Comelec chair’s wife seeks disbarment of UST law dean, partners over ‘referral fees’ to Bautista

September 26, 2017 - 1:17 PM
File photos of Comelec chief Andres Bautista and estranged wife Patricia Paz Cruz-Bautista from Philstar

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE, 5:31PM) The estranged wife of Commission on Elections chairman Andres Bautista has filed a disbarment case against University of Sto. Tomas Faculty of Civil Law dean Nilo Divina and 21 other lawyers before the Supreme Court and also asked that their law firm be dissolved.

At the same time, Patricia Bautista’s lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, cautioned the Comelec chairman against “gloating” over the dismissal of the impeachment complaint filed against him by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, which was dismissed by the House of Representatives’ committee on justice for being insufficient in form.

Kapunan said Divina and the other lawyers violated their profession’s codes of ethics and professional responsibility by giving so-called “referral fees” to the Comelec chairman.

As much was admitted by Bautista after his wife accused him of amassing as much as P1 billion in supposed hidden wealth.

These admissions, and documents she said have been submitted to the National Bureau of Investigtion, said Kapunan, are the basis of the disbarment complaint.

Among the clients of Divina’s law office is Smartmatic, the supplier of vote counting machines used in elections.

Dean Divina: a case of sour grapes

Divina later on Tuesday issued a short statement on the disbarment case filed against him:

“We have not read the complaint. We have always acted in accordance with law and the ethical demands of the law profession. Once we receive the complaint we will respond appropriately. They are probably sour that their impeachment complaint was dismissed.”

Aside from checks to Bautista, Kapunan said there were also others issued in the names of members of Bautista’s family, including his children.”

“Chairman Bautista said he received referral fees, his own words. Sabi niya hindi ito (He said these are not) commissions, referral ito (these are referrals). We have documents to show that not only did he receive them, he received (them) close to the elections. We also have checks paid by Divina Law, not only to Chairman Bautista but also to his sister, his son, his mother and father. So we have said before these are not mere allegations,” Kapunan said.

She explained that she filed the case before the high court and not the Integrated Bar of the Philippines because it involved national interest.

And while acknowledging that the other lawyers may not have known about the alleged collusion between Bautista and Divina, Kapunan said the complaint involved the Code of Professional Responsibility, over which the high court has jurisdiction.

“Not only Divina, (the complaint) includes 21 lawyers — partners, senior partners, and associates. And there is also a prayer, because of this practice which is contrary to our Code of Ethics, there is also a prayer to dissolve the law firm. Almost one-third of the law firm. We have not invented the names, the documents. It is tragic that it has to involve associates, partners who probably don’t know the entire criminal conspiracy of Divina and Bautista,” she said.

Patricia said the disbarment case was also “doing what we said we will do, to use other avenues to allow these documents to come to light.”

“It is time for Divina Law and (its) lawyers to answer these allegations,” Kapunan said.

Meanwhile, Kapunan said the rejection of the impeachment complaint by the House justice committee did not spell its doom.

“The House committee voted to dismiss not on substance but in form … and Chairman Bautista gloating and confusing the public that there is no (more) complaint,” she said.

But Kapunan said the committee report will still be tackled in plenary where, she added, they are confident a third of the chamber’s membership will vote to reverse the justice panel’s decision.