Leni fired as drug czar: Panelo: VP ‘unduly baiting international attention’

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    BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and WENDELL VIGILIA

    PRESIDENT Duterte has fired Vice President Ma. Leonor “Leni” Robredo as co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said yesterday.

    “Yes,” Medialdea said in a message to media when asked if Robredo was sacked from her post just two weeks after the President appointed her as drug czar.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, in a statement last night, said Robredo’s “services” as ICAD co-chair was being terminated “in response to the suggestion of Liberal Party president Sen. Francis Pangilinan to just fire the Vice President from her post. This is also in response to the taunt and dare of VP Robredo for the President to just tell her that he wants her out.”

    The reports and Panelo’s statement came hours after Robredo said in her weekly radio program that President Duterte will have to fire her because she has no plan to resign as ICAD co-chair. She said it was the President who appointed her to the ICAD and he has the authority to fire her.

    “Ako, siyempre, kapag tinanggal ako, wala naman ako, wala akong magagawa, pero hindi ako magre-resign (I can’t do anything if he fires me but I won’t resign),” Robredo said in her regular radio program “Biserbisyong Leni” aired over RMN-DZXL.

    The President on Saturday said the Vice President has yet to do something since being named as ICAD co-chairman. He designated Robredo as drug czar only on October 31. The Vice President accepted the post on November 6 but has yet to meet and talk to the President about the scope and functions of her work at ICAD and as drug czar.

    The developments came hours after Duterte apologized to Robredo for believing “false news” that said she has invited a United Nations investigator to look into the anti-illegal drugs campaign of the Duterte administration.

    Panelo, in the statement, said the President has been “more than patient enough” and has given Robredo “adequate opportunity to discuss possible courses of action with him” but more than two weeks has passed and Robredo “has not presented any new program that she envisioned to implement.”

    He also said the President’s designation of Robredo “was not like any offer to perform a certain task.”

    “It was an offer to make the campaign against illegal drugs better – a chance where both this administration and the political opposition could have unified in fighting the social ill that has destroyed the lives of many and imperiled thousands others, in addition to creating a multitude of dysfunctional families and threatening the present and the next generation to useless existence. Unfortunately, she wasted such opportunity and used the same as a platform to attack the methods undertaken by this administration. Such tack was even motivated by hubris to prove their past arguments against the anti-illegal drug operations were correct. It at once crumbled as her request for police data validated the falsity of their arguments that the extra-judicial killings are state-sponsored,” he added.

    He also said if Robredo was “really serious in addressing the cause of the drug problem, she should have gone down to the grassroots — talking to the victims, to their families, and to the communities. Instead, she opted to have audience with the United Nations and the United States embassy officials who remain out of touch from the realities of the local drug problem on the ground.”

    ‘AMPLE AUTHORITY’

    He also said the President gave the Vice President “ample authority and powers to direct all responsible government instrumentalities to act in accordance with the strategic objectives that she might have had in mind, in line with putting an end to the drug menace in our country.”

    “However, the Vice President resorted to unduly baiting international attention on the matter, particularly from persons or entities that know little or none at all about our situation, other than their own bias or unsubstantiated prejudgment,” he also said.

    “Further, given the transparency of her motive to politicize the issue, the intention of the Vice President to seek access to confidential law enforcement information can not be given the benefit of the doubt as being free from malice or manipulation. Essentially, what the Vice President has done is to embarrass our country, apart from detrimentally undermining the government’s efforts to preserve the general welfare,” he added.

    ‘FALSE NEWS’

    The President, in an interview with ABS-CBN on Saturday night, said he did not know that it was “false news” until it the Vice President herself said she did not invite the UN prosecutor.

    “If she says that’s false news, ako (me) I believe her. And I am sorry because, I said, you only realize that it is false news when the news comes out. And you hear it and you talk about it, you react to it. That is the problem,” Duterte said.

    The President said in an earlier interview did not appoint Robredo to his Cabinet because of and statements she made shortly after being appointed as ICAD co-chair.

    Duterte has said Robredo’s demand for access to confidential and classified intelligence information and documents, as well as her talks and invitation to personalities and groups that are critical of the war against drugs, has raised a red flag.

    In response, Robredo said she met only with representatives of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the United States Embassy in Manila, which have been assisting the Philippine government in addressing the problem on illegal drugs trade.

    The President on Saturday reiterated he does not and could not trust the Vice President, especially with classified information, because she belongs to the opposition.

    “There can never be trust that can be nurtured between the two of us for the simple reason that Leni Robredo is with the opposition. Ako andito sa kabila (Me, I’m in the other side),” he said.

    Robredo used to be part of the Duterte Cabinet as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) which oversees the government housing projects but later resigned due to some differences with the administration.

    ‘CAN’T TRUST HER’

    Duterte, in a media interview Saturday at the “presentation” or baptism of great-grandson Rodrigo “Tres” Duterte III in Davao City, reiterated he decided against appointing Robredo to the Cabinet because it would give her access to discussions and information shared in the Cabinet, which in the end might be used for politics.

    He added it is not a question on whether he trusts or likes her or not. He said he just “cannot trust her” because she is from the opposition.

    IMPORTANT JOB

    Robredo, in the radio program before news about her firing broke out, said she would not leave her post because she has an important job to do, especially now that she is getting the hang of it, learned there are a lot of things to be done, and knows she can help a lot.

    Robredo was reacting to presidential spokesman Panelo who said earlier the Vice President is free to leave if she is still uncomfortable in her new post.

    Panelo issued the statement after the Vice President said all the President needs to do it is to say it right to her face that he wants her out of the drug war. The President has said he does not trust Robredo because she is from the opposition.

    Robredo said she has been adjusting to her new job in the past three weeks and while she has been gaining a lot of headway, she was still finding it hard to deal with the law enforcement side of the campaign “because there is still a resistance inside.”

    Robredo, however, had nothing but praises for Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, saying he is “consummate professional.”

    “Sa kaniya, wala talaga iyong kulay pulitika. Sa kaniya basta trabaho, trabaho. Kung ganoon lang… wala tayong problema (To him, there’s no political color. It’s just work and work. If everybody is just like that… we’ll have no problems),” she said.

    Last Tuesday, the President announced he has decided against giving Robredo a Cabinet post due to the supposed “missteps” she made in her first two weeks as ICAD co-chair. In a late night press conference on Tuesday, the President did not hide his displeasure over Robredo’s meetings with foreign organizations like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

    The Vice President earlier belied the President’s claims that she has reached out to International Criminal Court prosecutors because of the thousands of deaths caused by the drug war, calling it “false news.”

    She said does not even know a single United Nations prosecutor and she did not invite anyone to look into the killings. (Duterte on Saturday apologized to Robredo for believing in “false news.”)

    Robredo said she has only reached out to officials of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and United States Embassy in Manila to discuss the cooperation between two countries in the fight against illegal drugs.

    SAL TAUNTS BETTE

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said Hollywood singer-actress Bette Midler should be more circumspect as an influencer and should refrain from giving “one-sided and judgmental comments” on foreign leaders and the internal affairs of another country.

    Panelo made the statement on Sunday after Midler, on social media, listed Duterte among infamous world leaders like Adolf Hitler, North Korean head Kim Jong Un, and US President Donald Trump.

    Midler, in her Twitter account, was making a statement about the impeachment inquiry against Trump when she named several personalities, including Duterte.

    “For Americans who think the impeachment hearings have nothing to do with them, think again. Want to leave the door open to a Hitler? A Stalin? A Castro? A Duterte? A Pol Pot? A Putin? An Assad? A Chavez? A Kim Jong Un? A Mussolini? A Mugabe? An Amin?” she said in her tweet.

    Panelo said while Miller has the right to criticize in her country as an exercise of her freedom of expression, “she, however, has no right as she is incompetent and a gullible talking head as well, on matters concerning foreign leaders she has no personal knowledge of.

    “She should be circumspect as an influencer and should refrain from giving one-sided and judgmental comments on internal affairs of another sovereign state, especially if her references are false narratives coming from the political opposition and some biased media outlets whose agenda is to besmirch President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and his administration before the global stage,” he added.

    He said Miller should learn from her own songs like “From a Distance,” and “look at a foreign leader of a distant country with a positive outlook.”