Comelec chief may have violated rule to disclose business interests: lawyer

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 15 2017 09:50 AM | Updated as of Aug 15 2017 10:36 AM

MANILA - (UPDATED) The legal adviser of Mrs. Patricia Bautista believes Martin Bautista, brother of Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, may have implicated his brother to several violations of the Code of Conduct for Government Officials including failure to disclose business interests. 

Atty. Lorna Kapunan, former lawyer and current legal adviser of Patricia, said Martin's admission that he does not know the particulars of their family's wealth because Andres is the "family treasurer" meant the Comelec chief failed to disclose his business interests and financial connections as required by law. 

She said the disclosures are placed in a separate form attached to the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). 

"There is a requirement that you divest. Not only did he not disclose, he did not divest...There is no disclosure at all that he is stockholder, treasurer, adviser of his family companies. None at all. Yung unexplained wealth kung pwedeng i-explain nila, parang may admission na may non-disclosure," she told ANC "Headstart" host Karen Davila. 

By tagging Andres as the family treasurer and saying only he knows if taxes were paid, Kapunan said Martin had also implied that Andres is liable if incorrect taxes were filed.

She also said Bautista could face charges for "soliciting or accepting gifts directly or indirectly" following revelations by Mrs. Bautista of a "commission sheet" that bears the names of lawyers that allegedly paid commissions to the Comelec chief. 

"[The Comelec chairman] said these are not commissions but referral fees. The documents speak for themselves. The documents will show that referrals are made and referral fees or commissions were paid during his present term as Comelec chair. That again is a violation because these law firms giving referrals have election practice or clients who are candidates or have been candidates. it involves the practice of election laws," she added. 

The Comelec chief's estranged wife Patricia Bautista has claimed that she discovered bank and real property documents, and several passbooks under her husband's name that were not included in his 2016 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

She said her husband had undeclared assets amounting to P1 billion. 

Patricia also claimed University of Santo Tomas (UST) Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina had issued payslips and checks to her husband. She cited an alleged "commission sheet" dated January 2016 that bears the names of lawyers from Divina's law firm, which counts among its clients Smartmatic, Comelec's contractor in the automated elections. 

The Comelec Chairman, however, denied the allegations and said the wealth came from earnings of his family's investments.

"People know this: that there were investments made by my family with Forex. This is a problem now, I don't know if you've heard of this, but it was like pyramid scheme. All of this will be explained in due time," he said.

University of Santo Tomas (UST) Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina has also denied giving payoffs to Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista for allegedly referring clients to his law firm, DivinaLaw.

In a statement, Divina said the controversy on Bautista's alleged unexplained wealth has "unfairly attempted to drag my name through the mire."

"I assure you that I have not been involved in any illegal or unethical activity and all my dealings are fair and above-board," he said in a statement posted on the UST Civil Law student council's Facebook page.