JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the bank accounts of beleaguered Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista after his estranged wife accused him of amassing almost P1 billion in ill-gotten wealth.
Aguirre said the NBI, which will coordinate with the Anti-Money Laundering Council, will look into possible violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The investigation would go wherever the evidence takes it, Aguirre said, adding that there were many sources of evidence.
“We have the bank records,” he said.
Aguirre also said he has discussed the matter with commissioners of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which Bautista used to head before he was appointed as Comelec chief.
Although the case stemmed from a marital dispute, it has already become a public concern because it involved public funds, Aguirre said.
“Whether they settle or not, I think the proceedings will continue either in the impeachment court or ordinary criminal proceedings,” he said.
The evidence gathered by the NBI could also be used in impeachment proceedings against Bautista, he said.
While Bautista can be removed only by impeachment, he is not immune from criminal investigation.
Aguirre earlier ordered the NBI to probe the allegations of Bautista’s wife Patricia Paz and build up possible cases if warranted.
The allegation against Bautista came after his estranged wife met with President Duterte and executed an affidavit, which was then forwarded to the NBI.
Bautista has denied his wife’s allegations and accused her of trying to extort mone from him.
Patricia said her husband had amassed close to P1 billion but had not declared all of it in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
In 2016, Bautista declared a net worth of P176.3 million.
In Congress, the leader of the minority bloc urged Bautista to take a leave of absence “to clear his name.”
While the controversy was sparked by a marital problem, the allegation of corruption against the Comelec chairman was serious, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said.
“The minority will not take this case lightly, just how we dealt with previous cases of government officials who were linked to corruption and other immoral practices. We call on Chairman Bautista to clear his name and restore the reputation of the agency he represents,” Suarez said at a news conference.
If warranted, Suarez said, the minority bloc would be willing to initiate an impeachment complaint against Bautista.
Earlier, House leaders said there was no need for a congressional probe into the allegations against Bautista since the proper venue for this would be impeachment proceedings.
Suarez said the allegations of corruption against Bautista should not be taken lightly as the Comelec and Smartmatic faced allegations of cheating in the 2016 national and local elections.
On Wednesday, Bautista confirmed that he has filed criminal complaints against his wife Patricia.
Bautista said he filed charges of qualified theft, extortion, robbery, and grave coercion against his wife at the Taguig Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday.
Bautista said he will also file a libel case against his wife for spreading “false stories” about his law firm, Divina Law.
Patricia’s lawyer, Martin Loon, told a TV interview that they would file charges against those who helped Bautista hide his unexplained wealth, since the Comelec chairman is immune from suit while he is in office.
In an interview with GMA News, Bautista said one of his four sons has stopped attending school because he was being bullied over their legal woes.
He asked the press not to give too much attention to their personal strife for the sake of their children.
In the same interview, Bautista said he has identified the political forces behind his wife’s revelations—but he did not offer any names.
Bautista said his wife’s accusations were an attempt to blackmail him into giving her more money.
“She ransacked my locked safe in November 2016 while I was away,” he said.
He said she stole cash, gift certificats, ATM cards and other financial documents—all items belonging to him and his family.
In the Senate, Senator Richard Gordon said the Blue Ribbon committee which he heads will investigate the Bautista case, but would step aside once an impeachment complaint is filed at the House of Representatives.
“Yes, we will proceed with the investigation. But if the House starts the impeachment hearing, we will stop,” the senator said.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III agreed that the Blue Ribbon hearings would stop once an impeachment complaint reaches the Senate, where senators will act as judges in an impeachment trial.
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