Family, money, politics: Comelec chief under probe

By Audrey Morallo

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Commission on Elections chairperson Andres Bautista is to be investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation for allegedly failing declare some of his wealth in his SALN. Mong Pintolo/File

MANILA, Philippines —  The Department of Justice on Monday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe into allegations that elections chair Andres Bautista had undisclosed wealth, which could lead to his impeachment if proven true.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre’s order came after Patricia Paz Bautista, the wife of the Commission on Elections chief, claimed that her husband had bank accounts and pieces of real property that were not reflected in his SALN, which government workers are required to faithfully accomplish and submit every year.

Aguirre said that the NBI should investigate and conduct a case build-up over the alleged illegally obtained wealth and failure of Bautista to disclose asset and property information in the document.

Aside from the supposed failure of Bautista to fully disclose his wealth in his SALN, Aguirre also ordered the NBI to investigate the Comelec chairman’s possible violation of the country’s anti-money laundering law.

“The National Bureau of Investigation, through its Director, is hereby directed and granted authority to conduct investigation and case build-up over the alleged failure to disclose pertinent information required in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth [sic] (SALN) of Chairperson J. Andres D. Bautista,” said Aguirre in Department Order 517 directing the probe, “including possible determination of violation of anti-money laundering law and such other related laws.”

Aguirre said that he had ordered NBI Director Dante Gierran to provide his office regular reports on the progress of the probe and case build-up.

Money, politics a motive?

On Monday, Bautista said he and his wife had an audience with President Rodrigo Duterte on August 1 over the allegations. The president, he said, acted as a mediator and marriage counselor who faced the estranged couple in hopes of settling their differences amicably.

"I thought that things were heading in the right direction, and all of a sudden there was this NBI affidavit that came out," Bautista said in an interview with ANC.

Patricia earlier claimed that the allegedly dubious property and money were between P250 million and P300 million in value, more than the P158.5 million the poll chairman declared in his SALN.

Patricia’s affidavit said that she was revealing information and documents that would show that Bautista might have had or currently has “misdealing and corrupt practices” while in government service.

Bautista vehemently denied his wife's allegations, saying she has been demanding for a large amount of money from him following their separation in 2013. Patricia, he said, has had a third party in their marriage.

"To be honest, I don't know but I've been told that there is a political agenda behind this move.... I think that there are other factors that are moving aside from the usual marital problems that married people have to contend with," Bautista said, hinting at political forces that might be at play.

The allegations, he said, are an "absolute lie."

"She has been asking for a lot of money and I told her again, these monies do not belong to me. Because they belong to my family members. And I do have substantial money which is shown in my SALN and I was willing to give her her fair share of that but she just wants a lot more. And I think that the president also understood that," Bautista said, referring to Duterte.

Bautista said that his family and that of his wife were behind him in this issue.

“They know that in this situation, I am the victim. I am the victim of betrayal,” he said.

“You know, I never thought that a man could be raped. That is how I felt when I went to my, you know, when I was prevented from entering my own house. When all of a sudden, the cabinets, the locked cabinets that belong to me, were forced open. Documents were taken without my permission, without my consent,” he added.

Omissions in one’s SALN could lead to his impeachment as in the case of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The former chief magistrate was removed by the Senate from office following his failure to disclose some dollar accounts in his SALN.

Bautista said that as an impeachable officer a DOJ investigation was “part and parcel of the terrain.”

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