Now you see it, now you don’t

Manuel L. Quezon III
7 min readOct 5, 2023

The Veep’s incredible disappearing intelligence budget

Dynamic duo

Presidents propose the national budget, but any annual budget must originate in the House of Representatives: this is what having the power of the purse means. Being closest to the people, the House has the exclusive power to initiate spending bills.

The Veep still felt Congress should grant her, this coming year, P500 million in confidential funds for her office and another P150 million for Deped, which she heads. The Party-list representatives reminded anyone who’d listen that confidential and intelligence funds are meant for security and surveillance work which never before seemed part of either a veep’s or DepEd’s functions.

As I mentioned in my column, her requests led to comparisons with what the Coast Guard’s been given for intelligence. The same pitiful Coast Guard busy during the House budget deliberations, avoiding collisions with the vessels of its Chinese counterparts which have taken to firing water cannon salutes at anything Filipino-owned that has the nerve to float in Philippine waters.

In a land-locked version of the swarming tactics of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the ruling coalition did its own swarming and decided on the realignment of the Veep’s intelligence funds with a roll-call of the parties that matter: Lakas-CMD, National Unity Party, PDP-Laban, Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, and the Party-List Coalition. The only ones left out seem to have been the token parties –at least the Partido Federal and Hugpong demonstrated unity.

And just like that, it was gone. Voting 296 to 3 on September 27, the House, purged its version of the General Appropriations Act of funds allocated for intelligence purposes for the Vice President and the agency she heads, the Department of Education.

The optics, as they say, for Congress, were beautiful. Not so were the optics down South. On the day the House of Representatives collectively wrapped itself in the flag, the Vice President wrapped herself in the flag, too –of the People’s Republic of China. She accompanied her brother to roll out the red carpet for Zhao Long, the governor of Fujian, who renewed the sister city agrrement between her city and Jinjiang City, and thanked him for China graciously providing a market for durian.

Another small party, Akbayan, threw one –whooping with joy at the House’s adopting its proposal to realign the Veep’s intelligence funds to “our West Philippine Sea frontliners.” But the biggest party of all must be taking place in the Palace, since the ultimate parliamentary courtesy was tendered to the President by the House –it only cut the proposed intelligence by about half, from 10.1 billion to 4.56 billion.

Serenely absent from the goings-on in the House, was the Speaker, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. Perhaps ever since Ferdinand Alexander Marcos his Senior Deputy Cousin had spoken, he didn’t need to, anymore. The magic words had been spoken –“I move to terminate…” Avada Kedavra!

This week’s The Long View: Avada Kedavra

THE LONG VIEW

Avada Kedavra

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:18 AM October 04, 2023

If you like detective stories, chances are you’ve encountered Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” Spoiler: someone vile ends up murdered on a train, everyone on it acts suspicious, and the detective starts to wonder, based on the victim being repeatedly stabbed with varying degrees of force, that, maybe, there was more than one murderer. Plot twist: Everybody on the train participated in the murder.

The President’s eldest son (and the most junior senior deputy speaker in living memory) was prophetic indeed when he gallantly told his colleagues that the tradition of their chamber is to give a free pass to presidents and veeps alike and that, therefore, he would “move to terminate” the budget of the Veep. At the time, I thought he misspoke.

Now comes the October Surprise: the Pulse Asia survey’s numbers for both the President and the Veep. FMJ 6/2023 at 80 percent and 9/2023 at 65 percent (-15 percent); SZD: 84 percent and 73 percent, respectively (-11 percent). What is striking is that the drop of both officials occurred in a span of just 14 months of governance. You don’t normally expect such a huge drop in approval ratings this early. Comparing apples to apples, during the time of former president Benigno Aquino III, in a similar time span in governance, the Pulse Asia 8/2011 approval numbers of Aquino was 77 percent. In 11/2011 or after 16 months of governance, his numbers went down to 72 percent, which is statistically insignificant. In Binay’s case, 8/2011 numbers were at 85 percent which went down in 11/2011 to 83 percent, a mere drop of 2 percent.

What’s apparent is that while their numbers remain high, the drastic drop in the President’s numbers is a manifestation of his management of the economy; his and the Cabinet members’ frequent overseas travels have not yielded significant actual investments but mere pledges. His drop in all social classes was in double digits but his greatest drop was in Class E where he suffered an erosion of 29 points, proof that kitchen table issues like the rice shortage while stubbornly remaining as agriculture secretary has allowed the issue to stick to him. What it tells us, this early, is that he is no Teflon president. As long as issues related to food remain unresolved with no coherent long-term strategy to address things like the rice issue, those numbers may solidify and give his disaffected followers the ammunition to lambaste him on social media.

In the case of the Vice President, normally the approval numbers of a vice president who is an (ostensible) ally of the president do not normally go down with the president. This is because the veep is a spare tire, and he/she is largely insulated from the consequences of the president’s actions. Not so with Sara Duterte who may be the education secretary but who repeatedly proved lacking in education when it came to confidential funds — insisting that they can be used for purposes other than what those funds were intended (surveillance and security).

Her insistence on using confidential funds even in the face of questions gives birth to more questions. Unlike dear old dad, whose confidential fund as Davao City mayor was apparently ₱144 million a year, her confidential fund wasn’t static: it became ₱293 million in 2017 (her first year), then ₱420 million in 2018, and settled at ₱460 million from 2019 to 2022.

Having been elevated to the vice presidency, she asked the Palace in 2022 for ₱250 million in confidential funds but only got ₱125 million. The Commission on Audit helpfully reported that the VP’s office spent the amount in 11 days, while Kabataan party list Rep. Raoul Manuel brought up another 11-related figure: the reduced amount the VP’s office received is bigger than the combined intelligence budget of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) over the past 11 years. These details have largely unmoved her.

Apparently, congressional opinion felt otherwise. Ako Bicol party list Rep. Elizaldy Co declared a supreme sacrifice was at hand — the House of Representatives would sacrifice the confidential and intelligence budgets asked for by the Veep, and realign the amounts to augment funding for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the National Security Council, PCG, and even the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, amid “serious concerns” in the West Philippine Sea.

The ruling coalition defended the realignment with a roll call of parties that matter: Lakas-CMD, National Unity Party, PDP-Laban, Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, and the Party-List Coalition. The only ones left out seem to have been the token parties — at least the Partido Federal and Hugpong ng Pagbabago demonstrated unity.

It moved the public to express dismay over her performance especially the social classes ABCD among whom her drop in approval was in double digits, while Class E had a high single-digit drop. What these numbers also reveal, this early, is that she, too, may not have the Teflon magic.

But there’s a silver lining. Come December, approval numbers traditionally go up because of the Christmas season when the nation becomes loving and forgiving of those in power.

Some slides:

An interesting comparison by Twitter user .@drowninginar

See: September 2023 Nationwide Survey on Urgent National Concerns and the Performance of the National Administration on Selected Issues

Take a look at approval and trust numbers for presidents.

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Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Spot.ph. Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.