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Ex-PCGG chief dared to sue over Picasso painting

SCREENSHOT FROM THE KINGMAKER

PRESUMPTIVE president Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr.’s spokesman on Monday dared the former head of a government commission tasked to go after ill-gotten assets of the late dictator and his cronies to file a case over a missing Pablo Picasso painting seen in the house of his mother Imelda.

“Under our Constitution, whoever makes allegations should be the one to prove these,” Marcos spokesman Victor D. Rodriguez told ABS-CBN Teleradyo in Filipino.

“If you have something, come over. The courts are open. You can’t do it in the comforts of wherever you are. You keep harping allegations left and right,” he added.

Andres Bautista, former chief of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) — a body formed by the late Corazon C. Aquino to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and his cronies — had spotted the P8-billion painting in a television video of Mr. Marcos’ visit to her mother’s house.

Picasso’s Femme Couche VI (Reclining Woman VI) was one of the paintings that anti-graft court Sandiganbayan had ordered seized from the Marcoses in 2014, added Mr. Bautista, who is also a former election chief.

But Mr. Rodriguez said Mr. Bautista should not make accusations against the presumptive president in the media.

Mr. Bautista has been living in the US for about half a decade. He earlier said he could not come home due to “personal issues.” His estranged wife had accused him of hiding P1 billion in assets.

Mr. Rodriguez turned his ire on Mr. Bautista and renewed allegations against the former chairman of the Commission on Elections.

“Why don’t you be true to the Filipino people?” he asked. “Face the many allegations of election fraud during your time as Comelec chairman,” he added, criticizing Mr. Bautista for leaving the country.

“I just want him to be fair to the Filipino people. The courts are open.”

Mr. Bautista earlier denied he was facing any lawsuits in the Philippines.

“PCGG, the Picasso is back,” he tweeted last week and posted a screenshot of Imelda Marcos’ video. “Please seize it for the Filipino people while you still can.”

In 2014, the PCGG under Mr. Bautista tapped the National Bureau of Investigation to raid the former first family’s museum in their home province of Ilocos Norte in northern Philippines to recover the art pieces.

The Picasso painting was not found in the Marcos museum but was later recovered along with other paintings in a separate raid in the former first family’s home near Manila, the capital.

The Philippine central bank initially had custody of the seized paintings, but it later gave up custodianship in Oct. 2014, saying it could not vouch for the authenticity of the paintings.

The central bank meant that “the paintings are not real and they might get in trouble for (being a custodian),” Mr. Bautista told news website Rappler, Inc. in mixed English and Filipino last week.

The Marcoses have been accused of living lavishly at the Philippine presidential palace while Filipinos suffered from a collapsing economy, which sank by 7.3% in 1984 and 1985.

The late dictator plundered as much as $10 billion (P525 billion) while they were in power, according to the World Bank-United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Stolen Asset Recovery. The stolen wealth includes $683 million in Swiss bank deposits through dummy foundations.

This earned him a Guinness World Record for the “greatest robbery of a government.”

The PCGG has recovered more than P170 billion and is still in the process of recovering P125 billion in ill-gotten assets.

Mr. Marcos said in a television interview before the May 9 elections he would strengthen the PCGG and order it to go after new targets. “Instead of directing themselves against the Marcoses only, if I have a relative who is corrupt, then that person’s name will come out, not only us, everyone.”

Mr. Marcos is headed for a landslide presidential victory in the May 9 election and will become the first candidate in recent Philippine history to win an election majority.

He fled into exile in Hawaii with his family during a 1986 “people power” street uprising that ended his father’s 20-year autocratic rule. He served as a congressman and senator after returning to the Philippines in 1991.

Mr. Rodriguez said he had yet to discuss the painting with Marcos Jr. and his family. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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