The accusations leveled by Patricia Bautista against her husband Andres Bautista, the chair of the Commission on Elections, are both serious and sensational.
In particular, her “impression” that Bautista appeared to have “secured the services of DivinaLaw, [Dean Nilo Divina’s] law firm, in order to profit from his position in the Comelec” is a matter of genuine public concern. She has executed an affidavit, and offered bank passbooks and other financial documents as proof.
Bautista has met the accusations head on, granting interview after interview where he categorically denied his estranged wife’s allegations.
As for the financial documents, he said: “I question the genuineness of the documents. These [amounts involved] are small amounts but they are reflected in my SALN [statement of assets, liabilities and net worth]. And the taxes are paid for all of these.”
And in fact the language his wife uses in her affidavit is deliberately tentative, not categorical.
“What made me highly suspicious is that Nilo’s law firm has been handling, among others, government clients such as Baseco and UCPB, two government entities that Andy constantly dealt with while he was the PCGG chair,” she said in one instance.
She said it was her impression that Bautista received “commission from Nilo, while he was/is in active government service.”
“Surely, a private practitioner such as Nilo would not give commission or some form of incentive to Andy if it wasn’t for any favor or service,” she suggested. “However, it appears that Andy would get some sort of commission from Nilo for the clients that his law firm handled before the Comelec as well as other private people and institutions.”
Her key words – “suspicious,” “impression,” “surely,” “appears” – help paint a damning portrait, but without actually committing her to any of these assertions.
The possibility that Bautista deliberately hid a substantial amount of his wealth or received commissions as payment for official favors should be treated with the seriousness it deserves; the allegations must be investigated.
That he is a high official who can be removed only by impeachment should not be a bar against any investigation, whether by the Department of Justice or by congressional inquiries.
But the tentative language Patricia Bautista herself uses should be a cautionary signal to the investigators; a lot of work needs to be done, before even the basic evidence can be agreed upon.
The resolution Sen. Vicente Sotto III filed the other day, asking the blue ribbon committee to conduct an inquiry into the allegations of ill-gotten or illegally hidden wealth against Bautista, limited itself to the direct implications of the accusations: “Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests.”
This sounds about right. As Sotto explained, “This goes beyond a domestic dispute. It is an allegation of corruption of epic proportions that definitely concerns public interest given the sensitive position in our democratic setup Chairman Bautista occupies.”
But in the House of Representatives, the sad descent of Rep. Harry Roque from human rights advocate to ambulance-chasing lawyer-politician continued. To the marital split tearing apart the Bautistas, Roque brought the twin hammers of self-righteous indignation and overheated speculation.
Roque, whose own party-list group has disowned him, filed a resolution based on the assumption that the controversy “raises serious questions about the integrity of the May 2016 National Elections — wracked as it has been with allegations — that the same elections have been rigged to favor certain candidates for national posts.”
This is quite a jump from the allegations based on the impression Patricia Bautista received, from the documents her husband disputes, of an appearance of irregularity. Despite continuing assertions by some interested parties that last year’s elections were rigged, absolutely no proof has been given of the rigging of a system that would necessarily implicate the victory of President Duterte himself.
These allegations of “epic proportions” must be investigated, and the evidence pursued wherever it leads — but, despite Roque’s hyperventilating, there is no showing that the very integrity of the elections was compromised.
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