Ferdinand Marcos Jr is a very generous man.
For next year’s budget, Marcos has agreed to give his vice president, Sara Duterte-Carpio, a whooping P2.3 billion, three times more than what former vice president Leni Robredo had under Rodrigo Duterte’s government.
Robredo was the face of the political opposition from 2016 to 2022 and Duterte was very jealous of her public image. He didn’t want his “spare tire” to be in the driver’s seat and upstage him.
Under the new government, it is different. Bongbong and Sara ran as a team in the elections. In fact, Sara was instrumental to Bongbong’s victory.
Marcos had a weak political base and had no party. Sara was so popular that major parties, like Lakas-CMD and the Nacionalista Party, had aligned with her regional Hugpong.
The pro-Duterte voters decided to support Marcos as well.
Back in September 2021, Sara led the pack of presidential hopefuls based on opinion polls by SWS and Pulse Asia. When she decided to drop out in October when candidates filed their certificates of candidacy, Marcos’s numbers shot up to take the lead.
When Sara decided to run as Marcos’s running mate, Bongbong’s numbers went up to more than 60 percent, sealing the election more than eight months before the balloting.
Perhaps, Bongbong was only grateful to Sara by allowing the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to ask for a bigger budget for an office without a real role or function.
The Office of the Vice President’s budget will be getting a bigger allocation than some government agencies even if it only has a ceremonial role and must wait for the president to die or incapacitated. It has no clear mandate.
Based on Sara’s OVP website, her office would be spending government funds on medical and burial assistance as well as “libreng sakay” programs, duplicating the functions of other government agencies, like the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the various local government units (LGUs) under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
For instance, the DOTr did not allocate a single peso for its “libreng sakay” program in 2023 and the proposed 2023 budget for the Philippine General Hospital, which gives free medical services to indigent families, was even reduced.
Could the money that was taken away from the DOTr and PGH have been reallocated to the Office of the Vice President? Does the OVP really need billions of pesos for burial and medical assistance when there are agencies, like Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), that are helping poor families pay for their medical and burial expenses?
Sara should be more innovative and creative in trying to serve the people by not getting into the services done by other government agencies and government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs).
When Leni Robredo was vice president, she was able to raise the profile of the Office of the Vice President with meager resources and relied on volunteers and donations from the private sector.
During natural disasters, like typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, Robredo’s office was very visible on the ground, distributing relief goods, food packs, and other essentials.
She was even ahead of the national government’s agencies tasked to help during disasters, including the coronavirus pandemic. Her initiative even earned the ire of some people close to former president Duterte who tried to malign her office.
In her first two months in office, Sara Duterte-Carpio was not visible in disaster areas when an earthquake struck Abra or when typhoons inundated large areas in northern Luzon, damaging infrastructure and agriculture.
Social Welfare Secretary Erwin Tulfo was even faster and more visible in disaster areas. In his eagerness to help poor students, he accidentally created a problem. But it’s better than an office that was supposed to help but was not seen doing its work.
Aside from her office’s program to help poor families on their medical, burial and transportation expenses, the DBM also proposed P500 million in intelligence and confidential funds for Sara’s office.
Robredo did not have the luxury of having so much money to spend without the scrutiny of lawmakers or even the Commission on Audit (COA), although her office would still have to submit documents to show these funds were disbursed.
Her office tried to justify half a billion pesos in confidential funds by saying it would go to peace and order and national security programs. Again, the Office of the Vice President has no capacity and capability to undertake national security programs and projects.
It is not mandated to enforce law and order nor implement national security policies. It has no soldiers and police officers under its control and supervision. These are directly under the president as the commander-in-chief.
The vice president is not even in the chain of command. The military and police only extend courtesy to the office as part of its ceremonial role.
Sara might be overextending her reach if she wants to usurp the DSWD, DND, and DILG functions. She should be happy Marcos gave her a portfolio as education secretary.
It would be better if Sara used her big budget allocation to augment the education budget by building more classrooms, purchasing educational materials and equipment like books and computers, and funding more learning modules to improve the quality of education.
A recent World Bank study showed the Philippines as having the highest education poverty, meaning a 10-year-old student in grade school does not know how to read, write, and comprehend simple messages.
The coronavirus pandemic worsened the situation as her father, the former president, closed down schools for two years, pushing back the skills sets needed to learn.
Sara is wasting so much government resources by duplicating the work of other government agencies. It is really not clear how the P2.3-billion budget for her office will be spent.
Some people are asking, is she preparing for her 2028 presidential run?