Meltdown
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - August 27, 2017 - 4:00pm

On casual Friday at the Commission on Elections, its chairman Andres Bautista dropped by The STAR in a short-sleeved shirt, jeans and rubber-soled black shoes. A large Comelec ID card bearing his nickname, Andy, hung from his neck.

For a man facing impeachment and possible criminal indictment for corruption and money laundering, and whose marital dirty linen has been exposed to minute scrutiny by the public, Andy seemed as remarkably composed as when we used to sit down with him for chats when he headed the Shangri-La hotel group in the Philippines.

Those days now seem like another lifetime. We’ve always wondered why Andy became interested in joining government. Perhaps life in the private sector became boring. Perhaps he was considering a career shift to politics and needed to get a foot in the door through a position in government. He started out as chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government – a relatively low-key assignment, since at the time it was already in a prolonged process of winding down its affairs. People thought Andy was placed in the PCGG to pave the way for its shutdown.

Then a high-profile position became vacant. Every administration, every political party in power, wants its own appointee as chair of the Commission on Elections. Noynoy Aquino had a rare chance to appoint a new head of the constitutional body, and he picked Andy Bautista. To this day, no matter how much he professes to be politically neutral, Comelec chief Andy is perceived by his critics to be beholden to Noynoy Aquino and the Liberal Party – a.k.a. the yellows, as described by their opponents.

Elements related to that perceived political color are among the angles being explored as private and public issues collide in a calamitous mess in the life of Andy Bautista.

*      *      *

On the eve of his visit to our office, all Comelec commissioners had issued a joint public statement, read at a press conference, urging Andy to either go on leave or resign because, they said, his personal woes were affecting the credibility and functioning of the poll body.

So when Andy visited our office the next morning, we thought he might have a major announcement to make in connection with his colleagues’ statement.

Instead he simply reiterated that he was still pondering his next move, and that the commissioners need not have called a press conference. They were together practically the entire Thursday morning, he lamented, and they could have simply talked to him.

The very public airing of his marital problems, Andy says, is as much a concern for him as the disintegration of his marriage, because of the effect on his four young children. One has stopped attending classes. Andy has talked with the administrators at Ateneo, and they have promised to protect the kids from bullying or shaming by schoolmates.

There are in fact laws preventing the public disclosure of marital problems – except in this case, it’s the wife herself who went public and aired all the dirty linen, and injected an element that made the issue a matter of national concern. Patricia Cruz – Tisha or Tish – has accused her husband of corruption and possible money laundering.

The issue of unexplained wealth cannot be brushed away even by Andy’s disclosure that this mess “is all about money,” or that in 2013, he had confronted Tisha and the “third party” in their marriage, Alvin Lim, son of the late Alfonso Lim, Marcos crony and former owner of Fuga Island. Tisha has denied any affair (although this is disputed by Alvin’s life partner of 17 years, chef Gaita Fores), describing Alvin merely as a “soul mate.” But Tisha has been asking Andy for an annulment for some time, with division of assets. Andy, citing their young children, always refused.

Would all his troubles have been avoided if he had given Tisha the annulment? “What would be served?” he asked us.

Andy says he and Tisha were introduced by a common friend in 1999. On Jan. 8, 2000, they were married at the Arzobispado in Manila by Fr. Mon Bautista. Last Friday I asked Andy if it was love at first sight for him. He gave me a wry smile.

He said even during their courtship, Tish had told him that she had a “third eye” and that it was telling her there would be two men in her life, but that she would end up marrying Andy. 

One of our editors asked Andy if the claim about the third eye or clairvoyance didn’t ring alarm bells in the smitten beau. Another wry grin.

*      *      *

These days Andy lives with his sister after being evicted by Tisha from their conjugal home. The two condominium units are near each other in the posh Pacific Plaza. Tish is keeping all their children, the conjugal condo, $117,000 and P250,000 that she had withdrawn from their joint BDO account, plus all the documents covering properties, investments, and bank accounts in the Philippines and overseas. These include assets that by Andy’s own admission were not declared in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). He has since sued Tish for robbery and extortion.

Andy, a former international banker and lawyer, insists that his SALN is compliant with the law. Why does he have 35 accounts with the Luzon Development Bank, which was also used by the PCGG when he was its chairman? He says the actual number is fewer than 35. Among seven siblings, he was designated as the family’s treasurer, he said, tasked to set up and manage accounts for each family member with him as co-signatory. This “and/or” arrangement, Andy says, is common among moneyed clans, to minimize complications in case someone dies or is incapacitated. And he’s not the only one who does not declare such joint accounts in his SALN, he stresses.

Others, on the other hand, point out that Renato Corona was found guilty and ousted as chief justice by an impeachment court after he admitted failure to declare his joint dollar account with his wife in his SALN. 

Andy also denies owning The District property in San Francisco; it belongs to his sister, he says.

Any regrets? He gave us an enigmatic smile, stood up and said he had to go to his office, where the media scrum waited to pounce on him.

He refused to comment on speculation that his current troubles might be linked to the electoral protest of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. If the rumors prove accurate, Andy might fight it out, all the way to an impeachment court.

 

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