The Philippine Star : Tandem

By Alex Magno | The Philippine Star

Filipinos prefer to elect their vice president directly. Then they usually elect a vice president who belongs to a party other than that of their president.

In 1992, we elected Fidel Ramos president and Joseph Estrada vice president. In 1998, we elected Estrada president and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo vice president. In 2004, the trend was broken when Arroyo and broadcaster Noli de Castro were both elected.

In the 2010 elections, we returned to the trend electing Benigno Aquino III president and Jojo Binay vice president. In 2016, we elected Rodrigo Duterte president and Leonor Robredo vice president. Only once under the 1987 Constitution did we elect our two highest officials from the same party.

Our system is different from the US where the vice president is not elected separately. Therefore the president and the vice president always come from the same party. This makes a lot of sense. In the event of the president’s death or incapacity, the successor will surely come from the same political bloc and follow the same policy trajectory.

In the US system, the president and the vice president work in close partnership. The vice president is constantly around the president and attends the most crucial meetings. We saw the best of that in the close partnership between Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They were not only partners in governance. They were genuinely good friends with the highest trust for each other.

When Biden, a seasoned politician, agreed to be Obama’s running mate, he had only one condition: that he be the last person in the room when the president had to make a vital decision. For two terms, he served as adviser and confidante to Obama.

I have not come across any systematic study on why Filipinos prefer to elect the vice president separately and why they usually vote for someone outside the president’s party. The way we do things creates succession uncertainties and uncomfortable relations between the two highest elected officials.

Estrada in 1992 won more convincingly than Ramos, who was locked in a tight contest with Miriam Defensor Santiago. President Ramos found a workable solution to keep his vice president busy and happy, even if he was effectively kept away from the policymaking process. He appointed Estrada head of an elite crime-fighting unit, enjoying enough elbowroom to do his thing.

When Estrada was elected president, he appointed vice president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo social welfare secretary. It was a safe appointment as far as Estrada was concerned. The DWSD was a marginal post even as its head was a member of the Cabinet.

Arroyo loyally served Estrada until events made that loyalty untenable. I was in one meeting, at the height of the Estrada impeachment trial, where Arroyo allies were pressuring her to resign her Cabinet post. Tempers flared and voices were raised. Arroyo insisted that the people saw Estrada and herself as the father and mother of the nation. Turning against her president struck her as unseemly.

When protests broke out after the “second envelope” controversy at the impeachment trial, Arroyo eventually accepted her role as constitutional successor. She remained hesitant about it and post-Edsa Dos validated her reluctance. She was painted a power-grabber by Estrada supporters.

Upon assuming the presidency after Estrada’s “constructive resignation” (using the Supreme Court’s language), Arroyo appointed Sen. Teofisto Guingona as vice president. Guingona was eventually appointed foreign secretary – the same post to which Cory Aquino dispatched Doy Laurel in 1986.

The relationship between president Arroyo and vice president Guingona could not be described as warm. Guingona repeatedly threatened to resign his post over policy differences with his president. Fortunately, the remaining portion of Estrada’s term of office was brief.

In 2004, Arroyo chose broadcaster Noli de Castro as her running mate. It was a safe choice. De Castro was not a skilled powerbroker capable of threatening the Arroyo presidency.

Upon winning the elections, Arroyo appointed de Castro to head the housing agencies. Noynoy Aquino used the same formula on his surprise vice president Jojo Binay.

In 2016, Duterte found himself saddled with Leni Robredo of the LP as his elected vice president. He never quite figured out what to do with her. Leni was titular head of the opposition and was constantly criticizing the policies of the Duterte administration.

At one point, given all the criticisms she leveled against the drug war, Duterte offered Robredo supervision of the anti-drug effort. That did not turn out too well and Robredo was at the post for only about two weeks.

If the voter preference surveys hold, we will likely see the tandem of Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte swept to office by a large margin. This will be unusual to say the least.

Unlike the Arroyo-de Castro tandem, the Bongbong-Sara tandem is a partnership of equals. Recall that Sara was the frontrunner in the early preference surveys before she decided to slide down to be Marcos’ running mate. The UniTeam is a merger of Sara’s “solid south” bailiwick with Marcos’ “solid north.”

In all the surveys, Bongbong and Sara’s numbers do not stray too far from each other. This underscores the incredible discipline with which this campaign was conducted. Their voters see them as a package deal. This is not true for the other pairings.

There were attempts by some local Mindanao politicians to pair Leni Robredo with Sara, calling the mixed match-up “Ro-Sa.” This is understood as an effort to tap the large Mindanao vote to somehow benefit Robredo. That alternate match-up did not catch fire.

There is great likelihood the next administration could feature a presidential and vice presidential partnership comparable to the productive Obama-Biden tandem.