing on the saucier parts of the scandal in a Senate committee hearing.
Bring in the TV cameras and the grandstanding senators now, and before the day is done, we would be listening to sordid details about how the marriage of the Bautistas had broken down, what kind of kinky sex one of the partners had indulged in with other partners, etc., etc. Can you imagine the committee inquirers analyzing the unimaginable consequences of corrupting the highest official of the Comelec during a tightly contested presidential election? From what specific sources did the Comelec chief earn his alleged P1 billion, and what was the overall impact of that on the legitimacy of both the process but those who won in the election?
Objectively, Patricia Bautista’s expose, even without being fully verified, holds far-reaching implications. It tends to confirm the fears expressed by the National Transformation Council, which includes Catholic and Protestant bishops, priests and pastors, Muslim imam, former Cabinet members and sectoral leaders, that the process would be so corrupted that none of the presidential losers might want to concede their defeat to the declared winner. All the major players seemed convinced there would be massive fraud, but not one of them seemed prepared to do anything to stop the cheating; everyone seemed more determined to benefit from the cheating.
None of us could understand why Bautista remained unmoved by the almost strident demand that Smartmatic be banned from the elections, having performed dishonorably badly in the 2010 and 2013 elections; or that, at the very least, it should be forced to comply with all the mandated safety and accuracy features of the vote counting machine, which it had wantonly disregarded in order to favor B.S. Aquino 3rd and his own candidates in the first two elections. These included a review of the vote counting machine source code, digital signatures of the Board of Election Inspectors in the election returns being transmitted from the precincts, and an accurate voters’ list as distinguished from the padded voters’ list that surfaced a few weeks before the election.
While public opposition built up against Smartmatic’s continued role in the automated elections, President Aquino 3rd privately met with the company’s international chair Lord Mark Malloch Brown in Malacañang, apparently to close the deal on the foreign company’s continued control of the elections. Malloch Brown, a recent member of the House of Lords and a known collaborator of George Soros, an international currency speculator and political operator involved in bringing about regime changes in various parts of the world, used to work for the late former President Corazon Aquino, PNoy’s mother. He was known to have ghost-written Cory’s address to the Joint Session of the US Congress on her triumphal visit to Washington, D. C. in September 1986.
PNoy and Bautista and Malloch Brown
Malloch Brown was reportedly brought in as Smartmatic’s international chair precisely to salvage the Philippine account, which was in danger of being lost because of the strong sentiment that had grown against the foreign firm among advocates of a strictly Filipino automated election. The meeting between Aquino and Malloch Brown put Smartmatic back in business. Filipino scientists, engineers and computer experts who were unaware of this continued to hope that through Bautista, there was still hope of employing indigenous Filipino technology in the next automated elections. It turned out that Bautista had his own meeting in the US with Malloch Brown.
Swamped with all this information, the NTC decided not to participate in the elections. We could not believe in the legitimacy and credibility of the process. We did not campaign for any candidate; my only campaign—if you could call it that—-was limited to exposing the false claim of presidential candidate Grace Poe Llamanzares that she was a natural-born Filipino citizen. This case reached the Supreme Court where Solicitor General Florin Hilbay and Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno argued on her behalf, and the now-retired Justice Jose Perez wrote the ponencia saying that even without her parents being known, and while becoming an American citizen later without first acquiring a valid Philippine citizenship, the foundling Mary Grace had become a natural-born Filipino citizen after all.
Rabid Poe supporters continue to blame me for that campaign. Had I not gone after candidate Grace in my columns, they say, we might have had a gentler president today rather than a roughneck to whom we should not expose our young children. That’s far more credit than I deserve. DU30 has not even heard of it. Despite our earlier fears that massive cheating would mar the balloting, and that none of the losers would concede, DU30 outsmarted them all in ways we know nothing about until now. He took 38 percent of all the votes, pronounced it a landslide win, and Grace Poe Llamanzares was the first one to concede.
How did it all happen? In her Rappler article of October 3, 2016 (on “Weaponizing the Internet”) Maria Ressa reports that four days after DU30 declared his presidential run, from midnight to 2 a.m., more than 30,000 tweets mentioning DU30 were posted, at times reaching more than 700 tweets per minute. This figure exceeded the number of all tweets about any presidential candidate over the previous 29 days, the report said. The social media became the latest player in the 2016 presidential elections, and in the DU30 presidency until now.
But did social media alone do it? What role did Bautista play, if any, to ensure DU30’s win? That’s a question no one will ask him in a Senate hearing. But it’s one of the questions a reckless judge might ask him in a Senate impeachment trial.
Is this perhaps one reason why senators who have no qualms judging the Supreme Court Chief Justice in an impeachment trial would rather drag Bautista to a Senate hearing than to such a trial?