The camp of presumptive president Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. brushed aside questions about a missing Pablo Picasso painting being seen in a video at the house of former first lady Imelda Marcos, turning the issue instead against a former government official who had been hunting for the art piece.
The issue cropped up after the media team of Sen. Imee Marcos shared photos on May 11 of her brother Marcos Jr. and his son Sandro visiting the Marcos matriarch in Makati.
Some Filipinos on Twitter pointed out that one of the photos showed a portion of what appears to be Picasso's "Femme Couche VI (Reclining Woman VI)." It quickly went viral on social media, with Andy Bautista, former head of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, stating that it was indeed the missing painting.
"PCGG, the Picasso is back!" Bautista wrote, tagging the commission's account. "Please seize it for the Filipino people while you still can!" followed by a prayer emoji.
"Reclining Woman VI" was among hundreds of paintings and assets that the PCGG, established to retrieve the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies, is running after for years now, as ordered by anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in Civil Case No. 0141.
It has been tagged as "missing" on the commission's website The Missing Art Movement.
It was also featured in the award-winning 2019 documentary The Kingmaker by Lauren Greenfield, who also tweeted about the sighting upon learning the news.
Picasso is back!— Lauren Greenfield (@lgreen66) May 11, 2022
"Picasso is back!" Greenfield said in reply to Bautista to Twitter. In the documentary, Imelda talked about the Picasso painting that's hanging in her living room, as well as the works of other greats in their possession, like those of Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Michelangelo.
According to the PCGG, the Marcoses also own paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Rembrandt, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Paul Cézanne, among others.
In 2014, the National Bureau of Investigation raided the known addresses of the Marcoses in Metro Manila. NBI agents, however, went home empty-handed. In Makati, "Reclining Woman VI" and others were nowhere to be found.
"They took photographs of the walls and the paintings have been replaced," Bautista said inThe Kingmaker. They also haven't found anything in the Marcos family's museum in Batac in Ilocos Norte.
Picasso painting could be worth P8 billion
In an interview with Teleradyo on May 13, Bautista said the seemingly missing Picasso painting at Imelda's house could fetch as much as P8 billion if sold.
"Ang pinakamahalagang painting ni Picasso ay naibenta ng $155 million (P8 billion)," Bautista said, referring to the artist's "Le Rêve (The Dream)" sold in a private sale in 2013.
"Siyempre, hindi natin alam kung anong kalidad, anong klase, pero talagang ito si Pablo Picasso, isa sa mga talagang masters," the ex-PCGG chief noted. "So, more or less, mga P8 billion ang isang painting na ito."
But under a Marcos Jr. presidency, who has a commanding lead of 31.1 million votes based on 98.35% of election returns, retrieving his family's assets could be a long shot according to Bautista.
"Kung ang magiging pangulo ay isang Marcos, papaano na ang mangyayari?" Bautista told Teleradyo. "Wala nang mangyayari sa ahensiyang iyan."
'Make your allegations in person'
In a Friday the 13th press conference, a reporter asked Marcos Jr.'s spokesman Vic Rodriguez about the viral photo of the supposed Picasso painting and whether it's a replica or the real thing. Without giving a categorical answer, Rodriguez was quick to mention Bautista's name.
"It's very easy to be agitating people, making allegations and accusations when you are thousands of miles away from your motherland," Rodriguez said at the 10:10 mark.
Bautista, the former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman, has been in the United States since November 2017 after announcing in October of the same year that he's resigning from his post. During that time, he was about to get impeached by the House of Representatives amid his estranged wife's allegations of unexplained wealth.
"I invite you Andy Bautista, come home, make your allegations in person," Rodriguez said. "So that to be fair to the Filipino people, we can also hold you accountable for the many misdeeds during the conduct of 2016 elections."
It was also under Bautista's chairmanship of the Comelec when the Marcos Jr. camp leveled charges of electoral fraud in the 2016 elections against the victory of Vice President Leni Robredo.
In misleading posts fact-checked by Philstar.com on Jan. 11, Robredo was accused of "secretly meeting" with Bautista just nights before the 2016 elections, based on their old photos together. But the photos, as it turned out, were in a different event where Bautista was simply one of the guests.
The PCGG has so far retrieved some P171 billion from the Marcoses. It's still running after over P125 billion worth of Marcos assets.
PhilSTAR L!fe has reached out to Rodriguez ahead of his press conference, as well as to the PCGG, for comment about the Picasso painting but both have no reply as of this writing.