President Rodrigo Duterte cut the Gordian knot presented to him by both resigned Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista and the House of Representatives. And now that Duterte has accepted Bautista’s resignation “effective immediately,” in the words of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, we can all finally move forward in our collective desire for more transparent and cleaner elections.
Personally, I would have preferred Bautista to undergo an impeachment trial in the Senate, as the House itself had virtually demanded when it rejected in a plenary vote the Comelec chairman’s “postdated” resignation. I believe that a no-holds-barred grilling in the Senate of Bautista’s finances and official actions as supervisor of the national elections last year would have shed a bright light on how we choose those who would rule and represent us or how we are made to believe that the winners are those whom we actually chose.
But I console myself with the fact that Bautista, who has lost his immunity from suit as an impeachable official with the acceptance of his resignation by Duterte, will now be haled to court to answer the various allegations hurled against him. It’s possible that the process of prosecuting Bautista through the Ombudsman and in regular courts, while not as sensational and free-wheeling as a Senate impeachment trial, will eventually ferret out the truth about what he did, if you can get through the thicket of legalities that attend such stilted, rules-bound proceedings.
I also take no small pleasure in the fact that the current Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio-Morales, who is widely believed to be the protector of all officials appointed by the previous administration, will retire by the middle of next year. Unless Morales focuses exclusively on the charges that will be filed against former chairman Bautista until her own July 2018 retirement, to the exclusion of all other cases that are still pending in her office, I don’t think she will be able to dispose too quickly of even the suits that Bautista’s estranged wife Patricia will bring before the Ombudsman.
Those charges, after all, have not yet been filed, since Bautista’s resignation was only accepted this week. Unless the Ombudsman has found a way to dismiss charges that have yet to be lodged before her office, I think it’s safe to say that it will be Morales’ replacement who will have to decide whether or not to prosecute Bautista.
I am not being facetious. After all, if I remember correctly, it was Morales who absolved former Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya of any culpability in the graft complaint where Abaya was implicated together with former MRT general manager Al Vitangcol.
In July 2015, the Ombudsman set an extraordinary legal precedent when she found evidence to charge Vitangcol for graft for recommending approval of the alleged irregular awarding of a $11.5-million maintenance contract to a company named PH Trams. But Morales let Abaya off the hook, even if the transportation secretary (who was also president of the ruling Liberal Party of then President Noynoy Aquino) signed off approval of the same deal, on the ground that Abaya was only in office for a few days when he affixed his signature to the contract documents.
That is how good Morales was (and is) at protecting the allies of Aquino. And now that Abaya is once again in the news after the Department of Transportation sued him for graft in connection with another billion-peso MRT maintenance contract with a Korean-led consortium named Buri that he approved when he presumably already knew what he was doing, perhaps some justice will be done – especially to the long-suffering 500,000 people who ride the MRT every day.
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But this is really about Comelec and what should be done going forward. The election body has already moved on, after all, appointing the most senior of the seven commissioners, Christian Robert Lim, to replace Bautista as head of the agency in an acting capacity during the very first en banc session after Malacañang accepted Bautista’s resignation.
Lim is not Duterte’s choice to head up Comelec, whose new chairman will have to serve out the remainder of Bautista’s term, which expires in January 2022. A spokesman for the agency, apparently with no small measure of relief, said that Bautista’s departure will not affect Comelec’s operations in any way.
I can only hope that the new Comelec chairman that Duterte will appoint really makes an effort to drain the swamp that is our electoral system, which has not been made more transparent by the introduction of automation since 2010. I want to see someone who is not only adept at election law, but someone who understands technology, as well, in order that he or she may avoid the mistakes that Bautista and his immediate predecessor in office, Sixto Brillantes, made when they basically subcontracted the elections to that controversial Venezuela-based IT provider, Smartmatic.
Finally, I’d like to see an election run by the Comelec that does not thwart the will of the people and whose results are not affected by the transfer of huge sums to small, friendly banks in favor of very accommodating poll officials and their favored law firms. Bautista is gone, but there is much work to be done and Duterte—if he wants clean and honest elections—will have to find the right person to do the job.