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Bautista vs Bautista: Personal and Political | CMFR

Bautista vs Bautista: Personal and Political

Screengrab from CNNPhilippines.com

THE PRESS has a nose for controversy and the slightest whiff of scandal can cause a media frenzy.

All media took notice when the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported on the alleged hidden wealth of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Juan Andres “Andy” Bautista. The source was none other than Bautista’s spouse, Patricia Paz Bautista, who gave the exclusive to the Inquirer. Carrying her evidence box, she said she uncovered bank accounts, documents showing foreign investments and properties which the Comelec chair did not declare in his 2016 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

Patricia also revealed that she disclosed this to President Rodrigo Duterte in a private meeting on July 26 along with her lawyers. She had submitted her affidavit to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and filed a case against her husband, charging him with violence against her and their children. Inquirer gave it banner treatment on its front page, placing the full article on page A18, together with a shorter piece giving the side of the Comelec chair.

It was obviously a mix of politics and the personal. And the treatment did not help determine what aspects were of public interest. The couple was known to be estranged from one another for some time, and the Inquirer scoop did briefly mention the state of their domestic affairs, leaving much of the discussion to Lifestyle section articles which came much later. As a personal story, this should not have been given the importance of a newspaper’s lead. As a political story, however, it should have taken care to bring more balance and sobriety to the account.

The charges made by Mrs. Bautista were serious and significant. But media could not give free rein to Mrs. Bautista’s recitation of her husband’s litany of sins, without meticulously checking the evidence she claimed to hold. The authentication of bank books and financial investments would have taken more time.

Chairman Bautista soon called his own press conference to deny his wife’s allegations, which he said was an attempt to “extort” more than he was willing to give her: “It’s all about money. She wants to amicably settle; she wants a huge amount, which I don’t have,” he said. (“‘My wife asked for P620M, and I can’t pay her’”) He also filed charges of grave coercion, qualified theft and robbery, and extortion on August 8 before the Taguig City Prosecutor’s Office.

Is this a case of a marital dispute gone awfully bad or was the media validly pursuing a corruption issue? CMFR monitored reporting of national broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin, The Manila Times, Manila Standard, Daily Tribune) as well as primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s Aksyon and CNN Philippines’ News Night) and some online news websites to assess reporting from August 7 to 11.

The Political Story

The politics of the story required some background which was missing from the initial reports. Bautista had been the target of various cases filed by different complainants. Prior to the 2016 polls, hackers defaced the website of Comelec followed by the release of voters’ data online, prompting the National Privacy Commission to recommend criminal charges against Chairman Bautista for his failure to prevent the hacking. After the polls, a criminal complaint was filed against Comelec IT experts and a Smartmatic project director and technical officers for violations of the Cybercrime Prevention Act over the hash code controversy. Although Bautista was not named, the case tainted the proceedings he supervised. It was junked by the Manila City Prosecutor’s office. The electoral protest filed by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal also questioned the credibility of the election under Bautista’s responsibility. All these attempts seemed driven by partisan aims, as the 2016 elections was supposedly credible according to a survey conducted by Pulse Asia.

Corruption issues deserve to be reported. But media needs to sort out the relevant information, which, journalistic investigation should validate and corroborate with sufficient sources. The writing of the story should be carefully supervised, making sure to give a fair and balanced account. Reports should also take care to keep to the main issue, the substance of the allegation.

On the issue of corruption, the media should have kept in mind that the Chairman is immune to lawsuits during his term. He completes his term unless he is impeached.  The only recourse for his removal from office is a political process conducted by Congress.

The Inquirer’s editorial two days later, August 9, thoughtfully observed:

“The possibility that Bautista deliberately hid a substantial amount of his wealth or received commissions as payment for official favors should be treated with the seriousness it deserves; the allegations must be investigated.

“That he is a high official who can be removed only by impeachment should not be a bar against any investigation, whether by the Department of Justice or by congressional inquiries.

“But the tentative language Patricia Bautista herself uses should be a cautionary signal to the investigators; a lot of work needs to be done, before even the basic evidence can be agreed upon.”

The same caution applies to the media in detailing the complaints of Mrs. Bautista. The stakes could not be higher, as any question about the integrity of the 2016 vote mars the victory of everyone who won.

Generally repetitive, some trivial

Reports dutifully enumerated the allegations by Patricia, reported the counter-arguments of her husband, their lawyers, and recorded the reactions of lawmakers who mulled over the prospect of filing impeachment raps against the Comelec chief.

Media could not help themselves from picking up the trivial or scandalous notes as some pieces online were not exactly focused on the issues of public concern. These include stories that explored Patricia’s “third eye” (“Psychic bond draws wife to marriage “third party””, “Bautista’s estranged wife has ‘third eye’, says legal adviser”) and allegations of sexual activities of Chairman Bautista (“Camp of Comelec chief’s wife hints Andy Bautista engaged in illicit affairs, quirky sex”). Some Twitter users tagged CMFR regarding these articles.

Obviously, more of the trivia and scandalous details appealed more to the media as these are so much easier to report.