By Joe Torres
The Philippines’ Commission on Elections chairman resigned from his post on Oct. 11 hours before the country’s Lower House of Congress voted to impeach the poll official.
In a letter submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte, elections official Andres Bautista said he is tendering his resignation, which takes effect end of the year, due to “personal reasons.”
He said the ten-week period before he leaves office is meant to provide Duterte “sufficient time to choose my replacement as well as ensure a smooth and orderly transition.”
In a social media post, the official said his decision to quit was “not an easy” one.
Hours after he announced his resignation, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Bautista, making him the first official who has been impeached under the Duterte administration.
The majority of the members of the Lower House decided to reverse an earlier decision of the Committee on Justice to dismiss a petition to oust Bautista.
The head of the poll body has been accused of betrayal of public trust and culpable violations of the Constitution for allegedly not declaring his true wealth, reportedly amounting to at least a billion pesos.
An opposition legislator said the Duterte administration had sinister motives for wanting to remove Bautista.
“The motivation here is to control the elections in 2019,” said Representative Antonio Tinio of the Teachers Party in Congress.
“Chairman Bautista’s impeachment is a clear attempt by President Duterte and his administration to control all vital offices, especially the supposedly independent Constitutional bodies,” he added.
The Constitutional bodies include the Supreme Court, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Elections.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales are also in the process of being impeached in the House of Representatives.
Tinio said Sereno and Morales were being “targeted” by Duterte’s allies for their vocal stance against the spate of drug-related killings.
A church-backed poll watchdog lauded the decision of Bautista to resign to enable the Commission on Elections “to act as one and purposely fulfill its mandate.”
Lawyer Rene Sarmiento, a former elections commissioner who now heads the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said the country will be the “ultimate beneficiary” of Bautista’s resignation.
He said the poll body can now focus its attention “to pursue and design inclusively creative electoral reforms.”
The poll watchdog expressed hope that whoever replaces Bautista will be someone who is “independent, competent, and will uphold democracy.”
Upon learning of his resignation, several legislators wished Bautista well.
“I believe that his resignation is due to his love for his family. Being now removed from all the duties and responsibilities, he will now have more time to spend for his children,” said Representative Sherwin Tugna, chairman of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms.
Bautista’s problems started after his estranged wife publicized their marital woes and alleged that he had amassed unexplained wealth that he did not declare. He denied his wife’s allegations.