Manila Standard Today - The Andres Bautista controversy

15 August 2017

By Victor Avecilla | Manila Standard Today 

He was controversial during the 2016 national elections. More than a year later, he remains controversial. The only difference is that today, the controversy he is in has been triggered not by a national election, but by his own wife.

Right now, that is the least that can be said of Andres Bautista, the incumbent chairman of the Commission on Elections and erstwhile chief of the moribund and useless Presidential Commission on Good Government. Bautista served as chairman of the PCGG from 2010 up to 2015 when his political patron President Benigno Aquino III appointed him to the Comelec.

His management of the 2016 national elections was attended with so many controversies which his publicists and Aquino’s Liberal Party have been trying to keep away from public attention. That’s for discussion later.

Anyway, the new controversy involving Chairman Bautista stems from the recent revelation made by his estranged wife Patricia that Bautista has illegally and clandestinely stashed away around a billion pesos in cash and other assets which he accumulated during his stint as PCGG head, and during his incumbency as Comelec chairman.

To support her accusation, Mrs. Bautista said she saw passbooks and other documents which indicate that her husband has substantial cash deposits at the Luzon Development Bank, the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. She also revealed that her husband owns expensive condominium units—one at the plush Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, and another in the United States located at The District in San Francisco, California.

Mrs. Bautista said that Chairman Bautista did not declare these assets in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, a document which government officials and employees must accomplish under oath and submit annually for public scrutiny. She also said that her husband’s illegal acquisition of wealth is enough ground to start impeachment proceedings against him in the House of Representatives.

In addition, Mrs. Bautista alleged that her husband had been continuously receiving checks issued by a lawyer, Nilo Divina, who heads a high-end law firm in Makati, and who, according to her, is very close to her husband and is the godfather to one of their children. Those checks, Mrs. Bautista said, constituted her husband’s commissions given to him by the law firm’s clients who have cases in the Comelec.

Mrs. Bautista also said that the Divina law office represents several corporations like the Bataan Shipyard and Engineering Company and the United Coconut Planters Bank, which she said had several dealings with the PCGG during her husband’s watch.

It also appears that Mrs. Bautista has sued her husband for support since their estrangement.

Whether Mrs. Bautista has the passbooks, checks and other documents to prove her allegations is unclear, although her lawyers maintained that they have seen the documentation.

For his part, Chairman Bautista denied the allegations against him, and said that his financial papers were stolen from his residence several days before his wife made her accusations against him. He also admitted that his marriage has not been successful.

Quarrels between spouses always constitute sad news and is best left uncommented upon by the news media. The quarrel between Chairman Bautista and his wife, however, raises serious concerns which cannot be ignored.

So far, Chairman Bautista wife’s appears to have the upper hand because Bautista has a lot of explaining to do in the light of the revelations made by his wife.

First, denials from Chairman Bautista are not enough because Mrs. Bautista has identified particular bank accounts and specific locations of real properties allegedly kept secret by him. If these assets exist and Bautista does own them, he is required by law to declare them in his SALN. His alleged failure to declare his assets in his SALN, if true, will lead to his criminal prosecution and impeachment.

Next, if what Mrs. Bautista says is true, Chairman Bautista must explain how he was able to amass such wealth despite his fixed salary. Under the law, unexplained wealth carries a presumption that the wealth was ill-gotten. In turn, ill-gotten wealth warrants prosecution for violation of the anti-graft law, and impeachment as well.

Third, since Mrs. Bautista has incriminated her husband and Divina in what looks like the payment of commissions by Divina to Chairman Bautista both as PCGG head and as Comelec chief, the latter must demand proof that he did receive such commissions. If Mrs. Bautista proves her allegation, Chairman Bautista may be prosecuted for graft, and impeached as well. In that event, Divina may also find himself sued for graft along with Bautista.

Being lawyers, Bautista and Divino are prohibited by the Code of Conduct for members of the legal profession from getting involved in illegal undertakings.

If it is true that Chairman Bautista has been receiving commissions from a law firm which has clients with pending cases in the Comelec during Bautista’s incumbency, there is cause for concern for everyone in the country. Disturbing questions about the integrity and credibility of the canvass of votes for the vice presidential election held in May 2016 will inevitably arise.

One question—Did the LP, which was then oozing with money and which enjoyed the advantages of incumbency in Malacañang back then, use underhanded tactics in the Comelec to install their candidate, Leni Robredo, to the vice presidency?

Other questions—Was there a pay-off from Smartmatic, the equally controversial owner of the automated voting machines? Why did Bautista’s Comelec, on the eve of the elections, arrange for the Smartmatic officials to billet at the Novotel at the Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City, the same hotel where the national campaign headquarters of the LP was located? Why did Bautista inspect only a few rooms at the Novotel, and not the entire hotel, when the news media received word that Smartmatic voting machines were seen inside the hotel?

The people await Bautista’s answers.