VP on the roll

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - March 3, 2021 - 12:00am

Avisibly irritated President Rodrigo Duterte could not hide his exasperation on his Vice President, Leni Robredo. For two consecutive nights, President Duterte fumed over the reported dare of VP Robredo for the Chief Executive to lead the vaccination of Coronavax, the first batch of donated doses from Sinovac of China. Citing his being 77-year old as not qualified to take Sinovac, the President’s rants were unleashed anew in public address over perceived slight – intended or not – to his VP whose looks he likened to an angel but with a “devilish mind.”

This brings to mind people often ask why we elect our President and Vice President separately. Logical, or rather ideally, we want to elect a Vice President that will continue what the President has started should anything happen to him or her while in office. This is the principle behind tandem voting in the United States – if a democratically elected President dies in office, or resigns, the VP as the constitutional successor will take his place to continue the governance.

In the Philippines, this concept is lost entirely we have even had numerous instances where the VP was completely against the policies of the President. Thus, disagreements between the two highest elected officials of the Executive Branch. Despite the chaos that we’ve experienced because of separate voting, there seems to be a logic in creating this type of system almost a hundred years ago.

Constitutional framers saw it fit to give the Vice President the chance to serve as a member of the Cabinet because we originally had a unicameral National Assembly.  The framers also saw it fit to have the President and the Vice President elected separately to give each one a national mandate to govern. The logic: should anything happen to the President, the Vice President, who is next in line, has a mandate of his/her own independent of the Chief Executive. It would give more gravitas and put the Office of the Vice President in a stronger position.

In most of our recent history, Presidents and Vice Presidents came from different parties and are often depicted as rivals in the political realm. Despite these incidents, the events of last week give value in having separate mandates for the top officials in the land.

The Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), affirmed the victory of Vice President Leni Robredo over ex-Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. This decision was the first time in our history that the PET decided on a case based on its merits and not because the issue was moot. With the affirmation of her victory, VP Robredo now has an unquestionable mandate from the people until the end of her term in June, 2022.

Now that the issue of the Vice Presidency has been settled, what does this mean in the greater scheme of things? A national mandate is definitely a big advantage coming into an election year. Six of our Presidents were Vice Presidents first before becoming residents of Malacañang Palace. The ruling also puts Mrs. Robredo at equal footing with President Duterte on having mandates to serve their respective offices.

Winning the Vice Presidency means you won a zero sum game.

We are 14 months away from another presidential elections. Since December speculation has been filled with who will be slugging it out to become the next President of the Philippines. Pundits have been floating names like presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, ex-Sen. Bongbong Marcos, and neophyte Sen. Manny Pacquiao as possible contenders.

On the other hand, who are the VP aspirants? In our country, it is rather unfortunate that the VP is almost always regarded as a spare tire. Someone waiting for the sitting President to be reduced to a flat tire so he or she could shine.  The minute the VP is seen as a presidential candidate, he or she is immediately painted as a villain with an ambitious scheme.

Thus, our VP candidate has always been trapped in the corner, pushed to prove his/her pure intentions instead of be given the chance to shine. With the Philippine elections looming in the horizons, why not start looking for a VP candidate and maybe start changing the current narrative about the place of the VP in our political landscape.

Many names being floated are mostly members of the 18th Congress, many of whom are “graduating” already, or their terms of office are ending. But one name stands out – that of Senator Joel Villanueva. This is because Villanueva is just on his first term as a Senator. He was first elected as a party list representative from the Citizens Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC). He became the youngest in the 13th Congress at age 27.

When he was my guest at Kapihan sa Manila Bay on Oct. 7 last year, the Senator addressed me again as “Tita” because he considers me a relative. Our Villanueva clan also comes from his home province Bulacan. Growing up under a strict religious household, Joel is guided by the fear of God’s wrath against anything sinful. He is the son of Bro. Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus is Lord Movement who now sits in the CIBAC party list in the 18th Congress.

And being raised as a preacher like his father, Joel passes on the moral teachings of his faith to his constituents, and to anyone under his leadership, translating the words of the Bible into hope, honesty, humility, devotion, and the will to always do good and choose only what is right and just.

In the Philippines, we pick a President by voting in an election but often, choosing a VP is an afterthought. Sadly, this deprives a good chance to those who can actually serve as an ideal VP to the Filipinos.

Of all the names being floated, VP Leni is the only one who has already won a mandate equivalent to the Presidency. She is in the perfect position to mount a presidential bid – having the mandate to govern and already winning a zero-sum election.

VP Robredo is on the roll. If she plays her cards right, no amount of the President’s rants can stop her track to possibly becoming the second highest official to be elected as next resident at Malacañang.

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