Dutertes’ anger at secret fund scrutiny, queries opens crack in ‘UniTeam’
MANILA, Philippines—With the decision of the House of Representatives to strip Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte of P650 million in confidential funds, her father, Rodrigo Duterte, seemed to have no choice but to come to her defense.
The former president said Sara was planning to use some of the Department of Education’s (DepEd) confidential funds for the revival of the controversial Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).
He told SMNI, a radio station owned by Duterte pal Apollo Quiboloy, that Sara will insist in making ROTC compulsory.
But based on government documents, confidential funds are only for confidential expenses related to surveillance activities in civilian government offices that are intended to support their mandate or operations.
The elder Duterte later said he prodded his daughter to instead say that her confidential funds—P500 million for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and P150 million for DepEd—would be used against “communists in Congress.”
He even went on threatening one of the fiercest critics of confidential and intelligence funds in the government, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro of the progressive Makabayan bloc in the House.
The elder Duterte’s thirst for secret funds, which was removed from his daughter’s OVP and DepEd budgets by a “small committee”, also led him to attack the institution that had backed him throughout his six-year presidency.
The House is the “most corrupt institution,” he alleged.
But House Secretary General Reginald Velasco immediately countered the former president, saying that the institution is constantly subjected to checks and balances, even by the COA, which was once criticized by the elder Duterte, too.
The row became evident, even online, with his propagandists echoing his words. Some even said the House, even the Senate, has billions of pesos worth of funds for extraordinary expenses and that Sara is being singled out.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s secret funds should be removed, too, some said.
The constant Duterte
Velasco pointed out that Rodrigo’s expletives were offensive and that a lot of the members of the House considered the remarks of the former leader as a serious attack, saying that the institution has been unwavering in its dedication to serve Filipinos.
The elder Duterte’s latest outburst is consistent with his usual way of expressing anger.
Remember how he outrightly stated, even without presenting evidence, that once a person is addicted to drugs, rehabilitation is no longer a viable option, or that the presidency is not for women because “the emotional setup of a woman and a man is totally different.”
He was the one, too, who claimed that rich government officials could not commit corruption because they’re rich already, or that the International Criminal Court, which is investigating him for drug-related killings, is “useless.” He had said masks should be cleaned with petrol, too.
Based on a previous assessment of his mental health, which was commissioned by Dr. Natividad Dayan for the annulment of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s marriage to Duterte in 1998, it was found that he suffered from “antisocial narcissistic personality disorder.”
It is characterized by “gross indifference, insensitivity and self-centeredness,” “grandiose sense of self-entitlement and manipulative behaviors,” and “pervasive tendency to demean, humiliate others and violate their rights and feelings.”
Last nail in the coffin
Rodrigo’s tirades, however, did not come without a cost.
His attack against the House is something that was least expected, especially for a former president, who once supported Speaker Martin Romualdez. The House he attacked was the same institution, too, that granted him billions of pesos worth of confidential and intelligence funds.
Throughout his presidency, Duterte received P2.5 billion in confidential funds each year from 2017 to 2019. This increased to P4.5 billion each year from 2020 to 2022, way higher than his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III’s almost constant P500 million.
Next year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is set to receive P4.5 billion in secret funds, too.
Romualdez, leader of the House, is the cousin of Marcos, Sara’s teammate in last year’s elections. With the intensifying row, which is still being denied by some, the elder Duterte’s tirades could be the last nail in the coffin for the “UniTeam” of Marcos and Sara.
This is the “game and rivalries of the elites,” a political scientist said.
Looking back, Sara was expected to not settle for anything less than the presidency but later filed a certificate of candidacy for vice president. Rodrigo had said he did not find it a good decision, stressing he initially wanted her to run for president.
Almost two years later, Sara resigned from Romualdez’s Lakas-CMD, lamenting political “toxicity” and “power play.” Her resignation came after her close ally, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was removed as senior deputy speaker.
Dr. Maria Ela Atienza, professor of political science at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, said the row is “something we have expected to happen given the lack of strong parties and the dominance of personalities and political families.”
But Filipinos won’t yet see Marcos and Sara directly engaging in a tit-for-tat. As Atienza explained, “perhaps, they still want to present a semblance of unity […] after all, early dissolution of the alliance will yield vulnerabilities for both parties that both camps can exploit.”
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“However, their allies and supporters are already challenging each other, even online.”
“It will be an interesting period to observe,” Atienza told INQUIRER.net.
Atienza pointed out that “their ‘UniTeam’ was an alliance between two political families and supported by other politicians and political families. “They united to win and they succeeded.”
The problem, however, is that they have not been united in how to govern because of a lack of ideological or programmatic integration or agreement, she said.
Atienza stressed that “the ‘unity’ had already been very weak and can be easily broken at any time, especially with different personalities seeking dominance and preparing for the next elections.”
She pointed out that the “cracks are already there from the very beginning,” saying that “aside from weak political parties, there are too many personalities and factions with their own followers.”
UP Diliman political science professor Dr. Jorge Tigno, pointing to what Prof. Ramon Casiple had stressed, said without a doubt, there is an obvious need to reform the country’s party system to strengthen Philippine democratic institutions and processes.
He stated in a discussion paper published by the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies that given the persistent problems and challenges associated with political parties in the Philippines, “the need for reforms is both obvious and immediate.”
“The country continues to suffer from nonprogrammatic and highly personalized parties, leading to frequent party-switching and the dilution of party platforms. This has the effect of undermining free democratic choices as parties become indistinguishable from one another,” he said.
As pointed out by Atienza, “in this game and rivalries of the elites, the citizens are the losers because of poor governance.”
The opposition and progressive sectors, she said, “can use these rivalries to actually work with people in the grassroots for genuine demands for accountability and reforms that will benefit citizens.”