Pleasing the Veep with shiny things

Manuel L. Quezon III
6 min readSep 14, 2023

Does she really think she’s changed things?

Forever in father’s shadow

Something interesting is going on, signified by three things. On one hand, the Department of Education wants to revise the curriculum to teach the “dictatorship” instead of the “Marcos dictatorship” from 1972 to 1986. On the other hand, in response to the ongoing rice crisis, Sen. Imee Marcos has been saying her father should rise from the grave to impose martial law, triggering a fierce counter-reaction from Atty. Chel Diokno. What’s interesting is precisely the bruiting about of pro- and anri-dictatorship talk due to a peculiar combination: a rice crisis around the time of the Marcos birth and martial law anniversaries.

Speaking of Marcos the Elder, he wasn’t alone in having a fraught relationship with his Veep; for Marcos the Younger, something similar can be said, although my column this week suggests the Palace has figured out a cost-effective way to maintain good relations.

This week’s The Long View

THE LONG VIEW

Get thanks for giving nothing

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:25 AM September 13, 2023

To some, the Vice President can be characterized as not only combative but unwelcoming of either scrutiny or debate. Public discourse is less about debate, and more about shouting contrarian voices down, even when operating from a position of strength, which she arguably was in terms of Congress acting on her budget. Not the parliamentary clumsiness of the President’s son-who “moved to terminate” the Vice President’s budget (instead of moving to terminate debate: a substantial difference; technically one could argue the enthusiastic support for the Sandro Marcos motion effectively abolished the entire VP budget) nor the “aha!” moment of the opposition (when it noticed the VP’s intelligence funds were an augmentation, when there hadn’t been a similar provision the year before, hence how could something nonexistent be added to?) could faze the executive department: the executive secretary (who knows a thing or two about allocations, having written the Supreme Court decision that narrowed the discretion available to the executive to do so) declared everything kosher after Congress fell over itself to exempt the VP from scrutiny. When it comes to the budget, the presidency proposes but Congress disposes, and it’s at liberty to do so with eyes wide shut if it prefers.

It’s interesting to see how the executive department has responded to the VP’s temperament. Even before she took office, the then Vice-President-elect decided her security should be made independent of the Presidential Security Group (PSG), and that its staff should be heavily augmented. It’s interesting to note that before she assumed office, her main argument was to spare her office the kind of punishment her predecessors received from unfriendly presidents-reduced resources.

Only after she settled into her job did her reasons expand to two. The first had to do with the importance of her job, and the second with the political realities of her office. She would have many people to meet, many places to go, which required a suitable complement of personnel. She, too, would be holding an office that, on many occasions, did not see eye to eye with whoever happened to be the current tenant of the Palace. Why, even she, Veep-elect, and he, Prexy-elect, had already not seen eye to eye when she’d asked for, and he’d declined, the national defense portfolio in the first place.

But this is how institutions work. If an official wants to have an inflated sense of self, go ahead-the reality will prove otherwise.

A historical note

Randy David in tackling this same topic last Sunday, quoted the Veep herself when asked if she knew what her office’s mandate was:

When Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked Vice President Sara Duterte what it is in the mandate of her office that justifies allotting P500 million for confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) in its proposed budget, Duterte’s first instinct was to let her chief of staff offer an answer. The soft-spoken Risa courteously insisted that it might be more appropriate for Duterte herself to respond to the question.

When she did, Duterte could not avoid acknowledging the fact that the vice president was indeed, in her own words, “a reserve, a benchwarmer, in the event of … I do not want to mention it, but in the event that the president cannot discharge his functions.” She probably realized it was presumptuous to justify these funds as necessary to her own personal security as a president-in-waiting. Whereupon she proceeded to justify her outsize confidential funds by invoking the well-worn mantra that these funds were “intended for the safe, secure, and successful implementation of programs, projects, and activities and engagements of the OVP (Office of the Vice President) and all its satellite offices.” But the senator had made her point: These special funds appear to have nothing to do with the office itself but with the needs of the person occupying it.

Return of The Electoral Merry-go-round

When the Supreme Court surrendered to President Marcos in January, 1973 by declaring the 1973 Constitution in full force and effect, one of its effects was the abolition of the vice-presidency, even though the incumbent, Fernando Lopez, still had 11 months left in his term. Most chroniclers of the era (including myself) all along assumed that Marcos had actually eliminated the vice-presidency when he imposed martial law on September 23, 1972, but a diary entry of his in December of that year specifically mentioned the presence of Vice-President Lopez (a month after his nephew, Eugenio Jr., had been arrested), Senate President Gil Puyat, and Speaker Cornelio Villareal, at a Palace conference to strategize the ratification of the new constitution. A reminder that Marcos had actually signed on much of Congress to his agenda.

Marcos managed to get the new constitution “approved” before Congress was scheduled to convene in regular session, thus forestalling any opportunity for opposition legislators to question martial law: and with the expection on the part of legislators and constitutional convention delegates, that they would automatically sit in the interim parliament they expected to be convened. Only after that was the forced sale of Meralco completed.

In the Randy David column linked to above, he also delved into the political prospects for 2028:

It seems impolitic to start one’s term as vice president on a note of entitlement and tacit distrust. But to those who believe that the vaunted Duterte magic would have been enough to get Sara Duterte elected as president in 2022 had she not agreed to run as Bongbong Marcos’ vice president-it makes perfect sense. The waiting period of six years that this entailed is one filled with uncertainty. As with all coalitions of convenience formed in Philippine politics, pledges are as good only as the election in which they are made.

One gets a sense of this unfolding scenario with the recent political marginalization of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who had played a key role in the forging of the Marcos-Duterte alliance for the 2022 presidential election. The Duterte elder himself had been against this partnership from the start, but he kept his mouth shut as soon as his daughter made up her mind. These days, he has been less reticent in airing his disparaging views of Marcos’ administration, especially with regard to the latter’s handling of the China question.

I foresee that the country’s relations with the United States and China will increasingly take center stage as the 2028 presidential election looms on the horizon. If this happens, there are two possible complications that need to be managed with utmost care and discernment by our political leaders.

Cleve Arguelles recently put forward the expected cleavage in the ruling coalition by looking at former president Arroyo’s invitation to former president Duterte to come out of political retirement.

It’s been suggested that what actually transpired last May (the public all along, assumed she was caught trying to become Speaker again) was that Rep. Arroyo was actually detected trying to lobby for the President to be impeached.

The ex-president, a friend, the ex-vice-president

What the former president (Arroyo) has been spotted doing, among other things, is meeting with former vice-president Leni Robredo to discuss, as she put it, politics in Bicol. Her son Dato, when congressman there, had worked well enough with Robredo. So this tells us the ex-president and ex-veep have coinciding interests.

Arguelles considers it possible the split in the coalition will manifest itself as early as the midterms; David for his part, looks to the 2028 elections as the dividing line. Conventional wisdom dictates the coalition will hold together until the midterms are done.

Originally published at https://mlq3.substack.com.

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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.