PHL Comelec Chairman Defends Self, Faces Wide Investigation by NBI, PCGG, BIR, AMLC, Possible Impeachment, May Resign

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BAUTISTA VS BAUTISTA: Husband and wife Juan Andres Bautista and Patricia Paz Bautista quarrel in public.

By ALFRED GABOT

MANILA (PhilAmPess) – Embattled Chairman Juan Andres Bautista of the Commission on Elections continues to vehemently deny any wrongdoing pointing out that the alleged P1.2 billion undeclared wealth exposed by his wife could easily be explained in the proper venues.

While Chairman Bautista earned the support of officials and employees of Comelec who joined him in a mass at the Manila Cathedral and staged a march to the nearby Comelec later, a plan to impeach him has gained support from lawmakers even as a member of the Cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte predicted the poll chief will resign in case an impeachment complaint is filed against him and endorsed in the House of Representatives.

Denying reports that he will step down, Chairman Bautista maintained that the hidden-wealth allegations against him were half-truths, and boiled down to the P620-million demand of his estranged wife.

“I am the aggrieved party here and I’m ready to face them in court,” he said.

Chairman Bautista told election officials and employees he had no problem stepping down from office, but said what he could not take was losing his “Comelec family,” “who through the years have shown their sincere, genuine care and affection.”

He also disclosed that he had sought spiritual advice from Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

Comelec employees, meanwhile, said they did not believe the allegations of Bautista’s estranged wife, saying the poll chief was a man of integrity.

Mrs. Bautista claimed her husband received some P500,000 in referral fees from controversial automated election technology provider Smartmatic Corp.

Patricia, who is fighting for her legal share of her husband’s wealth, has accused the Comelec chief of amassing nearly P1 billion in ill-gotten wealth and getting commissions or referral fees from the law office of Nilo Divina.

Patricia, 47, claimed during a television interview to have evidence proving that her husband received commissions from Smartmatic through Divina Law office.

Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo  predicted that  Chairman Bautista will resign if he is impeached by the House of Representatives.

“The Comelec chair will resign,” Panelo saidafter leading the induction of 48 new members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Cauayan City, Isabela.

Panelo said he believes Bautista will not “subject himself to an impeachment and a   ngative public scrutiny that will affect his family.”

“It is rather unproductive,” he added.

Former Negros Oriental representative Jacinto Paras earlier said that he will file an impeachment complaint against Bautista at the House of Representatives next week.

Dr. Martin Bautista, a brother of Chairman Bautista, arrived from Oklahoma to support the Comelec chief, pointing out that their family wealth and investments were clean and never tainted with corruption even as Chairman Bautista filed charges against his estranged wife before the courts.

This developed as Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate Chairman Bautista’s alleged undeclared wealth and that the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) will be joining the ongoing probe.

The President Commission on Good Government (PCGG) which Chairman Bautista once headed has also put into motion a review of his records with the agency viz-a-viz the probe on his alleged undeclared wealth.

The NBI has tapped the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies in the investigation into Chairman Bautista’s wealth, Aguirre said.

“The BIR wants to partner with us in this investigation. We need to see if there are tax liabilities based on the affidavit and documents we have gathered,” said Aguirre, who met with BIR Commissioner Cesar Dulay as they discussed the parameters of the investigation and sharing of documents and findings of the NBI.

Aguirre said the BIR chief will issue a letter of authority on Chairman Bautista and others mentioned in Patricia Bautista’s affidavit.

The DoJ Secretary said that Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has been informed about the letter.

In her affidavit, Patricia Paz Bautista said she has discovered a number of assets that were not listed in his SALN.

She said she was disclosing “certain information and documents that would show that Andy (Bautista’s nickname) might have had, or currently has, misdealing and corrupt practices while in government service.”

The Comelec chief already denied the allegation, stressing it could be a part of extortion by his estranged wife, who he revealed has asked for a P 620-million settlement.

Bautista declared a net worth of P176.3 million in his SALN.

Aguirre also tasked NBI to coordinate with Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) in probing since it has a memorandum of agreement with the former and considering that Bautista’s wife, Patricia Paz, has already presented documents to the NBI, including alleged records on numerous bank accounts of his husband.

The NBI, through its Anti-Fraud Division, already started with its investigation.

Based on the progress report submitted to Aguirre, the NBI already coordinated with various agencies including the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to examine the more than 30 bank accounts mentioned by Bautista’s estranged wife Patricia.

“The conduct of parallel money laundering investigation was likewise requested from AMLC,” the NBI report stated.

The NBI likewise coordinated with the Presidential Commission on Good Government where Bautista previously headed from 2010 to 2015.

The NBI also coordinated with the Office of the Ombudsman for Bautista’s SALN. They also coordinated with the Land Registration Authority (LRA), Land Transportation Office (LTO), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) and various property developers.In justifying the investigation, Aguirre said the marital spat is unfortunate “but the government has to protect the public interest.”

In justifying the investigation, Aguirre said the marital spat is unfortunate “but the government has to protect the public interest.”

“There is an allegation here of illegally acquired wealth and we have to know if it is true,” he said.

Aguirre also said that the PCGG conduct its own investigation into Bautista’s ill gotten wealth.

Aguirre said that he met with acting PCGG chair Reynaldo Munsayac and two other commissioners Rey Bulay and John Agbayani who provided them with documents on possible anomalies.

When asked what the documents are about, he said “cases of possible ghost employees, travel violations not in accordance with administrative procedure [but] we are still in the initial stage.

“The PCGG is also conducting an investigation on possible violation during the term of Bautista as PCGG chair. I was talking to the three commissioners Reynaldo Munsayac, Rey Bulay, John Agbayani, nagbigay ng document but we are still studying it. So siguro by next week may report on that,” Aguirre told reporters in a chance interview on Friday.

Aguirre said they will not ask Bautista to issue a waiver allowing the examination of his accounts, it will be easier for the investigators if he will provide one.

Under the Bank Secrecy Law, all deposits with banks or banking institutions in the country are considered absolutely confidential in nature and may not be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office, except upon written permission of the depositor, or in cases of impeachment, or upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials, or in cases where the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of the litigation.

“It is up to him [Bautista] to issue a waiver or not. If he will, well and good,” Aguirre said.

Bautista has filed several charges grave coercion, qualified theft, robbery, against his estranged wife in connection with the latter’s accusation that he has unexplained wealth amounting to close to P1 billion.

The poll body chief noted that charges have been filed against Patricia Bautista at the Taguig City Prosecutor’s Office.

Cibac party-list Representative Sherwin Tugna said that Bautista should resign if the House of Representatives would find approve the impeachment complaint that would be filed against him.

“Kung nakapag-file ng impeachment complaint at ito ay parang may basehan, baka doon pa lamang i-consider, para sa akin, doon pa lang i-consider na ni Chairman Andy Bautista [na mag-resign],” Tugna said.

He added: “Hindi dahil siya ay guilty o hindi. Kundi para lamang hindi na madamay pa ang Commission on Elections.”

A newspaper report said that Marcos loyalist Oliver Lozano has filed an impeachment complaint against Bautista, but it was submitted by the lawyer at the Office of the Ombudsman.

Tugna said the Office of the Ombudsman is “the wrong forum” in filing an impeachment complaint.

He explained that the Constitution specifically states that an impeachment complaint can only be filed at the House of Representatives.

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