Duterte first told Congress leaders about Bautista's alleged corruption

MANILA, Philippines – A week before the claims against Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista became publicized, President Rodrigo Duterte already told lawmakers about the alleged corruption in a meeting in Malacañang.

For Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, it felt like Duterte called them to Malacañang last August 1 to primarily discuss the "sensitive" information. Sotto said Duterte seemed to be "agonizing" over what to do with the information against the Comelec chief.

At the time, Duterte called for an "urgent" meeting with Congress leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and administration senators Richard Gordon, Juan Edgardo Angara, and Francis Escudero. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas were also there.

According to Bautista, it was also the same day he and his estranged wife, Patricia Paz "Tish" Bautista, jointly met with Duterte in Malacañang.

"I thought I almost had the impression that that was the reason that he called us because ang opening niya 'yun eh (that was his opening line to us). The President was agonizing [over] what to do with the information," Sotto told reporters on Monday, August 7.

"That was the first thing he mentioned when he sat down. Of course we didn't talk about it because medyo maselan nga, sensitive 'yung issue kaya paglabas namin hindi naman namin sinasabi sa inyo na napag-usapan 'yun (because the topic was sensitive that's why when we went out, we did not tell the media that we talked about it)," he added.

Sotto said the President seemed like he wanted to hear lawmakers' suggestions.

"Hindi na niya in-elaborate kung paanong nakarating sa kanya 'yun. Basta may mga nabanggit siya tungkol doon, tungkol sa NBI, tungkol sa ganyan. Hindi naman niya dinidiretso pero parang iniisip niya, 'Ano kayang mangyayari dito? Ano kayang puwedeng mangyari dito?' Parang he was eliciting suggestions without directly saying so," Sotto said, refusing to divulge what lawmakers said in the meeting.

(He did not elaborate how the information reached him. But he mentioned many things about it, about the NBI and such. He did not say it directly but he seemed to be thinking what would happen to the case. It seemed he was eliciting suggestions without directly saying so.)

Asked by reporters, the senator denied that Duterte asked them to conduct an investigation into the matter.

On Monday, Sotto filed a resolution asking the Senate blue ribbon committee to probe the allegations against Bautista. Gordon, another Duterte ally, is the chairman of the panel. (READ: Bautista's alleged corruption casts doubt on 2016 poll results – senators)

Malacañang, for its part, said the accusations must be thoroughly probed. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has already ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the supposed corruption.

Bautista's wife accused him of having nearly P1 billion in ill-gotten wealth, allegedly not declared in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth. The Comelec chief has denied the allegations, accusing his estranged wife of extortion. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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