Chairman Bautista skips House barangay election hearing

MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista on Monday, August 14, skipped a House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms hearing on the possible postponement of the scheduled 2017 elections.

Committee chairman CIBAC party list Representative Sherwin Tugna, in a press conference ahead of the hearing, said Bautista told the committee he would have to skip the hearing because of an apparent prior commitment.

Bautista is set to attend a hearing in Davao City on August 15 to discuss the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections in Mindanao under martial law.

"It is unfortunate that I will not be able to personally attend this initial deliberation because of a prior engagement in Davao City," said Bautista in an August 10 letter to Tugna. 

The House of Representatives had earlier decided during an all-member caucus to postpone the barangay and SK elections yet again to May 2018, and to allow incumbent elected officials to serve as “holdovers” until then. The Senate has yet to make a decision on the village elections, which had earlier been postponed from October 2016 to October 2017.

The possible shift in the Comelec’s timeline for preparations comes as Bautista faces controversies, both professional and personal. His estranged wife, Patricia, has accused the chairman of corruption and claims to have the proof to back it up. Bautista has sued his wife for robbery and extortion.

Asked if Bautista’s own issues would affect preparations for the barangay elections, Tugna said: “Coincidental lang naman yan pero di naman natin maialis na on an administrative level, bilang head ng constitutional commission na in charge sa elections natin, di natin maiwasan na mag isip na kahit papaano baka maapektuhan siya sa pag-perform ng kanyang trabaho.”

(It’s only coincidental but it’s difficult to dismiss the thought that on an administrative level, as the head of the Constitutional commission in charge of the elections, these issues might affect the way he does his job.)

AKO BICOL party list Representative Alfredo Garbin said Bautista should be given the “benefit of the doubt” in this decision to skip the hearing. “Marital relations will not be the subject of the hearing, so bakit siya iiwas (so why would he avoid it)?” he said.

Work as usual

Kabayan party list Representative Harry Roque questioned Bautista's absence.

"I actually am a bit confused as to the reason given by Chairman Bautista for his non-appearance today. He opted to go for a public hearing on the same elections... I wonder why the Chairman gave priority to a public hearing compared to a session of Congress that's considering to pass a law on the postponement of the elections," he said, asking commissioners if Bautista's personal issues was already affecting preparations.

Comelec commissioner Arthur Lim said Bautista's issues – although they may affect him and even the institution itself – will not get in the way of its job.

"Firstly, to say that the present controversy is not affecting at all the honorable chairman of the Comelec or even the institution is perhaps to make an understatement. That said, in my humble view, whether or not Chairman Bautista continues as chairman or takes a leave of absence or resigns as chairman of the Commission is a judgment call which he alone can and should make," he said during the hearing.

Lim added: "That said again your honor, with all due respect to our honorable chairman, we are a collegial body and with or without him, the Comelec will continue to function. That I can assure our people. Even as the Commission is enveloped in this controversy... we in the Comelec are performing our duties. It is work as usual, your honor."

Resolutions in both houses of Congress have since been filed to probe allegations against Bautista. (READ: Duterte first told Congress leaders about Bautista's alleged corruption)

Bautista was appointed Comelec chief in 2015 by former president Benigno Aquino III. His term expires in 2022 yet, a few months before the next presidential elections. – Rappler.com