COMMISSIONER Christian Robert Lim on Tuesday accused Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista of misapplying and misquoting the rules on travel authority, saying he had no power to approve his own trip.
In a memo, Lim noted that the Comelec, as a constitutional body, is exempted from securing tavel authority from the Office of the President, but must follow the rules and guidelines that it promulgates.
The row over Bautista’s recent trip to Japan was the latest wrinkle in the ongoing turmoil at the Comelec that pits six commissioners against the chairman.
Earlier, the commissioners accused Bautista of a “failure of leadership” in a memo that raised 15 issues against him.
The commissioners now say Bautista traveled abroad without authority from the en banc, which could not designate an acting chairman while he was away. This, they said, meant they could not act on pending work.
Lim said an executive order clearly states that constitutional bodies should promulgate guidelines regarding the approval of travel authorities of their heads.
Based on a Comelec en banc resolution approved May 12, 2016, if the chairman needs to travel, the most senior member of the commission will sign the travel authority.
Lim is the most senior en banc member.
“Based on existing guidelines, there is no instance that a chairman applies and approves his own travel authority. This is simply a concept of checks-and-balances. The commission en banc remains a collegial body,” Lim said.
Bautista left for a vacation in Japan last week and arrived in Manila Monday.
Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said Bautista’s departure for Japan last Thursday left behind unsigned procurement documents and resolutions.
“Chairman Bautista did not have en banc authority to travel abroad and thus the en banc was not able to designate an acting chair, which is according to our rules,” Guanzon said.
Bautista brushed aside Guanzon’s statement explaining that he took his “privilege leave” to accompany his son to Tokyo from June 23 to 26.
He cited a June 21 memorandum, assuring acting commission secretary Consuelo Diola
that his was “a personal trip that will entail no cost to the commission.”
He added that the chairman of the Commission on Audit and the Ombudsman also issue their own travel authorities.
Bautista also denied that there was no acting Comelec chairman while he was in Japan. “I referred to existing memos so the senior commissioner is acting chair in my absence,” he said.
The poll chief also reacted to the decision of his colleagues’ plan of three commissioners not to participate in the operational preparations of the upcoming barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan polls, saying that the move was “unprofessional.”
An en banc meeting Tuesday lasted an hour, after which Bautista faced the media.
In a hoarse voice, Bautista said the meeting was “a cordial kind of dialogue” where they discussed many matters, including the preparations for the October elections.
Guanzon agreed, saying Tuesday’s meeting was “very different” from previous ones.
“It was very professional. Fast. That’s the way a meeting should be,” she said.
Guanzon said their memo to Bautista was not discussed in the en banc meeting because it wasn’t on the agenda, which the chairman controls.
“It’s inappropriate to raise that in an en banc because there’s an agenda that the chairman controls. So, if it’s not in the agenda, we cannot bring it up,” she said.
During the meeting, Guanzon said, the en banc discussed the pending cases that need to be addressed immediately.
She also said it was not the right time to raise the memo because Bautista had lost his voice.
“That is a standing request. But I thought it was not the right time to say it because he has no voice,” she said.
She added that the other members of the en banc will wait for Bautista to regain his voice.
“Let us see because for all we know maybe the chairman is writing a reply... He has no voice. So let us be patient,” Guanzon said.
She added that while they are willing to be patient, Bautista cannot simply sweep their issues under the rug.
The leaked memo detailed at least 15 issues raised against Bautista by Commissioners Christian Robert Lim, Arthur Lim, Luie Guia, and Guanzon.
Lawmakers were split Tuesday over the possible postponement of the barangay elections in the wake of the incoming Duterte administration’s resolve to pursue a federalist system of government.
Outgoing Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said a postponement “amounts to a term extension” for the barangay officials.
Belmonte also said that a deferment of elections would require a law. With Maricel V. Cruz
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