If the Comelec was corrupted, did they count our votes right?

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FRANCISCO S. TATAD

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

PATRICIA Paz C. Bautista, 47, describes herself as “the legal wife” of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Juan Andres “Andy” Bautista, appointed in 2015 for a term of seven years. Under our laws, also observed in other countries, a wife may not inform on her husband in connection with any wrongdoing, except in case of crimes committed by him against her. Yet she has filed an affidavit before the National Bureau of Investigation claiming he has amassed about P1 billion in undeclared and unexplained wealth, mostly in 2016, the year of the last presidential elections. Bautista denies everything, saying the accusation sprang from their broken marriage, characterized by her alleged affair with another man, and her attempt to extort P620 million from him. But the claim is supported by a stack of incriminating bank and other documents.

Bautista, who used to chair the Presidential Commission on Good Government, belongs to a small group of “impeachable” officials who are constitutionally immune from criminal prosecution while in office. These include the President, the Vice President, members of the Supreme Court, members of the Civil Service Commission, the Comelec, the Commission on Audit, and the Ombudsman. They may be removed on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. Only then may they be charged of any crime in court.

Even if already charged, and there is preponderance of evidence of guilt against them, they shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. That is how the Bill of Rights is written, and it is how the system is supposed to work. But under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, once you are “listed” as a drug suspect, you may be killed inside your home, or your detention cell if you are already detained, while being served a “search warrant” in the wee hours of the morning. As far as the average media consumer is concerned, it is not the accuser who must bear the burden of proving the guilt of the accused, but rather the accused who must bear the burden of “proving their innocence.”

Allegations against Andy
Mrs. Bautista was reported to have met with President DU30, presumably to secure his blessings, prior to going to the NBI and the mass media with all the “goods” on her estranged husband. According to media reports, he tried to advise her to try to keep their marriage going, despite his own problems with his own marriage. In her 10-page affidavit, executed with the help of a lawyer, she alleged that:


Bautista kept 30 separate accounts totaling P227.7 million in the Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City branch of the Luzon Development Bank (LDB, formerly Laguna Development Bank, a rural bank), and five other accounts totaling P101.5 million in the Makati City branch of the same bank; a foreign currency account and a peso account with Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC); a Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. (HSBC) HK dollar account totaling HK$948,358.97.

The total of all these could not be justified by his legitimate income, and none of them were declared in his 2016 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), in which he declared a net worth of P176.3 million, she said. In March 2012, the Senate impeachment trial convicted and removed the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona for his alleged failure to correctly report his bank deposits in his SALN. Most of Bautista’s rural bank deposits were made in amounts smaller than P500,000, Mrs. Bautista said, apparently to avoid monitoring by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, which requires banks to report every transaction of P500,000 or more.

Aside from the 35 bank accounts allegedly in Bautista’s name jointly with some other members of his family, the Comelec chair had one piece of property in The District in San Francisco, which he did not declare in his SALN, Mrs. Bautista said. He had declared 13 other pieces of prime property at P158.5 million, but in her assessment, these could easily have been acquired at P250 million to P300 million. She said that aside from the property at the Pacific Plaza Towers, where they have their residence, she was not aware of all the other properties.

Aside from Bautista’s properties at home, he also had properties abroad, which were not declared in his SALN, she said. These include: Bauman Enterprises Ltd., a company listed in the British Virgin Islands on September 29, 2010, which he had set up with the Bank of Singapore; Mantova International Ltd., a company he established in Brunei Darussalam on April 26, 2011; and Mega Achieve Inc., a company he established in Anguilla, a British overseas territory in the Caribbean, on July 15, 2014.

Enter the Senate and DoJ
Despite Bautista’s presumed “immunity” from criminal prosecution while in office, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd is reported to have authorized the NBI to investigate the allegations, saying his immunity from suit does not preclude an investigation, preparatory to a possible impeachment. At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd and Senator Grace Poe Llamanzares would like the Senate blue ribbon committee to investigate the allegations. I am afraid this promises a lot of cheap entertainment for the TV audience, but it is ultimately disruptive of the constitutional process.

This threatens to repeat our messy experience in 2000, when the Senate blue ribbon committee, in violation of the Constitution, decided to investigate the sitting President, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, on the say-so of the committee chair and other senators who wanted to investigate solely because they wanted to investigate. Because of the separation of powers, and precisely because of the President’s immunity from suit, the Senate may not investigate him on any allegation of wrongdoing until after he has been impeached and the impeachment complaint has reached the Senate. The House of Representatives, through the committee on justice, may investigate to find out whether the impeachment before them has any merits and should be transmitted to the Senate.

As Senate Majority Leader at the time, I tried to stress this most important point. It was a lonely and losing battle where I could not get a single senator, except for the late Miriam Defensor Santiago, to appreciate the constitutional issue. The forces against Estrada had quickly consolidated, and decided that he should be removed. The blue ribbon committee chair simply decided to investigate the President, as though he had the plenary powers to do so, without consulting the members of the committee, whom he was supposed to consult before proceeding, whether or not the committee should in fact investigate. That was the rule.

The fact that Estrada was eventually impeached, and his Senate trial was botched and taken to EDSA after the prosecution had walked out has nothing to do with what I am saying here. The fact that the grandstanding senator-judges asked at the impeachment trial questions they had already asked during the blue ribbon committee hearing, and that the public had the full opportunity to prejudge the respondent during the trial because of what they had seen and heard during the committee hearing destroyed the impeachment process before the walkout to EDSA did.

Those who were part of that awful Senate experience, and those who were not there but had time to learn from it, should never try to repeat it. But clearly conducting a Senate investigation on the allegations against Bautista would be a reckless repetition of the same.

Grounds to impeach
If Mrs. Bautista’s allegations against her “legal husband” are sufficiently verified, a couple of grounds could be quickly cited for impeaching the Comelec chair. Graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust. The appropriate complaint should be filed immediately, so that the House committee on justice, rather than Aguirre’s Department of Justice, should decide whether or not Bautista should be tried by the Senate.

We have to determine with complete objectivity not only whether Bautista was, indeed, able to amass P1 billion during the last elections from illegal sources, but above all, what effect the alleged corruption of the Comelec chair had on the validity of the elections. Did DU30, who got 38 percent of all the votes, lose any votes, as claimed by his camp? Or did he, in fact, gain votes he never had from the corruption of the chairman?

This impeachment complaint should take precedence over the proposed impeachment of Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, which is reportedly part of its preparations for the nationwide proclamation of martial law, as reportedly proposed by PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa, together with the cancellation of the incoming barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections and the installation of a new corps of barangay officials and youth representatives from the Masa Masid recruits of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. I would urge DU30 to give this his most serious thought.

IN MEMORIAM: Our friend and former classmate and comrade Rosauro “Roy” Acosta, 75, former managing editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and editor of the Business Mirror, was laid to rest at Himlayang Filipino in Quezon City yesterday after a moving farewell from family and friends… Severo “Roy” Sinfuego, a veteran and vivacious defense reporter on the Manila Bulletin, joined his Creator on Sunday and will be interred in Tagaytay on Saturday… Dr. Allan Achacoso, 62, a dear friend and well-loved doctor in Iligan City was called to his eternal home on Sunday. His remains will be cremated and interred on Friday. He is survived by his bereaved mother Illuminada, his doctor wife Tina, who is the dean of the College of Medicine, Mindanao State University, his three doctor-sons Juan Paulo, Angelo Miguel, Jose Carlos and two daughters, Maria Veronica and Maria Regina, who are both studying medicine, his elder brother Father Jim, a canon lawyer of Opus Dei, and his younger brother Eric.

May I ask the gentle reader to offer a prayer for the repose of their souls. Thank you very much.

fstatad@gmail.com

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