Vice President Leni Robredo, whose claim to the vice presidency is contested before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, currently resides in a plush mansion in the high-end New Manila district of Quezon City (QC). It is actually a sprawling estate, and calling it a mansion is being simplistic.
The mansion is owned by the QC government. In June 2016, QC Mayor Herbert Bautista offered it to Robredo after she was proclaimed vice president. At that time, Bautista was affiliated with the Liberal Party (LP) of Robredo.
Like the many political butterflies in Quezon City, Bautista abandoned the LP after President Rodrigo Duterte won the 2016 presidential election. Bautista then shifted his allegiance to the pro-administration political party, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino. Robredo, however, remained in the New Manila mansion.
In the 2019 national budget, Congress allotted P664 million for the Office of the Vice President, an increase of P216 million from the previous year. From that P664 million, P12 million is for the annual rent for both Robredo’s New Manila mansion and another place, reportedly another mansion, for her security personnel. That’s a cool P1 million in rental payments every month.
The New Manila mansion is big enough to provide quarters for Robredo’s bodyguards. Why those bodyguards have to live elsewhere at public expense, and in supposedly another mansion at that, is a big mystery.
Why does the QC government even own that mansion? Does the Quezon City charter allow city hall to engage in the real estate business?
Also, why is Robredo allowed by Congress to live in a taxpayer-funded mansion when her predecessors did not have that luxury? She can well afford to rent her own temporary home in Metropolitan Manila.
Truth to tell, it is unconstitutional for Congress to appropriate public money to pay for an official residence for the Vice President.
Section 6, Article VII of the Constitution mandates that the president shall have an official residence. Although the same section mentions the salaries of both the president and the vice president, it says nothing about an official residence for the latter.
If it was the intention of the Constitution to give the vice president an official residence, then the Charter should have so explicitly said so, as it did regarding the official residence of the president. There being no constitutional mandate for it, spending public funds for an official residence for the vice president violates the Constitution.
The rationale behind that constitutional mandate is seen from the status of the president as the recognized leader of the Philippines. Unlike the Senate President, House Speaker and Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice who are not elected to such posts by the electorate and who can act officially only in unison with their peers, the president enjoys a direct mandate from the voters and has the sole power to perform official presidential acts.
In addition, the president is the only official who can represent the Republic by his lonesome. Foreign dignitaries do not visit Congress or the SC to present their credentials. They see the president at his official residence.
The Constitution mandates that the president shall have an official residence because of the foregoing reasons, and not because he is the head of one of the branches of the government mentioned in the Constitution, i.e., the Executive department.
If the president is entitled to an official residence simply because he is the head of the Executive branch, then the heads of the other branches mentioned in the Constitution, i.e., the Senate President, the House Speaker and the Chief Justice, should likewise have their own official residences. They don’t because they do not have the same constitutional and political status the president enjoys.
So, if the heads of the other branches are not entitled to their own official residences, it is absurd and unfair that the vice president, who is not even the head of any branch of the government, and is in fact only a part of the Executive branch, should be entitled to an official residence.
In other words, there is no constitutional justification for Congress to appropriate public funds for a mansion to house the vice president.
By allowing the disbursement of public funds for Robredo’s mansion, Congress violated the Constitution. The unwarranted preferential treatment Congress gave to a public official whose only constitutional function is to succeed the president also smacks of special legislation in violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.