Bautista's alleged corruption casts doubt on 2016 poll results – senators

MANILA, Philippines – Senators on Monday, August 7, raised doubts on the results of the 2016 elections amid corruption allegations against Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who called for a probe into the matter, said Bautista should explain how he supposedly amassed such wealth while in office.

Bautista was appointed to the Comelec in May 2015, a year before the 2016 elections.

"It really casts a cloud of doubt. Ang issue kasi do'n mahirap mag-accumulate ng ganoong kalaking amount ng pera in one year's time for being a commissioner of Comelec, unless before 2015 eh gano'n na karami ang [bank] accounts and pera niya, that's a different story," Sotto told reporters in an interview.

(It really casts a cloud of doubt. The issue there is it's difficult to accumulate such a huge amount of money in one year's time for being a commissioner of the Comelec, unless he really had those bank accounts and money before 2015, that's a different story.)

Senator Grace Poe said election results for other positions might have been compromised. Poe, who lost in the presidential elections, said she has no personal stake in the issue as she had long accepted her defeat.

Poe ranked third in the elections, trailing behind President Rodrigo Duterte and Manuel Roxas II. The Comelec, under Bautista, earlier disqualified Poe from running in the 2016 polls over citizenship issues, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision.

"Para sa akin, walang kwestiyon, panalo ang ating Pangulo dahil napakalayo ng agwat namin. Mabuti na lang at ganoon. Kaya para sa akin wala akong personal ditong makukuha sapagkat ako'y nag-concede, maaga pa lang. Ang ating Pangulo ay di hamak na nanalo. Pero maraming mga ibang pwesto ang maaaring ma-kwestiyon dahil mas dikit ang laban," Poe said, referring to national and local situations.

(For me, there is no question that our President won because we had a huge vote difference. It's good that that's the case. For me, I have no personal stake here because I already conceded early on. Our President clearly won but there are other positions that might be questioned because of tight races.)

There are at least two high-profile electoral protests pending so far – former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr's case against Vice President Leni Robredo and Francis Tolentino's protest against Senator Leila de Lima, who ranked 12th in the senatorial race.

Senator Joel Villanueva, who ranked 1st in pre-election surveys and ranked 2nd after the polls, said he would look at the issue objectively.

"Let's look at it objectively and walang (without) bias. The truth shall set us all free. I cannot just stipulate na walang basis (that there's no basis)," Villanueva said.

Senate probe or impeachment court?

The Senate blue ribbon committee, according to Sotto, is set to conduct a probe into the controversy "soon."

But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon raised the issue of jurisdiction, as the alleged violation is an impeachable offense. He said he would suggest that the panel settle the question first before proceeding with a hearing.

"I do not know if the blue ribbon [committee] should take recognition over that because it is a possible impeachment case; and if the House of Representatives decides that it is an impeachable offense and brings to us the impeachment complaint, then we become juror or judges. And what the Senate blue ribbon will investigate will be the same subject matter that the impeachment court will investigate," Drilon said.

Under the 1987 Constitution, impeachment complaints emanate from the House. The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, will then render judgment.

But Poe, citing the impeachment case against former president Joseph Estrada, said the Senate also conducted parallel investigations then.

"Wala namang pumipigil na mag-file ng kaso, kahit na nagkaroon na ng pagdinig sa Senado. Pero para sa akin nga, mas hinihikayat ko pa magkaroon ng pagdinig para hindi naiipit ang impormasyon 'pag may pulitika," Poe said.

(No one stopped anyone from filing a case, even though the Senate already looked into the matter then. In fact, for me, I would call for a hearing so that we do not block the flow of information when politics is involved.)

"Kasi siyempre, 'pag 'yan naging impeachment case na, hindi na mailalabas lahat ng impormasyon kung hindi didinggin 'yung impeachment case. At least ito, madidinig na natin, wala namang pumipigil. Hindi naman 'yan unacceptable as evidence porke't nadinig na natin sa Senado," she added.

(Because of course, if this turns into an impeachment case, then we won't be able to reveal all the information unless we hear the impeachment case. At least if we hold a hearing now, no one's stopping us. The information will not become unacceptable as evidence just because the Senate already held a hearing.)

Bautista's wife has accused him of having nearly P1 billion in ill-gotten wealth, allegedly not declared in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth. The Comelec chief has denied the allegations, accusing his estranged wife of extortion– Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.

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