The plot continues to thicken around the “unexplained wealth” of one of the most high-profile public figures in the Philippines, Andres Bautista (photo, right), chairman of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) – the government body sworn to oversee the integrity of the country’s elections. Now his brother, Martin (other photo), has put himself in the public spotlight in an effort to dispel mounting concerns that large bank deposits held in the COMELEC chief’s name are nefarious.
All this was first exposed by Bautista’s estranged wife, Patricia ‘Tisha’ Bautista, following her private meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at his official residence, Malacañang Palace in Manila on 26 July at which she explained what she’d unearthed. Since then what’s being billed the potential ‘scandal of the century’ has never left the public arena following separate TV appearances by husband and wife – Tisha displaying the documents in question; Andres protesting his innocence.
Quite a bit has come to light about the Philippine end of the Bautista Brothers’ fortunes – the cash part of those are stored in the little-known, little-patronised Luzon Development Bank (LDB); effectively a safety-deposit box owned by a pal of theirs. Deposits there are in the amount of PHP330 million but no one can really work out what it’s doing there, or who owns how much of it.
According to Tisha, that’s just part of a PHP1 billion stash in cash and assets which her husband might have attempted to spirit away. What she’s fairly sure of is that it’s not reflected in the COMELEC chairman’s 2016 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (or, SALN), a requirement for all government employees under Philippine law.
Now, after a flurry of media interviews in which he repeatedly said that the money can be easily explained – yes some of it’s his, he says, but for the most part it belongs to his kids, his parents and his siblings – Andres Bautista seems to have taken himself off into exile somewhere.
And so enter brother; Martin Bautista. He quickly stepped into the breach after hopping off a flight from the US where he lives. In no time he was in the TV studios oozing with sincerity, vowing to get to the bottom of everything as he bared his soul with impassioned promises to protect his young nephews – “They’re suffering right now; I mean they’re permanently scarred,” he said.
Slightly less emotionally he claimed that three quarters of the money, spread across some 32 LDB accounts in two bank branches (PHP250 million of the 330-mill) is his, while other tranches belong to other members of the family – what’s the problem? It can all be easily explained he assured, echoing his bro. Well, everyone’s waiting for that easy explanation – so easy in fact that Martin has a firm of forensic accountants working on it right now.
They’re needed, apparently, to produce the figures for how much of the money belongs to Andres Bautista so he can show he didn’t misrepresent his net worth on his SALN. However, just at the moment, it seems neither of the brothers actually has that information. But then for Martin, if you listen to him, the quarter of a billion he’s got tucked away up in his Luzon piggy bank is a mere trifle of what he’s got put aside in the US.
To hear him speak, it might be little more than pocket change. As he told Netizens the other night: “my Philippine holdings represent but a fraction of my US holdings, nothing far fetched”. How could he possibly be expected to know exactly how many millions of pesos he has lying around in Luzon? Let’s be reasonable. Anyway that’s what forensic accountants are for, isn’t it?
Well, not exactly. They aren’t generally used as bean counters or filing clerks; their job is rather more specialised and normally involves investigating issues such as tax fraud, securities fraud and money laundering. Perhaps they should be involved here but not to straighten out the accounts in the way Martin’s suggesting, but to get to the nitty-gritty of where all that money came from in the first place.
What we’d like to know, though, is where brother Martin keeps his amazing mass of wealth in the US. If it’s in a bank somewhere, given the Bautistas’ genetic predisposition for eccentric banking practices it’s probably in Hillbilly Thrift & Trust Co somewhere in the Appalachians or the Orzaks.
What we’re fairly sure of is that it’s not in any of the three companies which Martin Bautista has established in the US. But those entities do cause us to ponder. Certainly none of them could be described as wealth-generating enterprises.
The first is the high-sounding Atheneum Educational Foundation – presumably taking its name from the Athanaeum; the Rome school founded by Emperor Hadrian sometime between 117 and 138AD. This was a prestigious academy that sought to promote literary and scientific excellence in the same way the Athenians had in Greece. Having watched Martin Bautista’s recent interviews, such pretentiousness would not be out of place.
Unfortunately, the Atheneum Education Foundation (AEF) has little in common with its glorious namesake. The AEF – if still even operating – according to its filing with the Inland Revenue Service is a “Private School” (that’s the sum total of its Mission Statement) located at 209, N. Roosevelt Street, Guymon, Oklahoma.
According to GuideStar USA, Inc. – an information provider specialising in reporting on US non-profit companies – AEF has a stated budget is US$55,209 and describes its programme as follows: “Atheneum Educational Foundation currently teaches children ages 3 to 6 basic educational and life skills. Using a conceptual, hands-on approach, these skills provide the building blocks for the development of language, math, reading, life skills and other skills. We provide this learning for 24 children of various races and socio-economic backgrounds”.
AEF, then, is not one of those exclusive pre-school establishments were the fabulously rich send their precious infants and which take-in buckets of cash. It was registered with the Oklahoma Secretary of State on 7 June 1999 as a domestic not-for-profit corporation and at one time had tax-exemption status. According to the local authority it’s still in existence and Martin Bautista was the registered agent – right up until yesterday that is, when AEF’s corporate information suddenly and inexplicably changed, replacing Bautista’s name with that of a Rick Harbison. That, we have to say, we find very curious given Doc Martin’s present quest.
The GuideStar report also noted, with no small measure of menace, the following: “This organization’s [tax] exempt status was automatically revoked by the IRS for failure to file Form 990, 990-EZ, 990-N, or 990-PF for 3 consecutive years. Further investigation and due diligence are warranted”. See Atheneum Educational Foundation report. See also AEF Tax Exemption Returns for 2006, 2007, 2008.
Then there’s Bautista Investments LLC which was set up on the 14 June this year – so that’s been in existence for just under 10 weeks. Back in June, it seems, Martin had the urge to start a new limited liability company, for which he’s the registered agent – and still was up until the time of going to press. But that might change.
This doesn’t operate out of a gleaming office tower either; in fact its registered address is 350 North East 12th Street, Guymon, Oklahoma – the same address as Specialty Clinics of St Anne where Dr Martin Bautista works as a gastroenterologist.
Similarly, Specialty Clinics of St Anne is not a chain of medical practices; it’s a small stand-alone operation comprising four doctors – Martin, his wife and two others. It hasn’t even got a website. It was formed in 1999 and registered as a domestic limited liability company professional; and since 4 March 2013 its registered agent has been a certified public accountant by the name of D. Michael Denny.
Moreover, Guymon, Texas County, Oklahoma where the clinic’s located and when the Bautistas live – and where Martin sits on the pastoral council of his church – is small town USA; a rural backwater. It’s not Fairfax County, Virginia, or Santa Clara County, California. Oklahoma has a poverty rate of 16.6% – the 13th highest in the entire US. In short, it’s not a locality teeming with prospective wealthy clients. In fact the clinic, according to Martin, “filled a niche” for Hispanic immigrants working at a local meat-packing plant.
So none of Martin’s companies would seem to be a gold mine.
His other known one-time place of work – Memorial Hospital of Texas County where he says he worked for 20 years – is not what you’d call a bustling business either. This was a 47-bed facility which became a 25-bed facility and last year was struggling to stay afloat. And it only managed to do so after County Commissioners threw it a US$450,000 lifeline to settle unpaid bills.
But anyway, Doc Martin was never paid – never wanted to be apparently. When he resigned amid the hospital’s financial turmoil last year, he told the Guymon Daily Herald this: “I’ve been covering that ER [emergency room] since 1996, unpaid, uncompensated. I do it for this hospital”.
And yet, the physician whose job involves taking care of digestive disorders, is asking us to swallow the following: that last year he made US$3 million (PHP154.2 million); that he’s totally debt free – no mortgages, no loans. And that for the past six years he and his wife have been the biggest tax payers in Texas County.
So, in the same way that we’re wondering where Andres Bautista’s money came from, we’re also wondering about the source of Martin Bautista’s self-proclaimed wealth. Neither of these gentlemen seems to be particularly astute at business to put it mildly, so how come – if what Tisha Bautista reckons with regards to her husband’s financial holdings is correct – the two brothers between them have managed to amass in excess of PHP2 billion?
Now, as legal suits fly around like confetti in the wind; as an expensive PR consultancy is brought in to limit image damage for the Andres Bautista side; as Tisha Bautista prepares to enter the Justice Department’s Witness Protection Program; as members of the Liberal Party, including Vice President Leni Robredo, repeatedly insist across all media that there’s no connection between any of this and last year’s national elections; as the National Bureau of Investigation sets about wading though a shed load of bank statements and pass books, pay slips, envelopes of cash, real-estate documents, email printouts and Heaven knows what else … while all that’s going on, Martin Bautista – whose ambition is one day to sit in the Senate of the Philippines (he ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal Party candidate in 2010) or maybe somewhere higher up the political totem poll – is not just doing everything he can to clear his brother’s name, he’s crusading to “to make sure that we Filipinos have to safeguard our electoral process”. Cue the violins.