MANILA, Philippines – Days after a colleague accused elections chief Andres Bautista of “showing partisanship,” his critics pointed out that his cousin, lawyer Mario Luza Bautista, belongs to a firm that is defending presidential aspirant Grace Poe in disqualification cases against her.
Bautista confirmed to Rappler that Mario Luza Bautista, founding partner of the Poblador Bautista Reyes (PBR) law firm, is his first cousin.
Despite this, the chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) denied that he is biased for Poe, one of the Philippines’ leading presidential candidates. He also said PBR did not represent Poe in cases against her before the Comelec.
PBR is defending Poe against the Comelec before the Supreme Court (SC).
Lawyer Justin Mendoza of PBR said Alexander Poblador, another founding partner of their firm, leads the team defending Poe against the Comelec before the SC. Other members of their team include lawyers Dino Tamayo, Sandra Magalang, and Mendoza himself.
Mendoza said lawyer George Garcia, who is not part of PBR, serves as their co-counsel.
The Comelec chairman’s cousin doesn’t belong to the team defending Poe.
Bautista, along with the poll body’s 6 commissioners, recently signed the Comelec’s two comments against Poe before the High Court. The comments involve the PBR as Poe’s counsel.
The Comelec chairman, however, will not represent the Comelec during oral arguments in the SC. Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon and Commissioner Arthur Lim reportedly will.
Explaining his vote, Bautista said Poe is not a natural-born Filipino and neither did she meet the 10-year residency requirement for presidential candidates. He said the senator, however, did not have the “deliberate intent to mislead” voters.
Sponsored post vs Bautista
Weeks after he cast his vote, a sponsored post on Facebook insinuated that the Comelec chairman is biased for Poe because of his links with Mario Luza Bautista.
Calling the Comelec chairman by his nickname, the Facebook page Backroom Politics said, “Kaya pala si Andy atat na atat para kay Grace.” (Now that’s why Andy is too eager for Grace.)
A sponsored Facebook post like this can cost as little as P200 and as much as P14,000.
Paying for this ensures that a Facebook post will reach a wider audience, with the post appearing more frequently on news feeds.
The Facebook post on Bautista and his cousin has received more than 1,500 likes and almost 400 shares as of posting time.
Before this post, Guanzon also raised the Comelec chairman’s links with Mario Luza Bautista in an interview with GMA-7’s Unang Hirit on Monday, January 11.
Guanzon said: “’E ano naman ‘yan ni Chair Bautista ‘yang si Mario Bautista? Hindi ba ‘yan kapatid ng tatay niya? I’m just saying, ano ba si Chair Bautista, kampi ba siya sa amin sa Comelec o kampi siya kay Grace Poe?”
(What’s the link of Chair Bautista to Mario Bautista? Isn’t that the brother of his father? I’m just saying, is Chair Bautista siding with us in Comelec, or is he siding with Grace Poe?)
Ties to Poe critics, too
Bautista on Thursday, January 14, said he is aware of the accusations against him now going viral.
The Comelec chairman, however, pointed out that PBR “did not represent Senator Poe in the Comelec.” He said, “It was in the Supreme Court, I think. I’m not even sure.”
He said it was Garcia who represented Poe before the Comelec.
He added: “For the record, I have never spoken to Senator Poe in my life. That’s the truth.”
Bautista said the first time he saw Poe was when she filed her certificate of candidacy in October 2015. He said that back then, he only shook hands with the senator.
He added that, initially, his critics tagged him as anti-Poe.
He said some people brought up his ties with Nilo Divina, founder and managing partner of Divina Law. Bautista, a former law dean, said he and Divina worked together at the Philippine Association of Law Schools.
Lawyer Estrella Elamparo, the first petitioner against Poe’s presidential bid, belongs to Divina’s law firm. (READ: The Scrum: Elamparo vs Poe)
The Comelec Second Division, which does not include Bautista, granted Elamparo’s petition to cancel Poe’s candidacy for president.
Bautista also said critics warned about his links with Amado Valdez, former law dean of the University of the East. The Comelec chairman said he also once worked with Valdez at the Philippine Association of Law Schools.
Like Elamparo, Valdez filed a petition to bar Poe from running for president. The Comelec First Division, which does not include Bautista, also voted to bar Poe’s presidential bid.
Bautista said that because of these links floated against him, he thought at first of inhibiting himself from Poe’s cases.
One of his colleagues, Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim, earlier inhibited himself from the Elamparo case because he once worked with Elamparo.
Comelec rules on inhibition
Did Bautista ever think of inhibiting, like Lim?
Bautista said: “To be honest, I thought about it, because at that time, they were alleging that I was close to Dean Divina and Dean Valdez. It was the other way around.”
He said he consulted his friends about this.
Eventually, he decided against inhibition because he didn’t want to be seen as running away or avoiding his “first big decision” as Comelec chairman.
His advisers also said being a close friend or colleague is not among the Comelec’s grounds for inhibition.
Rule 4 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure bars a Comelec member from sitting in any case that involves “any party within the 6th civil degree of consanguinity or affinity,” or a lawyer “within the 4th civil degree of consanguinity or affinity.”
The prohibition covers not only the relatives of the Comelec member, but also those of his or her spouse or children.
This means a Comelec member also cannot sit in a case if it involves the relatives of his or her spouse or children.
Elamparo, who is bent on having Poe disqualified, explained that PBR “was not the counsel of Senator Poe in the Comelec,” so Bautista perhaps “saw no need to inhibit.”
Elamparo told Rappler she is confident in the Comelec chairman even if his cousin’s firm is defending Poe before the SC.
Referring to the Comelec chairman, Elamparo said, “I believe in his integrity and objectivity, and am not about to accuse him of being partial on the basis of that connection alone.”
Earlier, ABS-CBN commentator Teddy Locsin Jr had also linked Bautista to administration standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II. Locsin said Bautista acted as Roxas’ adviser in a previous campaign – a claim the Comelec chairman has also denied.
Bautista said, “I think that the reality is, Manila is a small community, especially the legal community, and we know each other. In the end, I would like to think, as I said, the decisions and the actions we make speak for themselves.” – Rappler.com