A month ago, the Daily Tribune published a series of articles about the official residence of Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo. It’s a mansion located at the expensive New Manila district of Quezon City, and taxpayers are paying a million pesos a month for the rent.
It was discussed in those articles that the Constitution contemplates that only the President of the Philippines is entitled to an official residence paid for by taxpayers’ money. Under the same Constitution, the other heads of the coordinate branches of the national government, i.e., the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (SC), are not entitled to any official residence at public expense.
If the heads of the Legislative and Judicial branches of government are not entitled to an official residence, it logically follows that the vice president, who does not even head the Executive department, and who does not exercise any real executive power in the first place, should not be entitled to an official residence — and a plush one at that — at the expense of the taxpayers.
None of the previous vice presidents of the country were ever given an official residence.
Beginning with Vice President Salvador Laurel, who held office from 1986 to 1992, up to the most recent, Jejomar Binay, the vice president was given an office, but not an official residence. Still, the need even for an office for the vice president has not been clearly defined by law.
In the 2019 annual appropriations law, 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 Robredo’s New Manila mansion.
Unless the Vice President is appointed to the Cabinet, the sole function of the vice president under the Constitution is to wait for a vacancy to arise in the Office of the President. Why should the Vice President be given a P664 million annual budget and an official residence at that, when her only job is to wait for that vacancy in Malacañang?
That question triggered a civil rights group in Biñan City in Laguna to consider taking legal action, any time soon, against the expenditure of public funds for an official residence for the Vice President. The suit will be filed in the SC.
Long-time civil rights activist Louis “Barok” Biraogo and his son, Luigi Biraogo, a member of Biñan City’s Sangguniang Kabataan, are spearheading the crusade against Robredo. Many other youth leaders and concerned citizens are expected to join the Biraogo crusade.
The Biraogos emphasized that their crusade is not just about defending the Constitution and guarding against the unconstitutional expenditure of public funds. They stress that they are against what they see as the dishonesty of Robredo.
In addition, the Biraogos said that by accepting an allocation of public funds that should not be hers to spend in the first place, Robredo is being dishonest herself. They added that Robredo has no moral authority to raise the issue of honesty in public office, since she is herself dishonest because she benefitted from the unconstitutional expenditure of taxpayers’ money.
The elder Biraogo is known for his successful petition to declare as unconstitutional Executive Order 1 signed by President Benigno Aquino III, which created the Philippine Truth Commission. Former Sen. Ernesto Maceda revealed that ex-Chief Justice and staunch Aquino III supporter Hilario Davide Jr. wrote EO 1.
Biraogo was also one of the petitioners who succeeded in getting the High Court to void several unconstitutional features of the Aquino administration-supported Cyber Crime Prevention Act, particularly its objectionable provisions that breach privacy rights, and which vest in the Justice secretary the absolute power to close down, without any valid court order, online sites suspected of criminal activity.
In an interview with the Daily Tribune last week, Labor Undersecretary Jacinto “Jing” Paras identified Robredo and outgoing Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV as the anti-administration personalities behind a controversial website responsible for spreading an alleged “narco list” designed to discredit President Rodrigo Duterte. The owner of the site tagged the Liberal Party (LP) as the organizer of the illicit project. That revelation confirms the LP’s desperation to seize political power.