Solon: Bautista's 'receipt of fee for Smartmatic referral' casts doubt on 2016 polls

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 8) — Questions on the integrity of the 2016 national polls resurface amid allegations that Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista received commissions from a law firm for referring it to election technology supplier Smartmatic.

"To what extent did Smartmatic need the services of the chairman in the past 2016 elections?" House Deputy Minority Leader Harry Roque told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday.

"It cast a doubt because by his own admission, Chairman Andres Bautista admitted receiving consideration from Smartmatic while being chairman of Comelec," he added.

Roque on Monday filed House Resolution no. 1171, seeking a legislative inquiry on the millions of ill-gotten wealth and unethical payoffs allegedly acquired by Bautista as Comelec chairman.

Bautista's estranged wife Patricia said she got hold of payslips and checks written to Bautista from Divina Law "as commission for assisting the law firm clients with the Comelec."

Related: COMELEC chair accused of unexplained wealth by estranged wife

Divina Law is the firm of Nilo Divina, one of Bautista's best friends, Patricia said, and also legal counsel of Smartmatic, a Venezuelan company which has been supplying automated machines to the government since the 2010 elections.

Bautista on Monday admitted receiving "referral fees," but he said these are not commissions and that "these have nothing to do with my position in the Comelec."

But this confession, Roque said, may be proof that Bautista violated Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. "When you're a public official you're not supposed to be getting any gift, any consideration from anyone who has any interest in your office," Roque said.

If found guilty of graft, Bautista may face imprisonment of up to 10 years and perpetual disqualification from public office.

Roque, a lawyer himself, reminded fellow practitioners that they are not supposed to demand or receive referral fees. "Lawyering is not a business. It is a noble profession," he said.

"I'm sure this admission will get them (Bautista and Divina Law) into trouble with the Supreme Court as far as their duties as officers of the court are concerned," he added. 

Bautista worked as a private lawyer before his appointment as head of the Presidential Commission on Good Government — an agency tasked to recover the Marcos family's ill-gotten wealth — in 2010 and of the Comelec in 2015.

Meanwhile, Roque said Smartmatic should be blacklisted as government supplier if it is proven that it allowed Divina Law to give part of its law fees to Bautista.

"That's a very clear case of bribery," Roque said, mentioning that it was Bautista who decided to buy, not lease, billions worth of automated machines from Smartmatic.

"In my mind Andy Bautista, Divina Law, Smartmatic have a lot of explaining to do and that's why we filed a resolution," he added.

Resign, or face possible impeach rap

Bautista's wife also alleged that more than P335 million in local and foreign bank accounts weren't disclosed in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN).

Roque said Bautista could be the second government official to be impeached due to misdeclaration in his SALN, the first being the late Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.

When asked what Bautista's next move should be, Roque said, "I think the best thing for him, his wife, his children, and the Comelec is for him to resign."

But whether Bautista quits or not, Roque said there is no stopping him from pushing for an investigation on Bautista as soon as possible and within the month of August.

"It's very important because if the allegations are true I don't think a person without integrity should stay one minute longer in a very sensitive post such as the Comelec," he said.

He added the legislative hearings will help all 291 lawmakers in the House of Representatives understand the issue and make an informed decision in case an impeachment complaint is filed in Congress.

"I commit to endorse impeachment complaint if I'm satisfied that it will support a conviction," Roque said. According to the Constitution, a vote of at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives, or 97 out of the 291 incumbent congressmen, can start an impeachment trial at the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto also filed a resolution seeking a Blue Ribbon Committee probe on the accusations against the Comelec chair.

Decrying blackmail and extortion by his wife, Bautista said he is open to any kind of investigation and that he is not considering quitting his post.

Related: Bautista ready to face probe

Bautista and Smartmatic

The supposed leak of transactions between Bautista and Smartmatic through Divina Law adds fire to debates on the credibility of the 2016 elections.

"I've always maintained from the very beginning that Smartmatic could possibly give way to automated cheating," Roque said.

Suspicions of manipulation of the 2016 election results started to rise when the camp of vice presidential candidate former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. disclosed that a new script or computer command was fed to the Comelec's transparency server during the transmission and counting of election returns last May 2016.

Comelec and Smartmatic said the alteration was a mere "cosmetic change" and had no effect on the poll results, but Comelec still ordered Smartmatic to quit making changes without its consent.

Marcos on June 29 filed an electoral protest before the Supreme Court's Presidential Electoral Tribunal, contesting election results from some 39,000 precincts from 27 provinces and cities.

Vice President Leni Robredo won the May 2016 elections by a slim 260,000 votes over Marcos.

CNN Philippines' Pia Garcia and Lara Tan contributed to this report.