Lawyers cite 'discrepancy' in Comelec Chair's SALN in impeachment complaint

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 24) — Lawyers who filed the impeachment complaint against the Commission on Election (Comelec) Chairman said Thursday their case stands independent from his wife's accusations.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, Atty. Manuelito Luna said there already is a "discrepancy" in Chairman Andy Bautista's statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN), which he said contained "wholesome secrets."

"It's quite apparent from the entries themselves. So even without the disclosures of Patricia, just the same time we will be able to prove it," said Luna.

"Look at the salary a chairman of Comelec. Any salary grade, there's a [disproportion] in income."

Bautista declared a net worth of P176.3 million in his 2016 SALN.

Atty. Ferdinand Topacio added that the burden was on Bautista to prove that the money was clean.

"In cases of grossly disproportionate wealth with respect to the income, there is a presumption in law that that difference is ill-gotten. We do not have to prove that. He has to disprove that," he said.

Both Luna and Topacio are lawyers to former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras, who on Wednesday filed an impeachment complaint against Bautista.

The complaint accused Bautista of failing to address a voter data leak in 2016, tweaking the server script in the 2016 Philippine automated polls, and failing to declare all his assets. It was endorsed by House Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia, Representative Harry Roque of Kabayan, and Representative Abraham Tolentino of Cavite.

Related: Impeachment complaint filed against Comelec chairman

The complaint also comes after Bautista's estranged wife Patricia accused him of keeping over P300 million in undeclared accounts. She cited passbooks and documents, which Bautista said she stole.

Luna said that their camp had been prepared with the case as early as six months ago, "but we were studying the impeachment complaint very carefully."

Topacio added "would have filed it anyway, with or without Mrs. Bautista... [or] the accompanying hoopla."

Bautista has maintained his innocence, adding that his wife is only after money.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' anchor Pinky Webb, he admitted that there were "a few hundred million," but the accounts were shared.

"These deposits are in the name of my father, my mother, myself, and my sister... This money (does) not all belong to me," Bautista said.

But Topacio maintains these accounts, even if they are shared, should have been declared anyway.

"You declare your assets, and then you say 'These accounts are not mine,' you put it in the liability column... It's elementary bookkeeping," said Topacio.

Bautista is also accused of receiving commissions from Divina law firm for referring it to election technology supplier Smartmatic.

The chairman admitted to receive "referral fees," but not commissions. He added that the firm "has not represented any client here in Comelec."

"These have nothing to do with my position in the Comelec. These are private corporations. Taxes are being paid in respect of these fees," said Bautista.

But Paras' lawyers said that Bautista's above statement could constitute an admission and be used against him.

"Referral, commission, it's just nomenclature. At the end of the day, it pertains to the same thing: you received money for referring business, which you should not have," said Topacio.

However, when asked if they have proof connecting Bautista, Divina Law Firm, and Smartmatic, Luna replied, "It's not yet there but we have laid down the basis... So [at] the proper time, we could simply subpoena Patricia to confirm what she said in her affidavit."

The impeachment complaint has yet to be referred to the House Committee on Justice, which the lawyers maintain can summon Bautista's wife or even tap into bank records. Luna argues that the secrecy of deposits "cannot be invoked" in a case involving impeachment.

Tolentino — among the endorsers of the complaint — is the brother of presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino, who lost the last senatorial slot to Sen. Leila De Lima and is questioning her win through an electoral protest.

When asked if this would present a conflict of interest, Topacio said, "not really."

"The endorser is simply that. He does not decide on his own. We still have to hurdle the committee," said Topacio.

The impeachment complaint will also be reviewed by plenary and the Senate impeachment court.

Luna said they were "optimistic" of their case, but fell short of predicting a result.

"Based on the evidence, [our case is] quite strong," said Luna. "However, we reserve predicting the outcome because it's part of due process. We have to give Chairman Bautista the opportunity to air his side."

Bautista on Thursday said he is ready to face the complaint against him.