THE case of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista has so many horns and complications that the authorities are momentarily confused about what it should focus on and how they can resolve the case to the nation’s satisfaction.
We believe the prudent course is to recognize the many tentacles of this case, assigning to each tentacle its due.
First, Chairman Bautista, the holder of a constitutional office, has been exposed by his wife, Patricia Cruz Bautista, as allegedly holding over a billion pesos of unexplained wealth, which she backed up with a train of documented bank deposits, properties and foreign accounts.
Second, beyond the official aspect, this is a case of a marriage that has gone wrong, whose principals are involved in a bitter quarrel over assets, and which involves the welfare of four still minor children, who could be the most victimized.
Third, husband and wife have filed cases against each other, and they have accused each other of immoral behavior that has made their story grist for media gossip and exploitation.
Fourth, Bautista is a high-ranking public official with a fixed term of office; he can only be removed from his post through impeachment by Congress. The exposure of his case naturally excites the interest of Congress to conduct an inquiry into his official conduct, and thereby to bring forward an official impeachment complaint against him.
Fifth, with Bautista as the top election official of the land, questions are being raised about the integrity of the 2016 elections, which he and the Commission on Elections managed. Many are itching to ask him questions about the alleged orchestration of fraud in the last elections on the orders of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
This hydra-headed case should not freeze our machinery of justice into hesitation or inaction; it should rather impel it to speedy action. Our justice machinery must set priorities so that the thorny questions can be answered one by one.
We think the Department of Justice, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) should focus their attention first on the issue of unexplained wealth. They should welcome the wealth of documentation that Mrs. Bautista perspicaciously gathered as a head start.
The less the marital woes of the Bautista couple intrude into the probe, the more quickly the authorities can establish the truth or falsehood of hidden wealth
A second angle that requires quick determination is the legality regarding Chairman Bautista’s acceptance of money from Smartmatic, a supplier of the Comelec, and from sequestered companies of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), when he was chairman of the commission from 2010 to 2015.
Finally, there is the issue of the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). We lost a sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court, the late Renato Corona, on the alleged ground of his failure to declare in his SALN certain dollar assets. Bautista’s alleged violations of the SALN law are apparently many times more egregious.
In public broadcast interviews to answer the allegations of his wife, he employed various strategies to gain public sympathy: 1) he shed tears; 2) he charged that his wife was an adulterer, a thief and a blackmailer; and (3) he had the statue of Mother Mary as background when he faced the cameras.
The tears we can understand. Even if Bautista found it in his heart and his gut to resign, his problems will still not go away. His hidden wealth must still be explained to the authorities. And the penalties are severe.
Bautista has no one to depend on in this case to rescue him except his own intergrity, just as the controversial medieval Sunni Muslim theologian Ibn Taymiyyah said as aptly quoted by a TV news station: “Even your own shadow will leave you when you are in darkness.”