The Gods of the House
It’s easy to dismiss the proposal of Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas to exempt House members from arrest for minor traffic violations as the rantings of an entitled government official terminally detached from the reality that the rest of us have to live with. But if you really want to be outraged, you should consider the apparent plot to exculpate Commission on Elections Chairman Andres “God Said Not Yet” Bautista in the same House where Fariñas resides.
Fariñas, who has been in public office almost his entire adult life, is merely so out of touch with the world outside of the Batasang Pambansa that he cannot seem to understand that most people are forced to leave early in order to get to work on time. His sin is one of entitlement, of believing that his work as a congressman who has to be present before Congress sessions begin at 4 p.m. (4 p.m.!) is more important than that of the wage-earner whose pay is decked for the slightest tardiness.
Fariñas’ case is not helped by his recourse to a supposed immunity from the ordinary inconvenience suffered by a motorist who is stopped for a traffic violation. Imagine if a car-owner tells a traffic constable that he must not be held up (sometimes in both senses of the phrase) because he just has to get to work; or if the driver of a public utility vehicle asks to be waved off because his passengers are in the same situation.
But Fariñas, who has never been known to go half-measures, as his decision to indefinitely detain the so-called “Ilocos 6” in the House proved, was not done yet. Even if a congressman’s car runs over someone, he explained, his progress on the road must not be impeded—the offended party and law enforcement agents, after they ascertain the identity of a congressman, must let him off and pursue their case before the House leadership later on.
As strong as his sense of entitlement is, Fariñas seems to possess a woefully underdeveloped concept of compassion and empathy. (He is, after all, routinely accused of being an apostle of the unfeeling Yellow One, a lawmaker who ascended to his current high post as majority whip because of his adroitness in that other political skill, turncoatism.)
Malacañang has seen it fit to remind Fariñas that President Rodrigo Duterte has always strived to lead a simple, unadorned life ever since he was elected to public office. Even the Yellows who have been left behind by Fariñas cannot accuse Duterte of living a lavish lifestyle.
The only consolation that anyone can derive from Fariñas’ political career is that it will soon be over, when his term ends two years from now. Then, he will no longer be able to claim the immunity that he prizes—and he should really be careful when he crosses the street.
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But the scarier news from the House of Fariñas, by an order of magnitude, is the reported plan of the House justice committee headed by Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali (another of those quick-thinking, quick-flipping ex-Yellows) to throw out the impeachment complaint against the beleaguered Bautista. The noise has gotten so loud that the fix is in that Patricia “Tish” Bautista, the long-suffering wife of the Comelec boss, took the unusual step of calling a press conference yesterday to urge the committee not to junk the charges.
Umali, who gained famed for conjuring up the spectral and still-unidentified “little lady” during the Corona impeachment trial five years ago in the Senate, seems to be telegraphing this unseemly absolution of Bautista. Umali has been warning everyone that his panel will be a lot stricter in the evaluation of the required sufficiency in form and in substance of the verified complaint against Bautista, which he says could be dismissed in same manner that the second complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was—on a mere technicality.
Umali has taken pains to point out that the start of the evaluation of Bautista’s case today could lead to this course of action, if the committee votes like it did on the second Sereno complaint. He explained that that complaint was dismissed because the complainants had no “personal knowledge” of Bautista’s wrongdoing and that even the passbooks proving the existence of bank accounts (which the Comelec chief has never denied) do not constitute “authenticated documents.”
The more important roadblock that I deduced from interviewing Umali is the Catch-22 that nullifies the passbooks seized by Tish Bautista: The passbooks cannot be certified by the bank that issued them without a court order, but since a case cannot be filed without them being certified as authenticated documents, even the strongest pieces of evidence that Tish possesses will be worthless.
Of course, the unasked question in all this is why the House committee decided to get all so persnickety with the determination of substance and form, when they used to just round up the required one-third of the membership and let the Senate do all the heavy lifting. The House did that to Joseph Estrada and they did it to Renato Corona— why is it fussing over Bautista this time?
It’s enough to make you believe Bautista when he said God told him to not resign just yet. Bautista’s God is apparently the same one who is immune from arrest on trivial traffic violations—the same God who is apparently working on his exoneration despite all the evidence against him.