by Ben Rosario
An impeachment complaint was filed yesterday against embattled Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista and was quickly endorsed by House officials.
In a 23-page complaint, former Rep. Jacinto Paras of Negros Oriental and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio accused Bautista of committing irregularities related to the 2016 national elections, ineptitude in addressing a hacking attack of the Comelec website and failure to truthfully disclose his net worth.
The complainants also alleged that Bautista received “referral fees” from the 2016 election technology provider Smartmatic.
Endorsed by Deputy Speaker Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, Asst. Minority Leader Kabayan Party-list Rep. Harry Roque and Rep. Abraham Tolentino (LP, Cavite), the impeachment complaint is expected to be transmitted to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to start the bid to oust Bautista.
Minority Leader Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez earlier predicted Bautista will most likely resign than face impeachment, which appears to be backed with solid evidence.
Two other impeachment complaints previously filed by separate sets of complainants against Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno is pending at the office of Secretary General Cesar Pareja for lack of an endorser.
Lawyer Manuelito Luna, legal counsel of the complainants said Bautista is being charged with betrayal of public trust, bribery and culpable violation of the Constitution — three grounds for impeachment.
The filing of the complaint stemmed from the ongoing domestic and legal squabble between Bautista and his estranged wife, Patricia, who claims that the former has at least P1 billion in unexplained wealth reportedly not included in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
Paras, a member of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) that filed an impeachment complaint against Sereno, admitted that he has yet to get in touch with Mrs. Bautista to stand as witness during the impeachment hearings.
“Mrs. Bautista’s lawyer has assured us that she will testify,” stated Roque in an ambush interview.
Paras and Topacio are confident that the SALN controversy represent a strong argument that would support Bautistas removal from office.
In the complaint, Paras and Topacio claimed the Comelec chief betrayed public trust for failing to adopt “adequate safeguards in consonance with the Data Privacy Act of 2012” to prevent the leak of personal data of millions of voters prior to the 2016 elections.
Bautista they claim betrayed public trust for his ineptitude in not taking prompt action to address the hacking incident.
The complainants also accused Bautista of direct bribery for allegedly receiving referral fees from Smartmatic through the Divina Law Office.
“Such receipt of referral fees is tantamount to indirect bribery under the Revised Penal Code and constitute a vilation of Section 3 (b), (c), RA 3019.
As this developed, the Presidential Commission on Good Government has been directed to investigate the assets obtained by Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista when he was PCGG chairman.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II gave the directive in Department Order No. 551, authorizing to investigate allegations of unexplained wealth against Bautista during his time as PCGG chairman. The PCGG is an agency attached to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Secretary Aguirre instructed the PCGG to “closely coordinate with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Commission on Audit (COA), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the conduct of its investigation and is further authorized to prosecute cases, when necessary, in accordance with its powers under Executive Order Nos. 1, 2, 14, and 14-A above stated and other relevant laws.”
Aguirre directed the PCGG to look into the COA report on “more than One Hundred Million Pesos Unliquidated Cash Disbursements obtained from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) Dollar Escrow Accounts of the PCGG during the time of Chairman J. Andres Bautista as PCGG chairman and thereafter.”
Aside from this, Aguirre also directed the PCGG to look into the reported abuse of resources of PCGG sequestered and surrendered entities allegedly committed during the chairmanship of Bautista, “including… millions of pesos worth of gift checks and gift cards received by J. Andres Bautista and his staff, including those supposedly given to the members of the media.”
The secretary sought the scrutiny of ill-gotten wealth, kickbacks, and commissions Bautista may have received from “the alleged payment of purported excessive billings made to law firms supposedly connected to him.”
The PCGG was also asked to check on “PCGG cases (both civil and criminal) which were dismissed, compromised, or with adverse judgments.”
The DOJ chief also reminded the PCGG of assets under the name of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and their cronies “that unexplainably remain unsequestered.”
Bautista asked for waiver
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions, and Currencies urged Bautista to just issue a waiver that would allow the Luzon Bank Development (LDB) to open his bank accounts to the committee.
Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banks, said this will allow the committee to freely investigate his alleged 35 bank accounts with the rural bank and scrutinize it for possible liabilities or violations of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).
Escudero’s committee started yesterday its investigation into Bautista’s alleged undeclared assets. It will also determine whether the bank failed to report to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) any suspicious transactions committed by a Politically Exposed Person (PEP).
The committee failed to get any new information regarding the supposed bank accounts of Bautista despite the presence of LDB officials and resource persons from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), because of the prohibition of the Bank Secrecy Law on divulging confidential information.
The committee wanted them to confirm whether or not the 35 passbooks Bautista’s wife, Patricia, had produced and shown in media interviews indeed belonged to the Comelec chairman.
David Sarmiento, LDB president, maintained the bank complied with its duty to file suspicious transaction reports (STRs) and that they strictly follow all necessary procedures on the opening of accounts by Politically Exposed Persons, their immediate family members, and close associates.
“The only way to overcome this – even on the part of the banks, who I am sure they are more than willing to answer our questions – is for a court order, or an impeachment case, or if the depositor himself issues a waiver,” Escudero said during the hearing.
“That is why I am asking Chairman Bautista, together with his whole family, to issue a waiver, so everyone can freely provide an answer to pertinent questions and not make them (the resource persons) look like they are evasive or hiding something,” he said.
Sen. Grace Poe moved to invite Bautista to attend the Senate probe, saying it would be an opportunity for him to clear his name. But Escudero said the committee would be “more than satisfied with the submission of a waiver to the bank.”
Escudero said his panel, is likewise interested in probing deeper into the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) findings that sequestered companies or surrendered companies under the PCGG were transferred to the LDB at the time Bautista started his government service in 2010 as PCGG chairman.
“I’m actually interested to check that because it leaves a bad taste and other officials might be doing that practice too even though there is no specific provision in the law that prohibits that. It’s also good to check if that is a practice of GOCCs (government-owned and -controlled corporations), whether sequestered or not, each time a new department head comes in, they would rather transfer the accounts to someone they knew, especially if they are a close friend,” Escudero said in an interview after the hearing.
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon cautioned the NBI against moving to investigate Bautista’s account without first securing a court order, saying they need to comply with bank secrecy laws. (Jeffrey G. damicog, Hannah L. Torregoza, and Charissa M. Luci)