The Long View: Get thanks for giving nothing


Get thanks for giving nothing

 / 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.

The Department of National Defense (DND), then still under Delfin Lorenzana, obliged the Veep, and its spokesperson at the time blandly stated that in accommodating the Veep-to-be, what would change was the name. Col. Jorry Baclor told the press, “The VPSPG (Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group) is already an expanded [unit] of the VPSD (Vice Presidential Security Detail), same function [but with] added personnel and equipment.” He did add that, “Since it is expanded, it became a separate unit of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), no longer under the GHQ (General Headquarters) and HSC (Headquarters Service Command), with its own designated group commander.” The chain of command goes from the president, as commander in chief, to the military top brass and downwards; it does not include, much to most people’s surprise when they found out, the secretary of national defense. Neither does it include the vice president of the Philippines. The blunt reality of this can be detected in the details surrounding the leadership of the PSG and VPSPG: the former is headed by a brigadier general; the latter, by a colonel.

Even if you were to envision a scenario in which there might be a confrontation, the PSG head would outrank the VPSPG head and in any case, both would be under the authority of the commander in chief, the president. All the DND and the armed forces conceded was the expansion of an existing staffing pattern (even under the highly strained and thus nonrelationship between the previous president and veep, Leni Robredo still had a contingent of 78 for her security; as of last year when Commission on Audit audited her office, the Veep had a security detail of 433). This is, of course, a delight to all concerned, including as it does, additional promotion opportunities.

The Veep strongly believes comparisons between her and the security details of her predecessors are “absurd and completely lacking basis.” But here is a political office where politics is addition especially when a simple change of name gives the illusion of independence. An easy giveaway that compounds political interest each time members of the President’s official family support the status quo: consider the enthusiastic praise for the new SND, Gilbert Teodoro, when he referred to the expanded plantilla for security in a recent budget hearing, echoing the Veep’s justifications for it, and adding that the items were a suballocation under the General Headquarters of the AFP.

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

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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