Lawyer lists possible violations of Comelec's Bautista, et al

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 15 2017 12:15 PM

MANILA - The legal adviser of Patricia Bautista, estranged wife of poll chief Andres Bautista, believes the poll chief and his relatives committed at least 8 different violations following allegations the chairman has unexplained wealth.

Asked for a reaction, the Commission on Elections Chairman said: "As I said before, let us settle these matters in court, not in the media."

Atty. Lorna Kapunan, Patricia's former lawyer and current legal adviser, said Martin Bautista's interview on ANC showed that the Bautistas had accounts in 3 foreign banks, which shut down in the 90s because of the financial crisis. Bautista is the brother of the Comelec chief.

Kapunan said the family may be guilty of violating the Inward Remittance Law.

"You cannot bring in foreign funds because we have banking regulations, we have investment regulations of foreign funds coming into the Philippines," said Kapunan.

She added Martin may have also violated Philippine election laws and US immigration and work permit laws because it seems he did not surrender his green card when he ran for public office in the Philippines.

"You cannot work in the US without an SSS number and if you have an SSS number, that means you renounced your Filipino citizenship? How can he earn money and continue his practice immediately? That means he never surrendered his green card," she said.

Martin had also claimed that he had at least $1.7 million in joint investments with the poll chief at one point/

Kapunan said they are enjoining the National Bureau of Investigation to work with the US' Internal Revenue Service to find out if Martin had paid correct taxes.

Patricia had claimed last week that her husband failed to correctly include in his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth the more than P1-billion of wealth indicated in the documents and passbooks she discovered in their conjugal home.

The election chief had earlier denied this and accused Patricia of extortion and being part of a "demolition job" against him and the Comelec.

Martin, in the interview, seconded his brother, saying their family can "account for every peso" that Patricia believes is indicated in the documents she has.

However, Kapunan pointed out that Martin's statement that the 32 passbooks Patricia has in her possession belong to their family exposed his sister and their parents to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and a possible violation.

Of the 32 passbooks, Kapunan claimed that only 1 is under the name of Patricia and Andres, another is under the sister's name, and the remaining 30 are under their parents' names.

"The BIR should look at the statement of taxes or the tax declarations of the parents, of the sister here," she said.

Kapunan also alleged that Martin's statements in the live interview may have implicated his brother to several violations of the Code of Conduct for Government Officials including failure to disclose business interests.

Under Republic Act 6713, Kapunan said officials are required to file a Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections apart from their SALN.

Andres, she said, "did not declare his business interests" but Martin in the interview said he is the designated "family treasurer."

"Your being in a private interest might conflict, will certainly conflict with your public duties—even if that company will not have business with the Comelec; in terms of your time," she said.

In saying also that only Andres knows if proper taxes have been filed in relation to these investments, Kapunan said Martin puts the liability on the poll chief.

There may also be a conflict of interest in this situation because in Andres' "active handling of funds," the interests of the corporations or businesses they have invested in "might be opposed or affected" his official function as Comelec chair.

Kapunan also said the Comelec Chair could face charges for "soliciting or accepting gifts directly or indirectly" following Patricia's revelations of a "commission sheet" that bears the names of lawyers that allegedly paid commissions to him.

"[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," she said,

"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.

Patricia had claimed that law firm, DivinaLaw, had issued payslips and checks to her husband.

She cited an alleged "commission sheet" dated January 2016 bearing the names of lawyers from DivinaLaw, which counts among its clients Smartmatic, Comelec's contractor in the automated elections.

Atty. Nilo Divina, managing partner of the law firm and the dean of University of Sto. Tomas' Civil Law, also denied giving payoffs to Andres Bautista for allegedly referring clients to his law firm.

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.