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House votes to impeach Comelec chief Bautista

The House of Representative on Wednesday voted to impeach Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andres Bautista.

This, after 137 House members voted against the motion of Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali to adopt the report of the Committee on Justice dismissing the complaint against Bautista.

Seventy-five members voted for the motion, while two abstained.

A vote of at least one-third, or 98 members of the House are required to override the dismissal.

During the plenary deliberation, Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia stressed the need to reverse the dismissal, as it will give Bautista the chance to explain his side on the allegations against him.

"The charges therein must be heard and tried in the Senate," she said.

Surigao del Norte Representative Robert Ace Barbers shared Garcia's sentiment.

"We never heard any reply on the accusations being hurled on him. I object to the adoption of the committee report," he said.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez himself voted against the dismissal of the complaint.

"I believe that the charges against Bautista are very serious. With that, I vote no," he said.

Following the chamber's decision, the House justice panel will now prepare the articles of impeachment against Bautista to be submitted to the Senate for trial.

Complaints against Bautista

Former Negros Oriental Representative Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio filed the impeachment complaint against Bautista with the House of Representatives on August 23.

The complainants accused Bautista of betrayal of public trust due to his failure to address the hacking of the Comelec website in March 2015 and for failing to properly disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

Aside from this, the complainants said Bautista betrayed public trust for admitting that he had received referral fees from the Comelec's technology provider Smartmatic through the Divina Law Office, and for obstructing justice in saying that, pending investigation, the script tweak of the transparency server during the 2016 elections was "merely cosmetic."

But the House panel, in a hearing on September 20, dismissed the impeachment complaint after it was found insufficient in form due to deficient verification.

Earlier in the day, Bautista announced that he would be resigning from his post by the end of the year. He has submitted his resignation letter to President Rodrigo Duterte.

'A miracle happened'

Deputy Minority Leader and Kabayan party-list Representative Harry Roque, one of the endorsers for the complaint, rejoiced on the decision of the House to vote for Bautista's impeachment, saying that a "miracle happened."

"I prayed for a miracle, and a miracle happened. Andy Bautista is impeached," Roque told reporters at a press conference following the voting.

Roque said that if the House decided to adopt the committee report and accept the dismissal, Bautista would have afforded himself a year free from impeachment, where he could have signed contracts and resolve cases for the 2019 elections, which Roque wanted to prevent.

"With his impeachment, of course he has to undergo trial at the Senate first, we are confident that we can restore the credibility and trustworthiness of our automated elections," he said.

"Even if today he were to file an irrevocable resignation, he has already been impeached. He lost his opportunity to voluntarily resign. Whatever happens from now on, in the records of the House, in the records of this nation's history, he is the first Comelec chairman to be impeached," he added.

Garcia, another endorser for the complaint, shared Roque's sentiment.

"With this reversal of fortunes, we are confident that this impeachment complaint has now become effective. Insofar as the House of Representatives is concerned, Comelec chair Andy Bautista has now been impeached," she said.

Roque said he will present a draft of the article of impeachment to the House justice committee tonight.

"We will not go home without presenting a draft to the justice committee today," he said.

Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the Senate, sitting as an impeachment tribunal, may begin its trial on Bautista's impeachment case by the last week of November or first week of December. — RSJ/NB, GMA News