Wednesday ∗ 09 Aug 2017

Andy-Tish, smoke-mirrors: who gains from this teleserye?

It escalated quickly and shows no signs of stopping, but the past three days of the Andres and Patricia Bautista show, with a cast of characters of lawyers and banks and bank owners, and don’t forget social / media that can’t quite keep its hands off the oh-so-juicy details slowly being revealed, is just too exciting to let go of.

Or ask questions about.

After all, there is nothing like the unraveling of the elite, this one with millions in their bank accounts, not to mention wads of cash on hand. Tish is almost the archetypal kolehiyala, no strand of hair out of place, speaking eloquently about what she had discovered, issuing warnings to an ex-husband about how much more dirty laundry she’s got on him, while also playing the victimized wife, who knows not what her husband’s been doing. And then there is Andy, the portrait of the government official as husband, powerful and well-connected, articulate and self-assured. He who pushed Smartmatic despite all protests, who was charged for being biased, and whose leadership of the COMELEC was questioned by his own commissioners.

The possibilities for this story’s unraveling are multifarious, but of course while we’re all waiting with bated breath for the next juicy tidbit, one realizes that the question we do not ask is who stands to gain from this scandal at this point in time?

Tish’s camp makes no secret of their “delusions” of grandeur: that this is about nation, and the Commission on Elections’ credibility, and not simply a personal spat gone out of control, and today they even want to file cases against people who “helped Andy hide his wealth.” (Kind of an OA move, if you ask me.)

Andy says this has everything to do with discrediting the 2016 election results, and to a certain extent Tish’s spokesperson Lorna Kapunan’s talk about how this issue hits COMELEC’s credibility, about how it needs to be unquestionable as an institution etc., supports Andy’s allegation. Kapunan etal also gives us a sense of motive behind Tish doing this right now, in such a big way, complete with meetings with President Duterte and media mileage.

So who wants to discredit the COMELEC and get Andy out of there? Who stands to gain with this turn of events?

The easiest suspect is expectedly Bongbong Marcos given his claims that he won in the 2016 Vice Presidential elections. A discredited COMELEC will make his case easier to win, though of course that would mean asking: well, which result is credible? To discredit the COMELEC in this way would mean questioning ALL the results of the 2016 elections.

But what makes the timing of this scandal suspect is the impending decision on whether or not to hold Barangay Elections this year. Now last year, Duterte backed the decision to postpone elections because he was “afraid that drug money would seep into the electoral process.” Early this year, Duterte and former DILG Secretary Sueño again pushed to postpone the barangay elections which was already rescheduled for October 2017. This time the excuse was that 40% of barangay captains are involved in drugs, and the President will just appoint barangay officials himself.

On August 7, while we were distracted by the Andy-Tish saga, the House of Representatives leadership voted to cancel barangay elections yet again. This, despite the fact that none of the officials purportedly involved in drugs have been brought to court, and barangay officials voted into office in 2013 will have been overstaying their terms by two years when the proposed May 2018 elections comes around. Let’s not even begin with the irony of keeping narco-politicians in those positions of power, because heck, we’re violating the people’s right to choose our own leaders.

Now you know who’s dependent on keeping the barangay leaderships where they are? Duterte’s campaign for federalism. As early as 2016, the DILG was already working on the grassroots campaign for this shift to federalism, with an unofficial kick-off in October 2016 during the National Assembly of Barangay Officials, and with barangay-level campaigns as part of the bigger campaign to ensure a yes vote on the federalism plebiscite.

Now what is the role of COMELEC here? Well, ideally the COMELEC should ensure that we have fair and credible elections as scheduled, as Rep. Antonio Tinio (among others) has said:

<COMELEC’s> basic mandate is to implement elections laws, which includes ensuring that they take place as scheduled.

With barangay elections being postponed, not only is the Duterte government being given more time to strengthen their hold over barangays in the name of the federalism campaign. With a new COMELEC leadership they ensure control over the outcome of the plebiscite for federalism.

In this sense, if one were looking at the bigger picture at all, the one who stands to gain the most from discrediting the COMELEC, and ultimately impeaching or forcing Andy out of position (he is a holdover from the PNoy administration after all), would be Duterte himself, his men and women, who need to have COMELEC on their side for the long haul towards charter change.

Sure, Bautista must account for all these bank accounts. And yes, let’s talk about what this all means for the COMELEC, especially given BBM’s protest. But please, let’s not allow Duterte to pretend that he has nothing to gain by this turn of events.

As with the previous government after all, it’s pretty clear where his government stands no matter what he says, and given government spin. His social media army, all excited as they are about getting Andy impeached, is a signal that there is more to this than we are being told. I have a sinking feeling it leads straight to federalism, the strengthening of dynasties and narco-politics included.

As with all soap operas, the Andy-Tish teleserye is but mere distraction. Real life is far more complex than exes badmouthing each other on nationwide television. ***

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