By Artchil B. Fernandez
There is a new “meme queen” in Philippine digital landscape. She is no other than Vice President Sara Duterte. In recent weeks, memes on Sara Duterte of various shapes, sizes and versions exploded in social media. The focus of these memes is the P650 million confidential funds of Duterte as vice president and education secretary and her reaction to the questions raised on them.
Sara Duterte created a firestorm when it was revealed during budget hearings that she has P500 million confidential funds as vice president and another P150 million as education secretary. Confidential funds as defined by Joint Circular No. 2015-01 are “for expenses related to surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support their mandate or operations.” Why does she need a huge confidential fund when surveillance activities which are part of national security concern are beyond the scope of her function as vice president and education secretary? This is the critical question the nation is asking. The money is public fund, the money of the people.
What horrified the public is the way Sara Duterte responded to the questions related to her request for huge confidential funds. Instead of enlightening the Filipino people why she needs an enormous amount that is exempted from usual government audit, Duterte reacted with fire and fury, throwing tantrums.
Two lawmakers, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros and ACT Teachers Representative France Castro, raised disturbing and valid questions regarding Sara Duterte’s confidential funds. She not only refused to answer the questions regarding her confidential funds, she instead, personally attacked the two lawmakers. Duterte charged Hontiveros for her “flair for drama” and Castro for “lying.” Duterte gave blanket denials about her controversial confidential funds, failing to clarify why she needs them.
The controversy deepened when it was also uncovered that late last year, she got P125 million confidential fund which her office spent in a record of 11 days or P11.363636 million a day. There are also questions on the legality of the transfer of the money to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) from the Office of the President (OP) since there is no line item for confidential funds under the OVP in the 2022 national budget.
Spending P11.363636 million a day or P473,484 per hour of people’s money fueled public outrage on Sara Duterte’s confidential funds and become ammunition for more creative memes. Sen. Hontiveros echoed public sentiment expressing shock over such wanton spending of public fund. “What kind of magic did they employ to use up P125 million in just 11 days? That’s not a spending spree. That is an insult to the people.” Hontiveros challenged Duterte to explain how she used people’s money in a short time. “We’ll just go back to the same question: Where did you take the money? The entire nation is waiting for an explanation. That is not your money,” she dared Duterte.
Instead of explaining her record-breaking spending spree of people’s money, Duterte again accused Castro and Hontiveros of having a “dirty imagination” and dismissed the questions on her scandalous spending of public fund as mere “assumptions.” Yet she failed to provide answers regarding the disappearance of P125 million under her care by being transparent how she used the money.
What the Filipino people saw in the past weeks is the real persona of Sara Duterte, particularly how he handled the dispute on her confidential fund. She is unmasked as an entitled brat, a spoiled kid who throws tantrums when questioned on her activities and behavior as public official. She resorts to ad hominem and personal attacks in place of mature and rational discourse. Her outbursts are immature and deeply annoying.
Bratty Sara behaves like she is still mayor in Davao City, her fiefdom. When mayor, she used to get what she wants. Nobody from the local government or within her little “kingdom” dares to question her actions. She is infamous for punching a local sheriff who was doing his job and stood up to her. Duterte assumes she is still in Davao City that always allows having her way. But the national stage is a different ball game.
It appears an upgrade from local to national does not translate into an upgrade in one’s breeding and manners. The failure of Sara Duterte to improve her breeding in the national scene is due to her “habitus” in sociological vocabulary. Habitus is a Bourdieusian concept. It refers to “durable and transposable dispositions through which we perceive, judge, and act in the world” (Wacquant 2006). It is acquired and developed in the individual according to Wacquant (2006) through “particular social conditions and conditionings, via the internalization of external constraints and possibilities.”
Sara Duterte’s bratty and entitled disposition mirrors her “habitus” acquired while growing in the social milieu of Davao City where she is spoiled, always getting what she wants. Habitus is sticky and one does not discard it in an instant even if one’s social status or standing has leveled up. Duterte’s paroxysms and outbursts, her adamant refusal to answer questions regarding her shameful spending of public fund all expose the kind of “habitus” she has. It is one that is privileged, no sense of social accountability, and above all a “habitus” that looks at the national treasury as personal piggy bank.
It is scary Sara Duterte is positioning herself as the next president of the country. This orgy of amassing huge confidential funds is part of the preparation for the 2028 presidential election. A president with a “habitus” like that of Sara Duterte is frightening. It is an authoritarian leadership that is crude, shameless, no conscience, no guilt-feeling, entitled, and unaccountable. In short it is bratty regime.