VICE President Leni Robredo remains unfazed that her new job as the administration’s anti-drug czar will inevitably put her security at risk, saying she cannot allow threats to stop her from performing her new duties and responsibilities.
“Pareho kami mag-asawa. Iyong asawa ko ganoon din. Iyong sa akin, masyado akong fatalistic about it. Siguro pu-problemahin ng security ko kung paano ako i-secure (My husband and I are the same. I’m too fatalistic about. My security [team] will take care of it),” she said on her radio program Biserbisyong Leni aired over RMN-DZXL.
Robredo continued: “Pero iyong sa akin hindi ko siya hahayaan na maging sagabal. Iyong takot sa seguridad, hindi ko siya hahayaan maging sagabal sa trabahong kailangan kong gawin (I won’t allow it to be a hindrance. The fear for my security, I won’t allow it to stop me from doing what I have to do).”
Robredo’s spokesman, Barry Gutierrez said the Vice President is not scared to join anti-illegal drug operations as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD).
Her ICAD co-chair, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino, has invited the vice president to join some of the operations, another challenge that Robredo accepted.
Aquino assured the Vice President’s security during the operations.
“I won’t let her be in harm’s way,” Aquino said, noting his experience in securing the late president Corazon Aquino and former president Fidel Ramos when he was still assigned with the Presidential Security Group.
Aquino said Robredo can join planning conferences and briefings prior to jump-off to anti-drug operations.
“But I won’t let the Vice President join the entry team, I won’t do that. I secured Cory Aquino, I secured Fidel Ramos for eight years and I know how to secure a president,” Aquino said.
Aquino said Robredo will be required to wear a bullet-proof vest and helmet. He said he will accompany the Vice President at a “secure distance” from the area they are going to raid.
“We’re going to be in a distance which should be a safe place for the Vice President. After the (raided) place is secured, then we’ll come in and see what happened. I just hope there will be a firefight (during the raid) so the Vice President will see what really happens,” he said.
Aquino extended the invitation to Robredo on Friday after the Vice President declared an end to killings related to the anti-drugs war.
Robredo and Aquino presided an ICAD meeting on Friday, two days after she accepted President Duterte’s designation for her to co-chair the ICAD.
“It’s next to impossible to stop killings. Again, these drug offenders, these drug personalities are armed and dangerous,” said Aquino, noting that many anti-narcotics personnel have died during such operations.
“We’ve been saying that anyone who enters the target areas, one of their feet is already on the grave,” he added, citing the risks that PDEA agents and policemen face in the war against illegal drugs.
“There will always be casualties if the drug offenders’ intention is to really fight it out.
That’s why I’m saying she should join the operations so she can talk to the operatives on the ground,” added Aquino.
“How can you be a drug czar on the first place if you won’t experience what is really happening on the ground? She should see it, what the troops are doing on the ground, so you can decide, craft programs,” he also said.
“I am inviting her not for anything else. What I just wanted her to know is it’s impossible to stop the killings. If these people (suspects) are armed and dangerous, eventually they will really fight it out with us. What she is saying to stop (the killings) is impossible. How can she stop the killings if these drug offenders will choose to fight it out with us?” he said.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, in a radio interview, said the presence of Robredo during drug raids will neither be a hindrance or distraction to authorities but instead enlighten her about the actual situation on the ground especially during operations.
Panelo said Robredo’s presence will not divide the attention of law enforcers because she will have her own people securing her.
“Iba naman nagse-secure kay VP Leni. May sarili siyang security (The people securing VP Leni are different. She has her own security),” he said.
He added that he was among those that suggested that Robredo should join the war on drug operations to be able to know first-hand what goes on in an operation and see the actual situation that law enforcement agents face on the ground.
Aquino also reiterated his opposition to Robredo’s call to stop Oplan Tokhang, which he said is merely enticing drug users to surrender for rehabilitation.
“Why stop Tokhang? Oplan Tokhang is good. Some people are saying Tokhang is death. No its not,” said Aquino, adding: “My question to the Vice President is, ‘Ma’am, have you read Oplan Tokhang? Did you see anything bad about Oplan Tokhang? Is there something that need to be revised?’ Why is she saying outright that Oplan Tokhang is wrong?”
“She should read what Oplan Tokhang is. Study it and say later if there is anything wrong with Tokhang. I’ve been saying it’s just enticing drug offenders or drug personalities to surrender, that’s it,” he also said.
Robredo said last week “Oplan: Tokhang” should be replaced with a new tack because the campaign has already reached a “certain level of notoriety.”
The Vice President, who was offered the post after consistently criticizing the administration for the alleged cases of “extrajudicial killings,” has even vowed to push for “zero deaths” while she is involved in the drug war, saying she will only work within the bounds of the law.
Robredo has already directive to her subordinates is to focus on the “big fish” instead of zeroing in on the small fry, which is among the criticisms against the government’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs.
Gutierrez said there is a need to heighten Robredo’s security now that she wants to focus the drug war on the leaders of big-time syndicates.
Robredo said all her daughters and almost her allies in the Liberal Party (LP) were against her decision to accept President Duterte’s offer but she decided to follow herself.
“Iyong mga anak ko kasi, Ka Ely, alam noon na matigas iyong ulo ko, eh. Alam talaga nila matigas ang ulo ko kaya kahit kontra sila hindi sila nagulat (My daughters, Ka Ely, they know that I’m hard-headed. They know that I’m really stubborn so they weren’t surprised anymore),” she told co-anchor Ely Saludar.
While her loved ones are worried about her safety, Robredo said she could not let go of the opportunity to make a difference in the war on drugs, of which she has been a vocal critic.
The Vice President said she accepted the challenge because it will give her the legitimacy to question irregularities as a member of the ICAD.
“Kung haharangan nila, Ka Ely, nasa kanila naman iyon. Sa akin magiging very transparent ako sa lahat na ginagawa ko. Kapag hinarangan nila, sasabihin ko na hinaharangan ako.
Pero until such time na hindi ako hinaharangan, gagawin ko iyong tingin ko kailangan kong gawin (If they will block me, Ka Ely, it’s up to them. I’ll remain very transparent and if they try to stop me, I will make it public but until such time, I will do whatever I think should be done),” she said.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. told radio dzBB said administration critics who were against Robredo’s decision to accept Duterte’s offer for her to be the administration’s drug czar should hold their horses and let the Vice President prove her mettle first.
“Let us give the Vice President a chance to prove whether or not she can do the job, that’s why the President, through his spokesperson, said she (Robredo) should be given some leeway so she can prove her worth,” said Barzaga, the president of the National Unity Party (NUP) which is the second largest political party at the House.
Barzaga said those who are warning Robredo that she was just being set up by the administration to fail as ICAD co-chair are being too “pessimistic.”
Among those who did not want Robredo to accept the post was Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman of the Liberal Party who was wary of the administration’s motives in offering the post to Robredo.
To some politicians, however, Barzaga said the Vice President’s decision to accept the challenge “is a very good sign because the President and the Vice President are united in their goal to put end to the drug problem.”
“Sometimes we read in the papers that’s a trap coming from the administration, sometimes we say that it was a wrong decision on the part of the Vice President and that the President and his men were not in good faith when they offered her the job. I think this would be a pessimistic or a negative attitude,” said the lawmaker.
Barzaga said the people should support the President and the Vice President despite their differences because the success of the program will not only be their success “but of the entire Filipino nation.”
“And in the same vein, the failure of this program will be a failure not only on the part of the President and Vice President but a failure on the part of the Filipino nation,” he said.
Panelo acknowledged Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s advise for the Vice President to “watch her back,” saying that there will be some sectors who will want her to succeed while some will want to see her fail.
“Maraming mga gustong sumakay, alam mo na, na mga pulitiko, marami gustong manira.
Mga kalaban niya kung tatakbo siyang president. Lahat naman ng pulitiko, they should be watching their backs dahil marami silang lihim na kaaway,” he said.
On Robredo’s plans to establish communications and connection with the United Nations and even the United States, Panelo said it will be up to the Vice President’s strategies and plans as drug czar.
“Hayaan natin si VP Leni as drug czar na gumawa ng kanya diskarte. Hindi pwedeng madaming mga quarter-backer, madaming nitpicker, madaming haka-haka, maraming mga ispekulasyon. Hayaan natin magtrabaho ang ale. Pabayaan natin siya, suportahan, hindi kung ano-ano ang iniisip natin. Binibigyan natin agad ng mga road blocks. Let us wish her well and support her (Let us let VP Leni as drug czar do her own strategy. We cannot all be quarter-backers, nitpickers. There cannot be too many suspicions, speculations. Let us allow her to work. Let her be, support her instead of coming up with different scenarios.
Let us wish her well and support her),” Panelo said. – With Victor Reyes and Jocelyn Montemayor