Tales as old as time | Inquirer Opinion
The Long View

Tales as old as time

Two things happened that proved that the more things change, the more they stay the same—though perhaps not in the ways most people might think. The first of these was the fall of Juan Miguel Zubiri from the Senate presidency. The announcement, rather gleefully made by Jose Estrada (better known as Jinggoy) by way of a prediction to the press, intimated that Zubiri’s fall was inspired by a loss of confidence in him by the Palace: An assertion tearfully confirmed by Zubiri himself when he announced he was resigning (rather than endure a formal removal). The second thing that happened was when a reputable survey revealed that, for the first time, the Vice President’s public standing is lower than that of the President.

The passing of the Senate presidency from Zubiri to Francis Escudero doesn’t change the affiliation of the vast majority of the Senate with the President; but what it did was prove yet again that all politics is local. By this I mean that when Zubiri allowed Ronald dela Rosa to conduct his investigation in aid of humiliation, he really had little choice but to say yes as a politician from Mindanao. If he had put his foot down and somehow quashed a hearing, word would have gotten around that the Senate president from Mindanao had turned his back on the expected beneficiaries of such an investigation—and the Mindanao senators pushing for the hearing. So he had to do it to remain politically viable on his home turf; but having had to do it, he risked the ire of the Palace—or at least, provided a pretext for his colleagues to throw him overboard.

The Vice President’s popularity rating below that of the President’s for the first time, comes after the cold, because undeclared, war between the President’s portion of the ruling coalition and that of the Vice President heated up when the First Lady openly discussed her being displeased with the Veep. Up to that point (and up to now), the President and the Vice President had been careful to avoid criticizing each other, with the combative Veep venting her ire on the Speaker instead. She was equally careful to keep her symbolic defense of disgraced former deputy speaker (and former speaker as well as former president) Gloria Macapagal Arroyo within the same anti-Romualdez frame.

There are few rules in Philippine politics, and one of them is that the public punishes vice presidents perceived as unsupportive or quarrelsome with presidents. We may elect them separately but once elected, the public considers it the job of the veep to support the president and when there is a falling out, it’s the vice president who takes a hit. One of the oldest misunderstandings of this dynamic has been the perennial but lazy tendency to compare the mandates of presidents and vice presidents to the detriment of the president when their vote percentage is less than the vice president’s. This is lazy because it overlooks the difference in the quality of the contest for each position; but what such laziness guarantees is to make the vice president who is compared in such a manner with a sitting president, the object of that sitting president’s jealousy—and even enmity. Not least because of the distinct possibility the veep chose to run for that office because of the probability of being defeated by the one who eventually became president.


Equally old is the affliction of candidates and observers alike who compound laziness with conceit: thinking that somehow, a veep’s exceeding the votes of a president somehow reflects a political standing that is uniquely immune to the political dynamics of the past. Yet here we see on display the same old dynamics being on display: that the moment the First Lady (the “bad cop” to her husband’s “good cop” in their political tandem) declared open season on the Veep, then the old, traditional, instinctive backlash against a veep perceived to be troublesome, kicked in. This places the Veep in a dilemma. Stay and remain publicly loyal, and risk looking either naïve or opportunistic; leave and go into open opposition, and risk validating the accusations and appear not only guilty but inept. In either case, the risk is a palpable one: to lose the aura of inevitability.


Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @mlq3

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