What’s the man to do?

07/02/2010 -MANILA, Philippines — What’s the man to do?

His chair is too big; his office is a tad too small, too warm and too bare.

And the budget? Lesser than one barangay in Makati.

On his first day in a new office Thursday, Vice President Jejomar Binay might well have missed his swank office in his former kingdom, Makati City.

The longtime mayor of the Philippines’ prime city and the proud builder of Makati City Hall with its top-of-the-line office furnishings is now holding court in a rented office occupying half of the seventh floor of the Philippine National Bank Building in Pasay City.

Speaking with reporters, Binay said he intended to spruce up his bare surroundings: “Bibihisan ko muna ito at hubad na hubad nga eh.”

(He groused to his staff during their first official meeting: “You’re the Vice President but you can’t even hold office on the entire floor.”)

Settling on his cushioned chair, he found the seat too wide for comfort.

“Can I have this chair fixed too?” he said in Filipino, cracking up the entire room. “With my size, I can’t rest my back. How did [former Vice President] Noli de Castro do it? This is only for 6-footers.”

‘Konting yabang’

Binay had earlier said he wanted to hold office elsewhere, most likely at Coconut Palace in the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Pasay.

The lavish mansion built during the Marcos era has been serving as a guest house for dignitaries and a popular venue for weddings.

The old, five-level Makati City Hall across from the glass-paneled, 22-story edifice that Binay had built was the first choice, but he joked that he was having trouble getting permission from the new mayor, his son and namesake Junjun Binay.

“Dapat may konti ring yabang, ’wag lang yung sosobra (There has to be a bit of swagger, but not too much),” Binay said of the purported necessity of a posh office. “There must be dignity commensurate to the occupant of the office.”

To his staff, he complained that the Vice President, often referred to as a “spare tire” in government, did not have a permanent office and an official residence.

“A provincial governor has a governor’s mansion. The Vice President comes home to his own house,” he said, eliciting laughter in the conference room.

Paintings, etc.

Binay said he had asked his wife Elenita’s help to make his new office more pleasing.

He said he would add more paintings to the lone frame hanging on the wall to the right of his desk, and might well ask for the air-conditioning to be fixed.

“It’s a bit warm. Maybe we have to lower the blinds,” he said.

Binay also learned that the Vice President’s office was running on a budget of P187 million, smaller than his average barangay budget of P250 million.

“The money I left to my son (Mayor Junjun Binay) is P11 billion,” he said, adding in jest: “I’ll get a rash staying here.”

According to the staff, the Vice President has had no official vehicle since the time of Prime Minister Cesar Virata (1981).

Binay thus gave instructions to check what the office lacked, and said he would ask Malacañang for support.

Management style

Hitting the ground running, Binay told the members of his new staff that he would run the office as if he were in the private sector—a management style he employed as mayor of Makati for more than two decades.

In an exchange marked by both light banter and serious talk, he told them to move on from the mind-set that the Vice President was a spare tire.

“I’m the No. 2 man in the executive department. Our only difference with the President is that he has regular departments. That’s the only thing we don’t have, but we are in an executive position,” he said.

Binay also told his staff to use the usual government work schedule of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

He was surprised to learn that the roughly 100 members of the staff came to work at different times under a flexitime arrangement—some at 7 a.m., others at 8 a.m. and the rest at 9 a.m.

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