It’s weekend so it’s time for Your Forum. Our question to followers of The Volatilian™ is this: “Should the messenger be shot?” What we mean by that is should Patricia Bautista (photo), wife of Andres Bautista, chairman of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) – the guiding authority on electoral issues in the Philippines – be the target of public scorn and hatred for drawing attention to her husband’s wealth which she says did not appear in his 2016 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), a requirement under Philippine law.
Here’s some background. Last week, Mrs Bautista – Trish for short – disclosed to President Rodrigo Duterte that she had serious concerns surrounding her husband’s actual financial status. She’d unearthed bank accounts and other documents which she claimed put his net worth at around PHP1 billion. Her problem is that she’s seeking a divorce settlement and wants to establish the legality of those assets.
The couple are a couple in name only, apparently. They’ve had marital problems since 2013 and although they sleep under the same roof, they do so separately.
Her meeting with the president was followed by the TV appearance of husband Bautista on CNN Philippines. There, he refuted all notions that the money in his accounts, including that from property transactions, was in any way ill-gotten. He followed up that interview by filing charges of grave coercion, qualified theft and extortion against his spouse.
Since then, wife Bautista has been pilloried across social media as some sort of money-grubbing vamp. Defenders of her spouse, meanwhile, are painting him as the man wronged. While there are plenty of bullets also coming for Andres, it seems a little odd at this stage that Trish should be in the firing line.
We’re not saying that her husband is guilty of anything right now, but if he is shouldn’t that be of major concern to everyone in the country who wants to see an end to the seemingly endless parade of corrupt officials that have hallmarked every single Philippine administration since the year dot? Isn’t that precisely one of the main reasons why the people elected Duterte – to eradicate all that? To “drain the swamp”, as US President Donald Trump puts it?
Again we stress, the COMELEC chairman has not been charged with any wrongdoing; at the same time, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee will be looking into his wife’s allegations. But surely, as a former chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) he should welcome the opportunity to show that his dealings were strictly above board; to show that not all public officials in positions of influence abuse those positions and are in receipt of some magical “Get Out Of Jail Card”.
Certainly, Trish may benefit from her disclosures; but that’s not the point. Her motives aren’t important here. If she’s brought to light a serious case of official corruption she’s provided a public service and should be applauded for that; not lambasted. Surely? Or can we pick and choose which officials should or should not be investigated – say, for example, because of their political affiliations and loyalties? Should some be bullet-proof? How could that be the measure of good governance and a clean democracy?
Some additional background. Politicians and public officials – in fact all government employees in the Philippines – are compelled by law to register an honest and accurate account of their net worth. This is by means of the SALN, an annual documentary requirement and a sworn statement. Included here should be all assets and liabilities of, not just government staff, but also of their family members. Patricia claims Andrés didn’t do that last year. She reckons he neglected to mention several items.
The inference, then, is that he’s amassed “unexplained wealth”. And if that turns out to be the case, Juan Andrés “Andy” Donato Bautista – picked for the COMELEC post by former president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, who’d previously installed him as the PCGG chairman – the same Juan Andrés “Andy” Donato Bautista who in 2012 was nominated to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, could be in very hot water. He could be impeached and that could mean serious jail time.
Ironically, the PCGG is now looking into Mr Bautista’s financial affairs. If he’s innocent by any future enquiry, then no harm will have been done by Mrs B’s ‘revelations’; if he’s proved not to be then she will have done some good. That’s why we’re asking “Should the messenger be shot?”