MANILA - Evidence the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) may find in its investigation of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres Bautista's alleged unexplained wealth may be used against him in case he faces an impeachment complaint or criminal case, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said Wednesday.
In an order dated Aug. 7, Aguirre directed the NBI, an attached agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ), to “conduct investigation and case build-up over the alleged failure to disclose pertinent information required in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN)” of Bautista, as alleged by his estranged wife Patricia.
Patricia, in a 10-page affidavit, claimed that Bautista has over P1 billion in assets even while he declared only P176.3-million in his 2016 SALN.
Prior to his appointment as Comelec chair in 2013, Bautista headed the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), an agency tasked chiefly to recover ill-gotten wealth of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
Patricia said she came out in the open with the sole intent of getting half of Bautista’s “clean” assets.
“In the event that this investigation would be able to get some
evidence, then later on if an impeachment proceeding is had, then this evidence gathered during this investigation could be presented as evidence during the impeachment trial,” Aguirre said, adding the same is true should a criminal case be filed against Bautista.
The justice chief said if proven that Bautista has undeclared monies and other assets in his SALN, it would be “sufficient" evidence against him in an impeachment case since former Chief Justice Renato Corona was removed from office on the same ground.
“Maliit lang amount doon (Corona’s undeclared assets) compared here (Bautista’s alleged undeclared assets) kaya lahat 'yan, I believe, sufficient if it could be proven. But I don’t want to speculate, we would like to get all the evidence to be gathered by the NBI then we will submit it to the proper government body assuming there will be impeachment proceedings,” Aguirre explained.
Assuming Bautista is acquitted in an impeachment trial, Aguirre said criminal cases may still be filed against him when he steps down from office. Being an impeachable officer, Bautista cannot be criminally prosecuted during his incumbency.
“He will still have immunity from suit if he remains as an impeachable officer [in the event of an acquittal in an impeachment trial] but assuming that, after his term, tapos na term niya, pupuwede pa rin siyang sampahan… mayroon kasing aspects na pupuwedeng hindi na-cover ng impeachment trial na puwede siya iniimbestigahan or appropriate complaint may be filed against him,” Aguirre said.
Even if Bautista and his wife reach a settlement on the division of assets, the Comelec chief may still be slapped with an impeachment complaint and criminal case, the justice chief stressed.
“Kasi hindi lang naman private relationship lang ito. It concerns the money of the people of the Philippines. If they settle, the proceedings will continue either in the impeachment court or in the ordinary criminal proceedings,” Aguirre said.
Bautista has denied having any illegal source of wealth, explaining Patricia wants to “extort” money from him. He also accused his estranged wife of being part of a “demolition job” against him, but has not discussed this in detail.