Fair thing to do
Six members of the Commission on Elections have come out with a statement calling on Comelec Chair Andres Bautista to resign, in the face of serious allegations of unexplained wealth by his estranged wife, Patricia Cruz Bautista. The time has come for Bautista to “to let go” of his office, Commissioners Rowena Guanzon, Christian Robert Lim, Al Parreño, Luie Tito Guia, Arthur Lim and Sheriff Abas said in their joint statement—though they added that their call was not meant to imply guilt on his part. It was, they said, simply in the interest of the poll body to have a chair unencumbered by personal and legal problems that could hamper his discharge of his functions, especially in light of the preparations for the midterm elections in 2019. “With all due respect,” the commissioners noted, “it is our consensus that Chairman Bautista could no longer effectively lead the commission.”
Indeed, Bautista is in a tight bind. His campaign to clear his name and disprove his wife’s allegations—which he has vowed to do, beginning with a raft of criminal cases he and his family filed against her on Aug. 8 for grave coercion, qualified theft and robbery and extortion—is a long way off from even a glimmer of a resolution. More ominously, he is also facing impeachment at the House of Representatives, with three lawmakers so far endorsing the articles of impeachment filed against him.
At the very least, a long and bruising battle is looming for the combatants in this unfortunate marital meltdown that has spilled over into the political arena, due to the incendiary nature of Patricia Bautista’s charges. The burden of proving the allegations rests on her side, of course, even as her story at this time also appears to have its share of inconsistencies. In TV interviews, she said she was demanding only P260 million as total settlement from her husband, despite the Comelec chief supposedly having amassed questionable assets totaling nearly P1 billion. She said that while she was entitled to half of the conjugal property, she didn’t want half of that dubious wealth, only her share of the “clean” money.
But a Feb. 7, 2017, letter signed by her lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, seems to belie her words. The letter unequivocally demands from Bautista P500 million in cash, along with two pieces of real estate that he was supposed to turn over to his wife—a crucial piece of evidence that, Bautista argues, proves his contention that his wife is merely bent on extorting from him.
Still, Patricia Bautista has provided a boxful of bank records and other documents that do raise questions, and will surely be fodder for prime-time hearings if the impeachment complaint prospers and a trial ensues at the Senate. Bautista will have his hands full responding to the charges—and this he cannot do while also serving full-time as Comelec chair. The most serious charge, after all—that he supposedly received commissions from election technology provider Smartmatic, among others—may potentially directly impact on the integrity and effectiveness of the poll body.
It may be true, as many observers think, that deeper forces are at work here—that the attack on Bautista, and by extension on the Comelec, is a long-game campaign aimed at undermining the results of the last elections specifically to favor certain quarters still unable to come to terms with their defeat. Patricia Bautista’s alleged association with the Marcoses, for one, has been brought up, and is a matter that also requires transparent discussion. Links to dubious parties would have to be explained not only by the poll chief but also by his accuser, whose motives will be as much a subject of legitimate scrutiny in any trial.
But for all these, Bautista needs precious time and preparation. If he has no plans to resign, he should at least take a leave of absence to insulate the Comelec from his legal troubles. It will hurt—but it’s the fair thing to do.
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