• Telling numbers at Comelec and Customs

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    RICARDO SALUDO

    HOUSE Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and other supporters of the easy marriage dissolution bill just got another reason to facilitate matters for couples in discord: the claim of Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista’s wife Patricia that he had nearly a billion pesos in hidden wealth.

    The election czar’s conjugal wealth and woes were brought to no less than President Rodrigo Duterte, himself no stranger to annulled unions. The Chief Executive turned marriage counselor to the Bautistas, reportedly eliciting tears from the husband.

    But that didn’t stop the wife from paying a visit to the National Bureau of Investigation and swearing an affidavit detailing the alleged assets of her husband. The latter denied such wealth, though he didn’t declare, as others accused of ill-gotten gains did, that those who find the purported money and property could have it all.

    No matter. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd instructed the NBI to “conduct investigation and case build-up over the alleged failure to disclose pertinent information required in the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of Chairperson Andres D. Bautista contained in the affidavit of Mrs. Patricia Paz Bautista, including possible determination of violation of Anti-Money Laundering Law and other related laws.”

    Last time a wife detailed conjugal property, a former comptroller of the Armed Forces, Gen. Carlos Garcia, was hauled before the Sandiganbayan. His missus and his son were caught by San Francisco customs with far more cash in their luggage than the $10,000 amount requiring explanation where the money came from.

    Mrs. Garcia then listed the family treasures in a signed declaration, which the US government promptly shared with our Ombudsman. While she could not be made to testify against her husband, her enumeration of bank deposits, real estate, and other assets accumulated on a general’s pay gave investigators a roadmap to find what the Garcias had stashed away.

    If his wife’s testimony also leads to far more wealth than he had listed in his SALN, Chairman Bautista could perhaps explain his understated assets by saying they were tabulated by vote counting machines used in the provinces where candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. lost to Vice President Leni Robredo.

    Here comes the bribe
    Also feeling hugely uncomfortable this week are officials of the Bureau of Customs named by broker Mark Ruben Taguba as having received bribes from him, as he continued his testimony to the House committee on dangerous drugs.

    Among the alleged BoC bribe takers were: Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Teddy Raval, district collector Vincent Philip Maronilla of the Manila International Container Port, director Niel Estrella of the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme, director Milo Maestrecampo of the Import and Assessment Service and the Assessment and Operational Coordinating Group.

    Somewhat luckier were nine others whose full names Taguba missed. What he gave them, however, he remembered clearly. For every cargo container released, he gave the following amounts:

    P3,000 for the port collector; P2,000 for the intelligence group, P500 eachfor the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service director, the Enforcement and Security Service Director, and the ESS Command; P1,000 for the container x-ray person, P10,000 each for cargo tracking and the Import Assessment Services; and P7,500 for the sector staffer.

    Assuming that only 100 containers go through this payola system every day, just a fraction of the thousands released by Customs, the grease would range between P50,000 to P1 million daily.

    And since President Duterte aims to base his decision on Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon on congressional reports about the bureau, the Taguba testimony sounds like an exit call, if not a trial summons for BoC’s bosses. One wonders if those named are now quaking in their shoes—or making a mountain of hay before quitting time.

    And to think it all began when a lady lawyer called the fourth-highest official in the land an “imbecile.”

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