The VP’s many ‘firsts’
The 2022 elections gave us the very first vice president from Mindanao—Sara Duterte, heir apparent to former president Rodrigo Duterte, another first Mindanawon to be elected to the country’s highest political position.
Sara, however, seemed to have outdone her father in getting more “firsts” to describe her vice presidency. She is the first VP to be given a concurrent position as secretary of one of the most important and well-funded departments in the Cabinet, the Department of Education. Yet, by her own admission, she is not an educator or an education expert. But since her running mate, President Marcos, thought she is a mother, she should know a thing or two about education; ergo, she got the job. This is also the first time that being a mother is a qualification to be an education secretary.
There are other firsts to add to her unprecedented record as VP/secretary of education. She is the first to frame education as a national security concern. Is this perhaps a way to somehow fill her longing for the post of defense secretary that was not given to her? This perspective of looking at education makes her believe she is entitled to hefty confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) to do surveillance activities within Department of Education (DepEd) schools and offices. This is another first. No other secretary of education before her got a windfall of a budget allocation for some opaque funds, like the CIF. And it was given to her with nary a whimper of protest from the majority-run houses of Congress.
When she defended her budget for CIF as VP for 2024 last week, she had the extraordinary privilege of presenting it without question. After her presentation, House Senior Deputy Majority Speaker Sandro Marcos, the President’s son, put a stop to the interpellation of the Makabayan bloc by saying, “In line with the long-standing tradition of giving the Office of the Vice President parliamentary courtesy, I move to terminate the budget [hearing] of the Office of the Vice President (OVP).”
Two members of the Makabayan bloc in Congress were quite enraged, they were not even allowed to explain why they voted no to the motion of the President’s son. One of them, Rep. France Castro, was still talking but her microphone was already put off. This was evidence of the lack of courtesy among the majority members of Congress toward their colleagues in the minority bloc. This is also another first associated with the VP and her allies.
But the younger Duterte is also the first to enjoy her own security force as VP. Past vice presidents were secured and protected by the Vice Presidential Security Detachment. But last June 24, 2022, the Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group was created and activated as a separate unit from the Presidential Security Group.
In 2022, the Commission on Audit reported that the OVP engaged 433 security escorts for Duterte in her first year in office. In a statement, the OVP defended the deployment of this huge number of security personnel, by saying that the “security and protection of the VP is a fundamental task that it will inevitably perform … when the Vice President and the President face the misfortune of having a relationship strained or broken by political differences …” The statement went on to cite the strained relationship that Sara’s father, the former president, had with his vice president, Leni Robredo. If this is so, is the current VP scared of her former running mate, and now the President?
But the extraordinary number of security personnel leaves more questions than answers. A news report noted that this number is a 455 percent increase from the number of security personnel hired during Robredo’s entire term.
Perhaps this is the biggest “first” of VP Sara. Last week, she admitted her office received over P221 million as CF from the Office of the President in December 2022. However, this budget entry was not in the national spending program for last year. This is the first time a very high-level office of the government managed to “squeeze” or divert some funds from the approved budget of 2022 (presumably approved the year before, in 2021), something that lawyer Barry Gutierrez considers illegal and unconstitutional. Gutierrez, together with the Makabayan bloc representatives, also think so. Gutierrez is Robredo’s former aide.
When people earn several “firsts” in their careers, they are usually applauded and given citations or awards. Not so with this one. The VP’s many “firsts” speak volumes of how positions of power are blatantly used to normalize corruption and further reinforce executive impunity.
Comments to email@example.com