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Friday, August 25, 2017

Senate probe must shed light on Bautista’s hidden wealth

Even if somebody gives the Senate a treasure map of the hidden wealth of Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, it will not find it; the legislative body will get lost in the haze.

That is the impression given by the Senate inquiry – aired live on TV on Wednesday – into Bautista’s undisclosed assets, as conducted by the Committee on Banks and superintended by the tag team of senators Francis Escudero and Grace Poe Llamanzares.

In a repeat of their conduct of the fruitless Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano massacre, the two senators took center-stage in the questioning and promptly sent it nowhere.

The shortcomings were manifest from the start. Chairman Bautista was not present at the hearing to answer questions. The wife, Mrs. Patricia Paz Bautista, who could have given more clarification to her expose about her husband being a closet billionaire, was also not around.

As a consequence, the investigators had to content themselves with the technical and evasive explanations of officials from the Luzon Development Bank and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), who absolutely shed no light on the subject of the inquiry.

The LDB representative smugly refused to disclose any information about Bautista’s deposits by invoking a provision in the bank secrecy law. Nothing can be disclosed unless Bautista waives his right to the secrecy of his deposits.

When the discussion turned to why the deposits, totaling more than P300 million, were never flagged by the AMLC, the Council’s representatives hid behind the imprecise definition of a politically exposed person (PEP) whose deposits must be flagged.

At this stage the inquiry was derailed even more by the actions of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who emerged as a lawyer for Bautista and a lawyer against the government.

Drilon even turned his questioning to a discussion of how he and his wife once fell victim to the anti-money laundering investigation by the AMLC.

The senator criticized the law for allegedly harassing citizens like him and his wife. He was particularly critical of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which has been tapped by the Justice secretary to investigate Bautista’s hidden wealth.

Drilon’s tactics during the hearing stymied the inquiry.

Consequently, we are constrained to entertain the suspicions of those who think that Drilon’s objective might be to prevent the inquiry from going into Bautista’s conduct or misconduct of the 2016 elections. Is he anxious that the inquiry might put under question his completely unexpected topping of the senatorial election?

A real probe into Bautista’s hidden wealth will inevitably delve into the possibility that he might have amassed it partly from payoffs for his central role in the tabulation of election returns.

The 2016 election deserves a full investigation in itself, because of patent signs of fraud, but this is clearly something that should not be conducted in the Senate, where many senators might have won the election through fraud.

A congressional inquiry, in our understanding, is essentially a search for truth from the facts. There are sound reasons why our government system turns to specialized agencies, such as the NBI, to conduct serious investigations, and not to the Houses of Congress to do so.

Investigators should know what questions to ask and where to probe for answers. The Senate inquiry into Bautista’s hidden wealth failed to ask the questions. Therefore, it is now even more hidden than it was before.

At the end of the useless inquiry, the Senate committee disclosed that it would invite Bautista to the next hearing. We hope Bautista turns up to answer questions with the truth and nothing but the truth. Otherwise, the Senate would just be assuring the people of more waste of public funds.


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