"The OVP has to be given a decent budget to do a respectable check-and-balance job."
The post-World War II political experience of the Philippines has differed from that of other democratic countries in one important respect. Their difference is the inclination of Filipino voters to elect as this country’s two highest officials men and women belonging to different political parties. This inclination has been shown in three elections, to wit, the 1957 election, which saw Carlos P. Garcia (a Nacionalista) elected as president and Diosdado Macapagal (a Liberal) elected as vice president, the 1998 election which saw Joseph Ejercito Estrada (a Partido ng Masang Pilipino member) elected as president and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (an LDP member) as vice president, and the 2016 election which saw Rodrigo Duterte elected as president and Leni Robredo (a Liberal) as vice president.
Several explanations have been offered for this inclination on the part of Filipino voters. The most plausible appears to be a desire to add another mechanism to the system of checks and balances embodied in the Constitution.
This phenomenon, where the nation’s two highest officials do not share the same political platform, may be commendable at the philosophical level. But given the realities of the Philippine political structure, it has proven to be unrealistic and impractical at the ground level. President Estrada was to an extent accommodating toward Vice President Arroyo – he appointed her Secretary of Social Welfare and Development – but the experiences of Vice President Macapagal and Vice President Robredo have been highly instructive in a negative way.
When President Ramon Magsaysay named Vice President Garcia as Secretary of Foreign Affairs and President Macapagal appointed Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez to the same office, it was widely believed that a practice of making the Vice President the Secretary of Foreign Affairs had been established.
But there was no such luck for Mr. Macapagal. For four years (1958-1961), the Vice President had no official function to perform. Knowledgeable observers of the political scene have commented that President Garcia’s disdainful attitude toward his VP proved advantageous to the latter. Macapagal spent the years of his vice-presidency going around the nation and laying the groundwork for his candidacy for the presidency.
Vice President Robredo has fared no better. Except for one brief period when she served as President Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs czar, she has been left to languish in her palace, the Coconut Palace, with no role to play in the Duterte presidency.
The annual General Appropriations Act is what determines whether a vice president is able to perform any kind of meaningful function in the governance of this country. For Robredo, a lawyer who learned much about governance from her late, much-admired husband Jesse, this has been the unkindest cut of all. During the last four years, the Office of the Vice President has been given an annual budget that can best be described as modest. It has just been made known that in the GAA for 2021, the OVP will receive the lowest budget among the major offices of the Duterte administration.
Thus, what this country has is a situation where its voters bravely elect a vice president ostensibly to check and balance the chief executive, but who has very few resources with which to perform his or her function. This is a gross mismatch.
This mismatch can be corrected in one of two ways. Either the Filipino people discontinue the highly commendable but grossly impractical practice of electing a vice president representing a political party different from the party of the president, or their representatives in Congress give OVP an annual budget that will allow the nation’s second-highest official to do a respectable check-and-balance job.
There is still time to correct the mismatch. Congress is still crafting the 2021 GAA.