House impeaches Comelec Chair Bautista hours after resignation

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 11 2017 05:40 PM | Updated as of Oct 11 2017 07:49 PM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Just hours after announcing his resignation, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista was impeached by lawmakers in the House of Representatives Wednesday. 

Bautista became the first official to be impeached under the Duterte administration. He may face trial at the Senate if the chamber does not consider it moot. 

The official is set to step down on Dec. 31.

A total of 137 lawmakers voted to impeach Bautista, overturning the House justice committee's dismissal of the complaint against him. 

Outnumbered were 75 others who voted to junk the ouster complaint. Two others opted to abstain. 

The committee had earlier recommended the dismissal of the complaint because it was found to be insufficient in form due to defective verification.

The plenary, however, mustered more than one-third of the necessary votes needed to transmit the complaint to the Senate for trial, making Bautista the first poll chief to be impeached. 

The Committee on Justice was directed to prepare the articles of impeachment for transmittal to the Senate.

The complaint against Bautista was filed by lawyers Jacinto Paras and Ferdinand Topacio and stems from corruption allegations made by the poll chief's estranged wife Patricia.

Speaking to ANC after the vote, House Committee on Justice Chair Rey Umali said it is likely that they could finalize the articles of impeachment against Bautista by November.

"The Committee on Justice was directed to prepare the articles of impeachment. So as soon as we finish this...then this will go directly to [the] Senate. This may come probably when we resume session by November," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Bautista announced that he would resign by the end of 2017 amid allegations he had amassed around P1 billion in unexplained wealth.

He has denied the charges, saying his wife was extorting money from him and was having an affair. 

ONCE BAUTISTA HAS LEFT, WHAT IS THE POINT OF A TRIAL? 

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III meanwhile told ANC that the Senate is ready to receive and hear the ouster bid against the poll chief.

"The Senate as an institution will be ready for any impeachment case which is referred to us properly. We are ready. We have had experiences in the past... It's a matter of scheduling," he said.

Pimentel, however, noted that the Senate would no longer pursue hearing the complaint against Bautista if he has already left his post by the time impeachment proceedings begin.

"If the respondent in an impeachment trial is no longer connected to the government, then what is the point of proceeding with an impeachment trial?" he said.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said preparations for Bautista's impeachment trial will happen when session resumes in November. 

But if the impeachment is formally referred to the Senate before that, Sotto said they might hold a caucus during the break. 

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez meanwhile denied that the chamber planned Bautista's impeachment.

"Baka siya 'yung nag-plano. Kasi talaga namang magbe-break na kasi kami bukas so kailangan tapusin namin 'yung mga pending business ng House, and one of these [is] itong committee report ng Committee on Justice," Alvarez told radio DZMM.

"Siguro baka nakatunog siya na baka matatalo sa plenaryo, inunahan niya ngayon ng resignation, pero ginawa niyang end of the year, siguro para to convince us na 'wag nang ituloy 'yung deliberation sa plenary," he said.

Alvarez said he found serious charges in the impeachment complaint, contrary to the House justice committee's findings.

"Pinag-aralan ko, binasa ko yung compliant, eh medyo serious 'yung charges. Merong charges sa corruption, dun sa involvement sa Smartmatic. Ito ay paglapastangan dun sa boto, hindi ho katanggap-tanggap ito, kailangan imbestigahan talaga ito," he said.

Lawyer Manuelito Luna, counsel for complainant Paras, welcomed the plenary vote. 

“Once more, truth and justice prevailed. We can lend whatever little expertise we have acquired through the years to the House Prosecution panel as it prepares for trial in the Senate,” he said in a statement.

-- report from RG Cruz and Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News