MANILA – Resigned Commission on Elections chairman Andy Bautista failed to attend Monday’s Senate Committee on Banks hearing on possible money-laundering violations, but his lawyers obtained permission from the panel chair, Sen. Chiz Escudero, to submit a comprehensive affidavit by March 26, where he would respond to questions raised by Senate probers.
Escudero said, at the hearing, that he would only lift the arrest order on Bautista once the committee gets a copy of the affidavit of Bautista, who remains in the United States since flying there in November after being embroiled in a mega-conflict with estranged wife Patricia Bautista. She had accused him of amassing ill-gotten wealth, and urged authorities to check out more than three dozen accounts with Luzon Development Bank.
At the Banks committee hearing, Bautista’s lawyer Anacleto Diaz sought for more time for the ex-Comelec chief – and previously, chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) – to submit a complete sworn affidavit, saying he had difficulty filling in numerous gaps in his account because his wife had allegedly stolen key documents from a drawer in his residence. The documents pertaining to the 33 LDB accounts are important because they would help explain that some of those assets belonged to members of his family, especially well-off siblings, and not all are his, his lawyer told senators.
Diaz said Bautista had not been able to retrieve the documents despite having filed a petition for a writ of habeas data in Makati City.
The documents he needs would also prove that he already had substantial wealth even before joining government, as PCGG chair and later, as Comelec chief. They would also help him explain how he grew his assets through the years.
Earlier, Escudero as Banks committee chairman had set two conditions for lifting the arrest warrant on Bautista: either he signs a
bank waiver to allow the panel to probe his bank accounts or submit a complete sworn affidavit.
Bautista opted to submit an affidavit.
A plunder complaint is pending against Bautista and his siblings with the Ombudsman.
According to Atty. Diaz, this complaint was based mainly on the affidavit of Bautista’s wife, Patricia, and that her claims in turn were based on the documents in the locked drawer–and, being purloined, cannot be used as evidence.
Diaz said Patricia took the documents after allegedly failing to persuade Bautista to grant her divorce in Hong Kong and give her P600 million as her share in the conjugal assets.
Diaz told Senate probers the last three months had been very hard for Bautista because he lost his family, his government job, and suffered damage to reputation.
Escudero granted the request to extend to March 26 the deadline for Bautista to submit his comprehensive affidavit, after which he would in turn lift the arrest order on Bautista.
However, the Senate would already be on Lenten recess by that time and many sentaors are expected to be out of town; hence, not enough signatures might be obtained for the lifting order.
Majority of senators must sign the lifting of the arrest order, which must also be approved by Senate President Koko Pimentel.
This means the arrest order will likely be lifted only in April–but Escudero does not see this affecting the liberty of Bautista because there are no indications the latter has plans to fly back to the Philippines soon.
According to the Bureau of Immigration, Bautista left Manila on November 21, 2017 and the ex-Comelec chair presumably can stay in the US for six months.
In reply to a query from Escudero, immigration officials said theoretically, Bautista could fly to Hong Kong and then re-enter the US and get a new 6-month entry permit since this is considered a fresh entry.
Escudero said he does not deem it disrespectful of Bautista to have flown abroad because when he was summoned, the Senate probers did not consider him a suspect for a crime.
Escudero also declined to preempt what the Banks panel might recommend as charges against Bautista, but added that in his view, Bautista would have a lot of explaining to do as to his decision to place the PCGG accounts in the LDB, and not in a government depository bank. Bautista would have to explain this, notwithstanding a claim that LDB offered a better rate.
RELAX AMLC RULES
Meanwhile, Escudero hopes the inquiry would firm up their position to relax the rules of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), to at least allow the Senate or the House of Representatives access to crucial reports, without revealing such to the public.
Escudero is eyeing to call another hearing on the Bautista case.