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Roque complains about ‘hit job’

opinion / Latest Opinion
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Roque complains about ‘hit job’

05:01 AM August 14, 2017

Reading your editorial titled “The split” (8/9/17), I was reminded of the words of that 19th-century Austrian wit Karl Kraus (1874-1936), who once said “journalists write because they have nothing to say, and have something to say because they write.” He was a first-rate writer and political journalist himself in a bygone era when grand ideas truly mattered, so presumably he knew whereof he spoke.

Yet, I’m a big fan of free expression and well-written editorials.

A big part of my professional life as a lawyer has been spent defending pro bono the right of free expression — with not a few court victories — as a cornerstone of any society that hazards to call itself democratic.

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I’ve been maligned before in your newspaper’s pages. But this newest attack on my person by your editorial makes all the previous ones sound like Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I hope you will not begrudge me my “petition for more space” — apologies to the memory of the late New Yorker correspondent John Hersey — to complain about that hit job.

Your editorial accuses me of being an “ambulance-chasing lawyer-turned politician” for calling for a congressional inquiry into the revelations of Patricia Bautista that her husband, Commission on Elections Chair Andres Bautista, appears to have been entangled in a serious conflict of interest for receiving commissions from DivinaLaw. This is in connection with the latter’s client, Venezuelan tech firm Smartmatic, the poll body’s supplier of automated voting machines.

Mrs. Bautista issued unequivocal statements on this unholy arrangement between her husband and his buddy Nilo Divina, the dean of the University of Sto. Tomas School of Law and managing partner of DivinaLaw. And last Aug. 10, your reporter Nikko Dizon had an article in your online news section saying: “Election chief Andres Bautista received commissions for referring companies, such as Smartmatic, Baseco and United Coconut Planters Bank, to DivinaLaw, one of the country’s fastest-growing law firms, his wife alleged in a sworn statement.

“Patricia Paz ‘Tish’ Bautista said she discovered several checks and commission sheets that purportedly came from lawyer Nilo T. Divina, managing partner of DivinaLaw.

“Smartmatic is the company that provided the vote counting machines for the 2010, 2013 and 2016 elections in the country. Baseco and UCPB are among the companies sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which is tasked with recovering the ill-gotten wealth of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies…

“Patricia submitted several pages of what appeared to be commission sheets with different amounts from 2015 to 2016 to the National Bureau of Investigation on Aug. 1.”

Evidently, your reporter has a different view of the same things your editorial spoke of. Is this what they mean when they say reporters deal with facts, and editorial writers, with speculations?

Andy Bautista presided over the poll body’s conduct of the May 2016 national elections. My House resolution raises this point: How can we be sure of the integrity of these elections if the Comelec chair’s own wife, with documents to boot, accuses him of receiving commissions from Smartmatic’s lawyer during the same period? Agad agad, your editorial jumps in to defend him, with a sweeping assertion that any such allegation “would necessarily implicate the victory of President Duterte himself.”

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I can extend that line of argumentation all the way back to Noynoy Aquino’s election in May 2010, given the many unexplained problems Smartmatic’s HOCUS PCOS machines have run against since Day One.

My record as a consistent opponent of the Comelec’s questionable dealings with Smartmatic speaks for itself. I have filed legal challenges against this menace to Philippine democracy. For example, in 2009 we prevailed on the Supreme Court to require the issuance by Smartmatic machines of receipts to voters as proof that their votes had been properly counted by the machines. Alas, it was conveniently swept under the rug by both Smartmatic and Comelec.

Bautista, as Comelec chair, exhibited an inexplicable indifference on the matter. Were it not for Sen. Richard Gordon’s last-minute suit in the high court, this basic security feature of the now renamed vote counting machines (VCMs), as required by law, would not have been made available in the May 2016 national elections.

Even so, there were many other security features required by the Election Automations Law (Republic Act No. 9369, coauthored by Gordon) that Comelec and Smartmatic failed to install in the VCMs. Now, if what Mrs. Bautista said in her sworn statement is true, we know why the Comelec chair acted the way he did on the question. He was in Smartmatic’s pockets!

KABAYAN REP. H. HARRY L. ROQUE JR.

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TAGS: Andres Bautista, Comelec, editorials, Harry Roque Jr., ill-gotten wealth, Inquirer letters, journalists, Patricia Paz Bautista, Smartmatic
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