PCGG gets authority to probe Andy

JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has directed the Presidential Commission on Good Government to investigate Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista in connection with his alleged hidden wealth worth P1 billion.

In Department Order 551 dated Aug. 22, 2017, Aguirre granted the PCGG authority to investigate allegations of corruption and unexplained wealth of Bautista during his stint as PCGG chairman as well as to perform other investigative powers under its mandate. 

“The PCGG [must] closely coordinate with the National Bureau of Investigation, the Commission on Audit and the Department of Justice in the conduct of its investigation and is further authorized to prosecute cases, when necessary, in accordance with its powers under Executive Order Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 14-A above stated and other relevant laws,” read the two-page order. 

PCGG is under the administrative supervision of the Department of Justice. 

In related developemnts:

• House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez on Wednesday said the Commission on Elections might receive zero budget for 2018 if Bautista, accused of amassing ill-gotten wealth, would not resign from his office.

The House Committee on Appropriations was scheduled to hold a briefing for the Comelec’s proposed P16-billion budget for 2018 on Wednesday, but it was deferred to Thursday after Bautista failed to attend it.

During the same press conference, Suarez also floated the idea that the sudden increase in Bautista’s wealth in 2015 could have influenced the May 2016 elections.

Bautista’s estranged wife, Patricia, claimed he had received commissions from Divina Law for “assisting the law firm clients with the Comelec.”

Divina Law is said to be the legal counsel of Smartmatic, a Venezuelan poll technology provider that bagged contracts for the implementation of the 2010, 2013 and 2016 automated elections.

• In the Senate, Senator Francis Escudero said Bautista should attend the next Senate probe investigating his alleged ill-gotten wealth to defend himself against allegations he accumulated P1 billion in unexplained wealth deposited in a thrift bank. 

Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on banks, financial institutions and currencies, has directed that an invitation be sent to Bautista to shed light “on this or in this matter.”

Ecudero approved the motion of Senator Grace Poe to summon Bautista to the next hearing.

In case Bautisa cannot appear at the hearing, Escudero said he should submit a waiver to LDB on his bank secrecy rights so the hearings can proceed without any legal stumbling blocks.

“A written waiver on bank secrecy will “untie the tongues” of the LDB officials who assured their cooperation in the ongoing Senate investigation.

• In Malacañang, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella insisted the Palace had nothing to do with the filing of impeachment raps against Bautista. 

“The Palace hasn’t anything to do with that,” Abella told reporters in a chance interview. 

Meanwhile, former Negros Oriental representative Jacinto Paras, along with other complainants filed an impeachment complaint Wednesday before the House of Representatives, citing the alleged hidden wealth of Bautista or misdeclaration in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and receipt of referral fees or commissions from the Divina Law Office as alleged by his estranged wife Patricia.

The group will likewise raise as one of the grounds in the impeachment complaint the criminal liability of Bautista in the hacking of the Comelec website that led to the leakage of voters’ database—as discovered by the National Privacy Commission. 

Paras’ lawyers Manuelito Luna and Ferdinand Topacio said Bautista’s accountabilities for the data breach and the script tweak of the server during the 2016 elections constitute betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

• In the House, at least three lawmakers—Reps. Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu, Harry Roque of Kabayan Party-list and Abraham Tolentino of Cavite—endorsed the impeachment complaint. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, John Paolo Bencito, and Maricel V. Cruz-Bautista

Paras accused Bautista of betrayal of public trust and culpable violations of the Constitution for his alleged failure to declare his true wealth in his SALN.

The former lawmaker also pressed for Bautista’s ouster for alleged graft and corruption for allegedly receiving commissions from Divina Law Office which served as the legal counsel of Venezuelan election technology supplier and Comelec’s biggest contractor Smartmatic.

The PCGG was also tasked to inquire into the report of the COA on “more than One Hundred Million Pesos Unliquidated Cash Disbursements obtained from the Philippine National Bank Dollar Escrow Accounts of the PCGG during the time of Chairman J. Andres Bautista as PCGG Chairman and thereafter.” 

He also wanted the PCGG to look into the reported abuse of resources of PCGG sequestered and surrendered entities committed during the chairmanship of Andres “including but not limited to the millions of pesos worth of gift checks and gift cards received by J. Andres Bautista and his staff, including those supposedly given to the members of the media.”

Aguirre also sought the scrutiny of ill-gotten wealth, kickbacks and commissions Bautista might have received from, but not limited to, “the alleged payment of purported excessive billings made to law firms supposedly connected to him.” 

The Justice secretary ordered the PCGG to check its cases—both civil and criminal—which were dismissed, compromised, or with adverse judgments.” 

The DoJ chief also reminded the PCGG of “the recovery and forfeiture of assets under the name of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and their cronies that unexplainably remain unsequestered.” 

Bautista served as PCGG head in 2010 before being appointed by then President Benigno Aquino III as Comelec chairman in 2015.

Last week, Bautista’s wife Patricia has been provisionally admitted to the DOJ’s witness protection program. 

“The provisional admission of Ms. Cruz-Bautista into the [Witness Protection Program] was made in consideration of her safety and security as a potential witness,” Aguirre stressed. 

The WPP is a program under the DOJ, which was made “to encourage a person who has witnessed or has knowledge of the commission of a crime to testify before a court or quasi-judicial body, or before an investigating authority, by protecting him from reprisals and from economic dislocation.” 

Aguirre said that Patricia has yet to officially execute an affidavit to the WPP, a requirement before the DOJ can provide full protection to her.

Patricia has presented documents to the NBI, including alleged records on numerous bank accounts of her husband. 

She claimed in her affidavit submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation that her husband, who was appointed as Comelec chairman in May 2015 by then President Aquino, had money in banks, condominiums, and interest and shares in companies established overseas that the poll chief allegedly did not declare in his 2016 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth with a total estimated value of almost P1 billion. 

Earlier, Aguirre ordered the NBI to probe the allegations against the Comelec chair and build criminal cases that could be pursued if Bautista was removed from his post via impeachment process or once he resigns or completes his term. 

He has directed the NBI to request bank records of accounts under Bautista’s name with the Anti-Money Laundering Council. 

The NBI also coordinated with the Presidential Commission on Good Government where Bautista previously headed from 2010 to 2015. 

The Justice secretary also bared that the investigation against Bautista has expanded and would cover possible charges of graft. 

The Bureau of Internal Revenue has also formed a team to probe Bautista and his relatives for possible tax evasion. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, John Paolo Bencito, and Maricel V. Cruz-Bautista

Topics: Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II , Presidential Commission on Good Government , Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista , Ill-gotten wealth
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