The Philippines' Problematical New Veep

There is one big fly in the ointment of reform and clean government promised by the soon-to-be installed administration of Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III: his vice-president Jejomar (JesusJosephMary) Binay.

The oft-elected mayor of the Makati district, Manila's business hub, Binay surprisingly prevailed over Noynoy's running mate Manuel "Mar" Roxas in the recent polls. Thus the new president finds himself with an uneasy bedfellow in the running mate of Joseph "Erap" Estrada, the president ousted in the People Power revolt against Estrada's corrupt and incompetent regime.

Binay's success suggests that the urge for clean government was not the only factor at work in an election which gave Noynoy an overwhelming victory. For Binay, his populist stances, record of effective rule of Makati and high-profile fights with the outgoing administration of Gloria Arroyo triumphed, albeit narrowly, over Roxas, a competent but elitist former investment banker and grandson of the Philippines first president Manuel Roxas. Binay's own controversial career and alliance with Estrada proved a help, not a handicap for one who has never been a nationally elected senator and with no obvious power base outside the capital.

The question now is what Noynoy should do with Binay, who may yet hanker after the presidency, even though he will be 73 years old by the time the next election is due. Should he be included in the cabinet, putting at risk Noynoy's assurances that ministers will be appointed for competence and cleanliness rather than for political favors, and creating a possible rival faction with the cabinet? Or should he be given some grandiose title but limited role outside the cabinet and day-to-day government? In which case would Binay see that as a slight and use his influence quietly to disrupt Noynoy's efforts to get legislation enacted by money-oriented congressmen and the ego-tripping senators?

The situation is complicated by the fact that Noynoy is said to be on good personal terms with Binay, who was first appointed as Makati mayor by Cory Aquino in 1986 as reward for his role in the Edsa revolution when he earned the nickname "Rambotito" – little Rambo.

Binay has been in charge of Makati ever since. Elected several times between 1988 and 1998, he let his wife have one turn in the office from 1998 to 2001 before returning as mayor from 2002 to 2010 when the baton was passed to his son Jejomar Jr.

Binay is a classic big-city boss who has adroitly used the resources available from Makati's hosting of the office towers which form Manila's central business district to fund lots of projects which have burnished his pro-poor image. Indeed, Makati's wealth has enabled Binay to extend his godfatherly largesse to lesser cities and barangays around the nation.

Various corruption allegations have been hurled against him, some by persons known for probity, but it is also hard to tell how much some of these have been based on facts and how far on the machinations of his political rivals.

Mostly recently he has been in a battle with the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which claims that P1.1 billion (US$23.67 million) in withholding taxes on city employees is due from the Makati government. Whether or not this claim was part of a campaign by the Arroyo government to discredit him, it presents Noynoy with another dilemma. He has promised to bridge the yawning budget gap by improving tax administration rather than introducing new taxes. It is obvious to all that corruption and favoritism are key reasons for poor tax collection. Can he persuade the internal revenue office to clean up its act if it has a legitimate case against Binay's Makati?

For sure, vice-presidents have little function other than what they are given by the president. But Noynoy has scant administrative experience and a reputation for being too nice to be tough. Moral authority derived from his mother, and backed by his own clean reputation, was the source of his victory and the basis of his power as he takes office. He cannot afford to compromise with sleaze for the sake of short term political expediency.

As he finalizes his appointments' list, "What to do with Binay" will be a big question. And the answer could say much about how Noynoy intends to govern.