POSTSCRIPT / August 10, 2017 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Spare innocent kids from scarring

THE LEAST discussed aspect of the imbroglio between Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista and his estranged wife Patricia is the impact on their four children of the bitter public squabble of the parents.

It must be painful and embarrassing for the boys aged eight to 17 to see their parents quarreling over hidden millions, secret bank accounts, a hint of infidelity – after 17 years of wedlock — with the neighborhood ogling the family feud.

In the media reports on the high-profile dispute, there are hints of the children’s grandparents on both sides protecting the kids while the storm rages. That helps.

We are among those hoping that both parties earnestly move to delineate the criminal and political issues from the purely domestic concerns over legal separation, partition of assets, custody of the children, and related matters.

The common denominator could be a desire to protect the children not only from unfair and unjust terms of settlement, but also the social and psychological effects of a messy exchange of accusations and grievances of the parents.

Maybe both sides could agree to compartmentalize issues, to address separately the complaints for unexplained wealth, corruption, etc., against the Comelec chief, and his countersuit for grave coercion, qualified theft, robbery, and extortion against his wife of 17 years.

There must be a way to discourage politicians and partisan groups from taking advantage of the predicament of the Comelec chairman and undermining his independence as the constitutional official overseeing elections.

An affidavit of Mrs. Bautista detailing alleged hidden wealth and malpractices of her husband has been turned over to the justice department. Evil forces can use this sworn statement to pressure or influence the poll chief in the performance of his official duties.

Even now the millions allegedly received by the Comelec chief are being linked by partisans to supposed irregularities in the 2016 national elections, to the glitches of the Smartmatic voting-counting machines, and to electoral protests based on alleged fraud.

The accusations against the poll chairman are of highest public concern. They must be threshed out regardless of where the facts may lead – but, if possible, without unduly ramping up the noise generated by the domestic quarrel.

Outsiders should allow Bautista’s dispute with his wife to be resolved without it becoming a spectacle.

But the Comelec chairman must face the allegations of criminal activities, some of them potentially impeachable, narrated in his spouse’s affidavit supported by documents.

• SALN omission an Achilles’ heel

THE COUPLE’S mutual accusations aside, the affidavit of Mrs. Bautista with the justice department and endorsed to the National Bureau of Investigation is so explosive – if true – that it could lead to the impeachment of the Comelec chairman.

Among the serious violations alleged in the affidavit is that Bautista has been amassing unexplained wealth running into hundreds of million pesos – whereas he declared in his 2016 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) a net worth of only P176.3 million.

Bautista denied all the allegations of his wife, describing them as lies and vowing to prove their malice and falsity.

In 2011, then Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives, and found guilty by the Senate in May 2012 by vote of 20-3 for a similar offense. He was removed in disgrace.

Corona’s impeachable offense: he failed to declare in his SALN a dollar deposit he had in a bank, an omission considered “betrayal of public trust and/or culpable violation of the Constitution.”

With inquiries likely to start soon in the NBI and possibly in the Senate, Bautista may not only become too busy to do a proper job as Comelec boss, but may also be compromised.

To relieve the pressure, he would have to find a way to convince his wife to withdraw her complaint. Or he could plead with President Rodrigo Duterte to hold back the NBI (justice department) investigation and/or a likely Senate inquiry.

The Congress is supposed to be independent and a co-equal of the Executive branch, but that is more theory than reality. Many politicians, especially those with plunder, corruption, or pork barrel cases over their heads, easily succumb when squeezed by superior force.

• Wife lists assets in hubby’s name

IN HER affidavit, Mrs. Patricia Bautista gave information and documents showing, she said, that her husband had more than ₱336 million in local and foreign bank accounts that were not disclosed in his SALN.

She listed 14 properties in the Philippines and abroad worth more than ₱300 million as well as investments in companies based in the British Virgin Islands, Brunei Darussalam, and Anguilla — all under her husband’s name. Two of them were allegedly not in his SALN.

She added that Bautista also violated the Anti-Money Laundering Act, and performed “unethical practices as a member of the bar.” She said she began receiving reports of his alleged “misdealings and questionable actions” in 2016, but did not pay much attention.

But she “accidentally” came across “gift-wrapped” cash in a bag in their living room, according to her, and found documents showing property, bank accounts and investments in the name of her husband but of which she was unaware.

She claimed that among the items she found were 30 accounts under Bautista’s name along with “some of his family members” with the Luzon Development Bank amounting to around ₱227,701,053.

Other accounts se discovered, she said, were with the LDB’s Makati branch, ₱101,519,909; the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., ₱257,931.60 and $12,778.30; and the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corp., HK$948,358.97.

She added that most of the deposits were made below the ₱500,000 threshold which did not require banks to inform anti-money laundering authorities.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 10, 2017)

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