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Aguirre orders PCGG to probe Comelec chief’s ‘hidden wealth’

MANILA �The Department of Justice has tasked the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to conduct probe to Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista's alleged undeclared wealth worth PHP1 billion.

In his Department Order No. 551 issued Tuesday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre authorized the PCGG to investigate allegations of corruption and unexplained wealth against Bautista during his stint as PCGG chairman as well as to perform other investigative powers under its mandate.

The PCGG to closely coordinate with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Commission on Audit (COA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the conduct of its investigation and is further authorized to prosecute cases, when necessary, in accordance with its powers under Executive Order Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 14-A above stated and other relevant laws read the two-page order.

Aguirre also tasked the commission to look into the report from the Commission on Audit (COA) on more than One Hundred Million Pesos Unliquidated Cash Disbursements obtained from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) Dollar Escrow Accounts of the PCGG during the time of Chairman J. Andres Bautista as PCGG Chairman and thereafter.

He also asked the PCGG to look into the reported abuse of resources of PCGG-sequestered and surrendered entities committed during Bautista's term including but not limited to the millions of pesos worth of gift checks and gift cards received by J. Andres Bautista and his staff, including those supposedly given to the members of the media.

The DOJ chief also sought the scrutiny of ill-gotten wealth, kickbacks and commissions Bautista may have received from, but not limited to, the alleged payment of purported excessive billings made to law firms supposedly connected to him.

Aguirre also asked to check PCGG cases (both civil and criminal) which were dismissed, compromised, or with adverse judgments.

The DOJ chief also reminded the PCGG of the recovery and forfeiture of assets under the name of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and their cronies that unexplainably remain unsequestered.

Bautista served as PCGG head in 2010 before being appointed by former President Benigno Aquino III as Comelec Chairman in 2015.

Last Friday, Patricia Paz Cruz-Bautista, the Comelec Chairman's estranged wife, was given provisional government protection.

"The provisional admission of Ms. Cruz-Bautista into the [Witness Protection Program] (WPP) was made in consideration of her safety and security as a potential witness," Aguirre said.

The WPP is a program under the DOJ, which was made "to encourage a person who has witnessed or has knowledge of the commission of a crime to testify before a court or quasi-judicial body, or before an investigating authority, by protecting him from reprisals and from economic dislocation."

Aguirre said that Bautista has yet to officially execute an affidavit to the WPP, a requirement before the DOJ can provide full protection to Ms. Bautista.

The DOJ chief said that only security is extended to Bautista as her safety and security it utmost concern.

Earlier, Aguirre ordered the NBI to probe the allegations against the Comelec chair and build criminal cases that could be pursued if Bautista is removed from his post via impeachment process or once he resigns or completes his term.

He has directed the NBI to request bank records of accounts under Bautista's name with the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

The NBI likewise coordinated with the Presidential Commission on Good Government where Bautista previously headed from 2010 to 2015 and with the Office of the Ombudsman for Bautista's SALN.

They also coordinated with the Land Registration Authority (LRA), Land Transportation Office (LTO), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) and various property developers.

In justifying the investigation, Aguirre said the marital spat is unfortunate "but the government has to protect the public interest."

Aguirre also said that the Bureau of Internal Revenue has formed team to probe Bautista and his relatives for possible tax evasion.

Bautista has denied the allegations thrown at him.

Source: Philippine News Agency

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