, April 22, 2024

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The Official Family’s Problem Child

  •   3 min reads
The Official Family’s Problem Child
File photo of Vice President Sara Duterte
By Joey Salgado

In a 2017 speech, former president Rodrigo Duterte described his daughter, now Vice President Sara Duterte, as “ibang klaseng babae,” referring to that infamous incident where she punched a sheriff enforcing a demolition order. Her father once described her to Rappler as inscrutable, and by now, she has earned a reputation as a headstrong and independent woman, prone to picking fights. 

During her father’s presidency, Sara Duterte often contradicted her father. Today, as Vice President and Education Secretary, Duterte the daughter is the official family’s problem child.  

Recently, the Vice President again raised eyebrows when she joined her father in defending doomsday pastor Apollo Quiboloy, even appearing in a Manila rally where one of the speakers demanded the resignation of President Marcos. In a statement, she painted the controversial pastor as a martyr-in-waiting, a victim of trial by publicity who should be entitled to justice in the proper court. 

Now, there are points to be earned for being a maverick, but points are also lost for being insensitive to public opinion. 

By defending Quiboloy, the Vice President is spending political capital on a pastor wanted in the United States for human trafficking and cash smuggling. The Department of Justice is poised to file charges against the pastor. In Congress, he is facing an investigation for alleged child abuse and media franchise violations.

The President, linked by Quiboloy to a supposed conspiracy with the United States government, has told the fugitive pastor to face the charges. 

Vice President Duterte’s decision to align with Quiboloy is the latest in a growing list of public statements that contradict policies and pronouncements made by the President.

Aside from her silence on China and her department’s opposition to opening private institutions to foreign investors through charter amendments, Vice President Duterte has also publicly disagreed with the President’s decision to consider a resumption of peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

All these would have been fine if the Vice President were not a member of the Cabinet.

But as the President’s alter ego, the Vice President is expected to support the policies and programs of the Marcos administration. 

A  Cabinet job binds the Vice President to positions taken by the President on current issues. She may disagree in the course of Cabinet deliberations or discussions with fellow Cabinet members or the President, but such disagreements are kept out of the public eye. She may offer private counsel, in person or in writing. But once a decision is reached and a policy is adopted, a Cabinet member is expected to toe the line. The Vice President is not exempt from this norm.

To be in the Cabinet while openly contradicting the President is untenable and may be interpreted as opportunism. 

Vice President Duterte should look at the conduct of two of her predecessors.

Despite being dragged through the mud by Senate allies of former president Aquino and the Liberal Party’s propaganda machinery and its numerous sub-contractors, former vice president Jejomar Binay did not openly criticize the administration until after his resignation from the Cabinet in 2015. Binay was chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), the precursor of the Department of Housing, and was the presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Concerns.

Former Vice President Leni Robredo had the grit and finesse to resign from the Cabinet in 2016, just a few months after her appointment to the housing portfolio over “major differences” with former president Duterte, primarily over the bloody drug war. She then led the opposition against Duterte.

If Vice President Duterte cannot abide the Marcos administration’s policies, the decent thing to do is to resign. She can then lead the charge as leader of the opposition, with no need to play nice with the President. That’s the Robredo template.

The other choice is to remain in the Cabinet and be a team player, fulfilling official duties and refraining from contradicting the president despite the body blows from administration allies. That’s the Binay formula.

Will Vice President Duterte follow the example set by Binay or by Robredo, or will she remain the President’s headache and the Cabinet’s problem child?

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