House to take up Bautista impeachment after budget process: Fariñas

MANILA — The House of Representatives may possibly begin to tackle the impeachment complaint lodged against Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairperson Andres Bautista once deliberations on the proposed PHP3.767-trillion national budget for 2018 are finished.

In an ambush interview on Thursday, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the earliest time the lower chamber could deliberate on the impeach bid against the poll chief is “after the budget process”, or at least two weeks from now.

House appropriations committee chair Karlo Nograles said the House plenary is expected to tackle the proposed 2018 budget by September 4.

Although he has yet to read the impeachment complaint, Fariñas insisted that it must comply with the requirement of “personal knowledge”, which was the standard used in relation to the dismissal of the impeachment bid against President Rodrigo Duterte.

To recall, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano’s impeachment complaint against President Duterte did not survive in the House committee on justice and was eventually junked due to the complainant’s lack of personal knowledge of the material allegations made.

Fariñas said  the verification component of the complaint must be met, which reads: “I/We hereby confirm and affirm that the material allegations made therein are true and correct of my/our own personal knowledge and as culled from authentic records.”

Former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio filed an impeachment complaint on Wednesday against Bautista on the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust amid hidden-wealth allegations.

Fariñas explained that it must be the complainants themselves that should possess personal knowledge of the allegations made, even if Bautista’s estranged wife, Ma. Patricia, decides to appear and testify before the House panel.

Mahirap naman yun. Hearsay na nga yun… Hindi naman siya (Patricia) yung complainant eh. This is a very novel issue because it’s the wife against the husband. Meron tayong marital or spousal privilege that one spouse cannot testify against another except if the case is one between the other,” Fariñas said.

The complainants said Bautista betrayed public trust for failing to adopt safeguards under the Data Privacy Act (Republic Act No. 10173) that could have prevented the data breach or hacking of the Comelec website that occurred in March last year.

Bautista also fell short in his duties and responsibilities as poll chief when he failed to promptly act on the hacking of the Comelec website, as well as declined to assume direct control and supervision of the task force created after the incident, the complainants noted.

Furthermore, the complainants said Bautista betrayed public trust by obstructing justice when he cleared Smartmatic and Comelec IT specialists of any wrongdoing for the so-called script tweak during the consolidation/canvassing of results in the May 2016 elections.

The complainants also alleged that Bautista failed to properly disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) and the reported receipt of referral fees from the Smartmatic, the largest technology provider of the Comelec, through the Divina Law Office.

Bautista faces allegations from his estranged wife Patricia who claimed that the poll body chief has undeclared wealth worth PHP1 billion.