Inday Sara projects power

Writers in Manila are generally clueless on how to describe Inday Sara Duterte. That difficulty stems from the fact that the media in Davao City are mute on the Dutertes beyond describing their who-what-when-where activities.

And so the question begs: where is Inday Sara Duterte, the new national political leader coming from? A Davao City source, naturally choosing anonymity, sums it up concisely from years of observing this family: everything has to be understood from the dysfunction of Rodrigo Duterte and his children.

“They have a mean, foul-mouthed, powerful dad. The three siblings do not have much confidence or public persona. They live under their father’s shadow — they simply inherited their positions. They do not have leadership skills,” the source said.

If we are to go by that estimation, Sara’s two recent decisions appear to have been carefully curated to define her. The first is her separate inauguration. Journalist Inday Espina Varona called it a “very subtle power projection.” Despite perceptions that holding her own inauguration was the opposite of the “unity” messaging with the team of Bongbong Marcos, Sara proceeded to hold her own. In Varona’s words, it  is a “projection that she is ready for the job.”

The inauguration was far from simple. It involved the deployment of 2,000 cops, according to the regional spokesperson of the Philippine National Police, despite saying that there were no credible threats. The event was given full broadcast coverage by RTV Malacañang. Celebrity singers were on stage to render numbers. The top traditional politicians of the land were present, including Sara’s kingmaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The emcee had to implore the audience six times “to please settle down now” because the trapos were still out in front taking selfies.

How much did all that cost the taxpayers?

Varona had also mused that the aim of having her separate inauguration was to “make people sit up and see her as somebody who is going to work harder, that she is her own woman.” And then as if on cue, Sara’s second decision that defined her came – she requested for her own Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group (VPSPG) that is separate from the Presidential Security Group that had been simultaneously serving to guard the country’s second highest government official and his family since 1986.

In fact, Sara’s request was made secretly, far from the public’s lens. It was the Armed Forces of the Philippines that broke the news, and let the cat out of the bag. Sara, forced to publicly acknowledge the AFP and the Department of National Defense, gave a very peculiar reason for her request. She said it anticipates “future elections” and the possibility of “strained relations” between the president and the vice president.

We can ideate the flow of that request.

Sara formally wrote the AFP and the DND requesting her own security group, even if one was already in place for the vice president. The DND secretary, an alter ego of her father the president, acted favorably. The AFP chief of staff, the subordinate of her father who is commander in chief, likewise responded positively. Would these two men have been in a position to say no, thereby defying their boss the president who is Sara’s father?

There is clearly a conflict of interest there. Sara could have waited just a minute longer when her father would no longer be in office to make her request, but she did not. There was abuse of office in the making there.

Is there no security group guarding the vice president and her immediate family? In fact there is. What exactly is spelled out in the roles and tasks of the PSG? Among others, it is this: “Providing security to the current Vice President of the Philippines and their immediate families.” It also provides security to “Ex-Vice Presidents and their immediate families (for life).”  Yes make that clear, for life.

Clearly, Sara was asking for a superfluity. Her security is covered by the existing PSG. How much will it cost the taxpayer to provide her with her own security group separate from the PSG? The AFP said it would need more equipment and personnel.

Early on in her campaign, Sara had publicly said she that wanted to be appointed secretary of national defense. Not getting that, her request for security under her father’s watch was like an act of meddling. It also appears that she had not consulted the president-elect on the matter, not even out of courtesy considering that he is the incoming commander in chief.

A military historian aptly said: “It makes a rivalry between a president and a vice president worse by dragging in the military into political factions which is overtly stated in the letter. This will split the military.”

Sara Duterte has indeed served notice that she is now a national power to reckon with – and that she has a fragile ego.

What Inday Sara wants, Inday Sara gets. Not because she is a spoiled brat, but Davao City’s blind appropriation of power to her family has made her a spoiled politician. Those who are prone to authoritarianism have shaped her as such because they think she can get things done.

That does not bode well for an informed democratic culture in the next six years.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.