The Senate will start investigating next week allegations that Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andres Bautista amassed ill-gotten wealth that he reportedly stashed in a thrift bank.
The Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies headed by Sen. Francis Escudero will conduct the probe.
Bautista’s estranged wife Patricia had claimed that the Comelec chief maintains over P1 billion deposit with the Luzon Development Bank (LDB).
Senators Vicente Sotto 3rd and Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday filed a resolution asking Escudero’s panel to conduct an inquiry to determine if Bautista violated Republic Act 9160 or the amended Anti-Money Laundering Act.
“Resolution No. 468 filed by Sen. Lacson and Sotto was referred to the Committee on Banks yesterday. Am trying to schedule the hearing next week. I plan to initially invite BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas), AMLC (Anti Money Laundering Council), NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and LDB officials only,” Escudero said.
The senator said he has no intention at the moment to invite the estranged couple to the public hearing. Sotto and Lacson said the LDB, as a covered institution under the AMLA, “should take reasonable measures to determine whether its customer is a PEP (politically exposed person).”
“The splitting of accounts of the Comelec chair in one small thrift bank so as not to be under the radar of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, likewise, needs to be further looked into,” the senators said.
“The LDB, although a small thrift bank, must be equally monitored just like the big commercial and universal banks, as the AMLA covers all banks-without providing any qualifications,” they added.
Amid the controversy, Church officials said Bautista should neither resign nor file a leave absence.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar V. Cruz, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), on Thursday pointed out that abandoning his post in the midst of the crisis would fuel speculations that “he (Bautista) is guilty.”
“He should stay put. Resigning or filing a leave of absence would make people think that he is guilty. Let him stick it out and let Congress decide whether he is guilty or not,” the prelate told The Manila Times.
At the same time, Cruz called for the removal of Smartmatic Corp. as Comelec’s technology provider, saying it is one of the reasons why Bautista has landed into such a rut.
Bautista has been accused by his estranged wife of receiving P500,000 in commissions from Smartmatic, through the Divina Law, one of the law firms engaged by Smartmatic.
Divina Law’s senior partner Nilo Divina is a close friend of Bautista.
Bautista has admitted receiving “referral fees” from Divina Law.
Cruz said Smartmatic should be dropped as technology provider to spare the Comelec from further embarrassment.
Earlier, Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Permanent Committee on Public Affairs, said that Bautista should not step down.
Secillano pointed out that Bautista is being subjected to trial by publicity.
“With cases of this nature, let us not try to give too much credence to the accuser. It sets a precedence that anybody can accuse anybody of wrongdoing. Everybody will resign if there is an accusation,” he added.
But Cruz and Secillano stressed that if Bautista is found guilty, he should be made answerable and suffer the consequences.
WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL