The vice presidency

The vice presidency

Fourth of a series

NOT much is known about the vice presidencies of our country’s earliest vice presidents. It will probably require an undergraduate thesis to study the vice presidency of Gen. Mariano Trias in the aftermath of the Tejeros Convention in 1897. Fortunately, Sergio Osmeña’s biographer, Vicente Albano Pacis, devoted an entire chapter in his two-volume opus entitled, President Sergio Osmeña: A Fully Documented Biography (1971) on the subject matter.

I had to reread Pacis’ work recently on account of my work on this series on the vice presidency and discovered numerous nuggets of knowledge that could prove useful to the current vice president, Sara Duterte-Carpio. Before that — out of an unshakeable habit — I must go into a little bit of historical and political context first.

The 1935 Constitution was, according to Pacis, an embodiment of “considerable borrowings from the American Constitution.” The Office of the Vice President was revived due to such an influence. However, it was earlier resolved in the 1935 Constitutional Convention deliberations that the legislature was going to be unicameral instead of bicameral as had been the case since the establishment of the Senate in 1916.

Historian Ricardo Jose clarifies that the unicameral legislature resulted from the failure of the convention — which was tasked to draft the charter — to resolve disagreements regarding the crafting of a specific bicameral system. There were three proposals concerning the restructuring of the would-be Senate: 1) one senator per province; 2) national election of senators based on proportional representation; and 3) a continuation of the system in the Jones Law where two senators were elected for each of the 12 senatorial districts. Without a clear consensus, the final outcome resorted to a unicameral legislature.

Without a Senate in the original 1935 Constitution — this would later be amended to establish an upper chamber composed of 24 members voted at large, as practiced today — the Commonwealth vice president could not have the same powers and duties as the American vice president, who was concurrently the Senate president. Surprisingly, when the Senate was reestablished under the 1987 Constitution after it was abolished under the martial law-era 1973 Constitution, the framers still did not specify the duties and responsibilities of the vice president. (NB: That point will be discussed in a later column.) Thus, the Commonwealth vice president’s powers and duties were as they are today: unclear at best and nonexistent at worst.

The 1935 Constitution, however, provided that the vice president may be appointed by the president “as a member of his cabinet and also as head of an executive department.” Consequently, President Manuel Quezon deemed it best to continue the practice during the colonial era of giving the then vice governor the public instruction (education) portfolio. Thus, Vice President Sergio Osmeña was appointed Secretary of Public Instruction as his contemporary counterpart, Sara Duterte-Carpio, is at present.

Pacis emphasized that Osmeña, the winning vice-presidential candidate, got 18 percent more votes than the presidential candidate, Quezon. He stressed that Osmeña, a seasoned Cebuano politician, garnered more votes than Quezon in Luzon, including the Tagalog-speaking provinces, except for the latter’s home province of Tayabas.

Pacis’ point was that Osmeña stood on his own two feet. The vice president had his own machinery, being the leader of a major party or, to be more precise, a sizable faction within the dominant Nacionalista Party. As Speaker of the National Assembly from its establishment in 1907 until 1916, senator from 1916 to 1935, kingpin of Cebuano politics, and head of the OsRox Mission that secured the Hare-Hawes-Cutting bill in 1933, Osmeña had national stature and prestige paralleled only by Quezon himself. Osmeña was not Quezon’s butler. He was a political titan himself and would have been a serious challenger to Quezon had he chosen to vie for the presidency.

In the Osmeña biography, Pacis enumerates the former’s accomplishments as Secretary of Public Instruction. More importantly — as a history lesson for Duterte-Carpio — Osmeña accomplished other tasks as the second highest leader of the land. The vice president led a mission to the United States to discuss the implications of the impending Philippine independence on bilateral trade, showing the Americans the importance of this matter to Filipinos. Additionally, Osmeña lent his powerful and unequivocal voice for Philippine independence and against a “reexamination” of it, at a crucial time when Quezon seemed to waver on the subject.

In short, Osmeña did not feel obligated to ride the coattails of Quezon as vice president. He viewed himself as Quezon’s equal in stature — because he truly was. He understood that the nation elected him vice president to hear his voice separately from (but not necessarily contrary to that of) the president, especially on matters of great national importance.

Osmeña properly appreciated what it means to be vice president.

(To be continued)

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