Scandal-hit poll chief evades House inquiry
COMMISSION on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista, facing accusations of ill-gotten wealth from his estranged wife, skipped a congressional hearing on a bill that seeks to postpone barangay and youth elections.
Commissioner Arthur Lim, however, assured lawmakers and the public that the Comelec will continue to fulfill its mandate if Bautista goes on leave or resigns.
“We are a collegial body and with or without him, the Comelec will continue to function, that I can assure our people,” Lim said.
“We in the Comelec are performing our duties. It is work as usual,” said Lim, who read the letter of Bautista dated Aug. 10, informing the committee on suffrage and electoral reforms that he had a previous engagement in Davao City, where he was holding a public hearing on the poll postponement.
Lim also said that Bautista may decide in the coming days to either stay, take a leave of absence or quit his post as the poll body’s chief.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, however, said Bautista’s absence in the hearing was an indication that the controversy has already affected his ability to discharge his duties.
Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, on the other hand, said he is confident Bautista could still perform his functions as the Comelec chief.
“The fact that Bautista is in Mindanao and has opted to exercise his functions is indeed a confirmation again that the guy is performing his function as Comelec chairman as required by the law,” Castro said.
Panel chairman Sherwin Tugna said he respected Bautista’s decision to skip the hearing.
The Justice Department on Monday offered protection to Bautista’s wife, Patricia, who filed a sworn statement last week alleging that her husband had amassed close to P1 billion in unexplained wealth.
“She can apply with the Witness Protection Program and we will consider it, especially since there are reported threats against her,” said Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
In her affidavit submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation, Patricia alleged that her husband, who was appointed Comelec chairman in May 2015, had money in banks, condominiums, and interest and shares in companies established overseas that were not declared in his 2016 Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth.
Bautista has declared a net worth of P176.3 million in that year.
Following Patricia’s revelations, Aguirre ordered the NBI to probe the allegations against Bautista and to build up criminal cases if need be.
Aguirre has directed the NBI to request bank records of accounts under Bautista’s name through the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
Over the weekend, the Justice secretary said the investigation against Bautista has expanded and would cover possible charges of graft and tax evasion.
He said he received several documents indicating possible anomalies in the Presidential Commission on Good Government when Bautista was still chairman during the previous administration.
Aguirre added that the Bureau of Internal Revenue has also joined the probe.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, meanwhile, said Bautista’s wealth—whether earned 20 years ago or close to the elections—was not enough reason to doubt the result of the polls.
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, said his panel would push through with its investigation of the allegations of ill-gotten wealth.
However, Gordon said the Senate investigation would end once an impeachment complaint is filed at the House of Representatives. With Rey E. Requejo, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Vito Barcelo