Duterte backs moves to impeach Comelec chief

(L-R) Presidential legal counselor Salvador Panelo, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella, and Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista (Photos: www.politics.com.ph / www. topnews1948.wordpress.com / www.untvweb.com)

By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent

After professing to a hands-off stand on the simple “marital spat” between Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista and his estranged wife Patricia, President Duterte now supports any move in Congress to impeach the embattled Comelec head.

Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said the President would support an impeachment case against Bautista, obviously referring to former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras who is set to file an impeachment complaint against the Comelec chief at the House of Representatives. The Volunteer against Crimes and Corruption (VACC) is also gathering the necessary documents to lodge a separate complaint.

For this reason, Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo told reporters he expected Bautista to resign once an impeachment process gets going in Congress.

When Bautista’s wife came out with the corruption allegations, Duterte initially declined to take sides in the controversy saying it was not his place to meddle in a domestic quarrel.

An emotional Bautista appeared at the Comelec flag-raising ceremony and said it would be difficult to part ways with the officials and staff of the poll body, where he has served as chairman since 2015.

“It’s not hard to give up this post or step down from my position. It’s not a problem. My problem is losing my Comelec family who over the years have shown their sincere, genuine care and affection,” a tearful Bautista told Comelec officials and employees.

It was the second time Bautista hinted at stepping down rather than risk an impeachment ordeal.

“If it was just me, sure I would (go through the impeachment process) in order to vindicate myself. But, at the same time, I recognize that there will be other people who will be brought in and it’s going to be messy,” Bautista said in a television interview last week.

Bautista on August 14 disclosed he had sought spiritual advice from Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

Bautista is being accused by his wife, Patricia Paz, of amassing nearly PHP 1 billion in ill-gotten wealth and mis-declaring in his 2016 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

Employees of the poll body, in a statement, said that they did not believe the allegations of Bautista’s estranged wife, adding that the Comelec chief was a man of integrity.

Manuelito Luna of the VACC asked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for copies of Patricia Paz Bautista’s affidavit and the Comelec chief’s 35 Luzon Development Bank deposit books, in preparation for the filing of an impeachment complaint. He said the VACC would file an impeachment complaint against Bautista and that they secured the endorsement of a member of the House.

The VACC asked NBI Director Dante Gierran for a certified true copy of the affidavit filed by Bautista’s estranged wife, Patricia, in which she claimed that her husband amassed unexplained wealth amounting to nearly PHP 1 billion.

Former lawmaker Paras also wanted to get a hold of copies of the 35 Luzon Development Bank passbooks, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation peso account documents and other documents forwarded by Patricia’s camp to the NBI, which is currently looking into her allegations on orders of Justice Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre II.

Paras will also request a copy of Bautista’s 2016 SALN from the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Comelec chief declared a net worth of PHP 176.3 million last year but Patricia said that she found bank and real property documents in her husband’s name and those of his relatives that were not reflected in Bautista’s 2016 SALN.

Bautista earlier said that his family had received a draft of an impeachment complaint to be filed against him. He alleged the draft was sent to his family in an attempt to pressure him to sign a settlement agreement with his estranged wife amounting to PHP 620 million.

Bautista had denied allegations of ill-gotten wealth as “all lies.”

He said his estranged wife was “motivated by greed” and that she allowed herself to be used by “certain people and groups to promote a political agenda designed to cast aspersions on (him) and the Comelec’s work in the 2016 elections.”