By Antonio P. Contreras | The Manila Times
And there are other questions. Why was Andy Bautista allowed to leave the country? And why has there been no effort made to locate and summon him to shed light on the conduct of the elections when he was chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec)?
Bautista’s predecessor at the Comelec, Sixto Brillantes Jr., was present during the hearings conducted by the Senate committee on electoral reforms, and by the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) on automated elections.
But Andy Bautista was nowhere in sight. It behooves us to ask if he was invited to attend. His absence, with no one in Congress even asking the question of where he is, paints a discomforting image, more so when one considers the magnitude of the shocking revelations made by lawyer Glenn Chong and other resource persons about election anomalies. At stake is the integrity of the automated election system used in the two elections conducted under Bautista’s watch. Yet, Congress acts as if Bautista never existed.
Individual parties have not been remiss in their duty to call to task election officials in relation to the conduct of the automated elections. Since 2010, a total of 37 election-related violations, other than election contests and protests, have been identified. More than half of these were committed in relation to the conduct of the three automated elections in 2010, 2013 and 2016. Twenty-nine cases have already been filed against Comelec, Smartmatic and PPCRV. Sixteen are now with the Supreme Court, five with the Ombudsman and the rest with the Department of Justice (DoJ), the regional trial courts (RTC) and the Philippine National Police (PNP). In fact, one case has even been filed with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Bautista, by sheer command responsibility, is a person of interest in all, if not most, of these cases, particularly those which happened during the 2013 and 2016 elections, with Brillantes being held accountable for those committed during the 2010 elections.
Yet, no one seems to have taken into consideration the significance of his physical presence in the country.
A critical look at the timeline reveals a highly problematic unfolding of events that behooves all of us to ask how can someone with so much information in his possession to shed light on election fraud, and the problems with the automated election system, could now be simply treated like an invisible phantom, a mere innocuous footnote.
An impeachment complaint was filed against Bautista on August 23 by former congressman Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio. Paras and Topacio accused Bautista of neglecting his duties which led to a massive data breach or hacking of the Comelec website in March 2016, two months before the elections, and in failing to act promptly on the matter. They also accused Bautista of obstructing justice when he prematurely exonerated Marlon Bautista of Smartmatic when the latter tweaked the script in the transparency server during the 2016 elections. Bautista was also called to task for his failure to properly disclose his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth SALN). Finally, Paras and Topacio accused Bautista of accepting referral fees from Smartmatic.
After weeks of hearing, and despite the gravity of the allegations, the House justice committee junked the impeachment complaint on a mere technicality that such was not sufficient in form because of its defective verification. On October 11, 2017, Bautista wrote a letter of resignation to the President, but his intention was to make it effective only on December 31, 2017. Hours after Bautista submitted his conditional resignation, the House, in plenary, overturned the justice committee and impeached Bautista. The President verbally accepted Bautista’s resignation two days after on October 13, and made it official on October 23, but effective immediately.
When the House plenary impeached Bautista, it was in fact an affirmation of the presence of probable cause on the allegations made against him, almost all of which had a bearing on the conduct of the 2016 elections, either directly or tangentially. This finding of probable cause could not be extinguished by his mere resignation on October 11, one which he wanted to make effective only on December 31, 2017. Hence, technically, the state still had jurisdiction over Bautista as an impeachable official until the end of that year. A window of about two months still existed for the state to perform its obligation to the sovereign Filipino people to establish if indeed the allegations against Bautista were true in the proper venue, which was the Senate convened as an impeachment court. This process was however short-circuited when the President accepted Bautista’s resignation not on the latter’s terms, but immediately.
Bautista, by his decision to resign effective December 31, could have been made answerable for the acts which the House plenary have found to be sufficient to impeach.
But everyone seemed to have simply wanted Bautista to disappear. The House did not raise any issue about an aborted process which undermined the gist of its reversal of the justice committee’s decision which was premised on the right of the people to know the truth. The Senate, unlike in the case of Sereno, did not make any noise about its being denied its constitutionally mandated task. And the President accepted Bautista’s resignation to be immediately effective, when he could have simply asked Bautista to take a leave while his impeachment was being heard at the Senate, and could have even imposed on Bautista the condition that he was accepting his resignation but only after the Senate had acted on his impeachment case.
Others will raise the issue of waste in government time and resources. But with the magnitude of the collateral issues that directly impinge into the very heart of our elections, those time and resources would have been worth spending.
Bautista left the country quietly, and has not been heard of since. The magnitude of the many pending election-related cases in the courts and other agencies, and the allegations made by Paras and Topacio, for which a finding of probable cause was issued by the House appear to have been simply disregarded. No single government agency acted to secure Bautista’s physical presence to answer for allegations made against him, or shed light on those made against the Comelec which he headed, not when he left, and not now when we grapple with the damning evidence of electoral anomalies and fraud.
It’s time we demanded the presence of Andy Bautista, lest we end up being spectators in another political shadow play where all of us are just all taken for a ride by those who have interests to protect.