VICE President Leni Robredo yesterday laughed off President Duterte’s “offer” for her to lead the government’s anti-drug campaign, saying the Chief Executive cannot be onion-skinned whenever his war on illegal drugs is criticized.
Robredo doubted that the President was serious in his offer to make her his government’s drug czar, adding she is used to hearing him dish out insults against individuals or groups which rebuke his bloody drug campaign.
“Ako kasi, ayaw kong sagutin muna iyon kasi hindi ko alam kung gaano kaseryoso. Pero iyong sa akin lang, iyong mga problema ng ating bansa, hindi naman dinadaan sa pagkapikon, hindi naman dinadaan sa pang-iinsulto (I don’t want to answer that because I don’t know how serious he is. For me, we can’t solve the country’s problems by being onion-skinned or through insults),” Robredo told reporters in Iloilo where she launched a feeding program for indigent families.
The President on Monday offered to make Robredo his government’s “drug czar” as he lashed at her for her comments on the administration’s bloody war against illegal drugs.
Duterte wants her to lead the drug war for six months but it was not clear if the comment was meant sarcastically. He said he has sent a letter to Robredo through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
Robredo refused to engage in a word war with the President “because I would rather look for solutions.”
She said that from the very start of the Duterte administration, she has always been on the receiving end of the President’s insults, which she said she has not allowed to affect and take away her focus from her work.
“Kaming mga naninilbihan sa taumbayan, walang space para sa aming ego, walang space para sa emosyon, walang space para sa pagka-pikon, kasi hindi namin magagampanan nang maayos iyong aming trabaho (Public servants like us do not have space for ego, for emotions, for being onion-skinned because we won’t be able do our jobs),” Robredo said.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said Robredo should accept Duterte’s offer to prove her mettle and at the same time help the government in its campaign against illegal drugs.
Panelo said the offer was serious and that the President is willing to create a commission that the Vice President can head to help her in the campaign in the next six months.
Panelo claimed he sent a text message to Robredo reiterating the offer but has yet to receive a response from the Vice President.
“The ball is in her court. But if I were in her place, I would accept because this is a rare opportunity for a critic who would be given an opportunity to show her mettle and at the same time helping the government. As we have repeatedly said, you cannot just keep on criticizing the government, you have to support it; you have to offer your own talent and expertise in solving the problems of the land. So this is one rare opportunity,” he said.
Asked to comment if Robredo declined the offer, Panelo said it will only mean that the war on illegal drugs is not a failure as critics like the Vice President has been portraying.
“If she declines, it only shows that it is not true that this war on drugs is a failure and that there should be more or other measures to be undertaken to stop it,” he said.
Panelo, in a separate radio interview, said that it is time for the Vice President to prove that she is not only good with handing criticisms.
“Kung talagang magaling siya, eh tanggapin niya ang hamon ni Presidente. Eh kung hindi niya tatanggapin, eh alam na natin ang lahat-lahat – puro sa bibig lamang iyon, puro kritisismo lang, puro paninira lang ang ginagawa ng oposisyon na kinakagat niya naman (If she is really good, she should accept the President’s challenge. If she will not accept it, then we will all know that she is all talk, just criticisms and all the opposition do is discredit the administration which she just accepts),” he said.
Panelo denied that the President was turning over the campaign to Robredo because his administration had failed in its promise to eradicate illegal drugs. He also dismissed the call of the opposition to give Robredo three years instead of six months.
He said on the contrary, the campaign had been successful because millions of people involved in illegal drugs either using or peddling have surrendered, illegal drugs dens had been dismantled, many users had undergone rehabilitation, and buy bust operations had resulted in the “killing of drug pushers and those involved in the drugs trade because they resisted arrest and placed the lives of the police officers in peril”.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Duterte should continue to lead the government’s anti-drug campaign unless he delegates blanket authority to Robredo.
Lacson said this is because only Duterte, as president, has the power and authority over the country’s law enforcement authorities.
“Unless he delegates a blanket authority, including the power to hire and fire, no one else in the government bureaucracy can do it better than the Chief Executive under any given circumstances,” Lacson said in a statement.
Lacson noted Duterte is easily annoyed when his priorities such as the war against illegal drugs are criticized.
“Having said that, the President is easily peeved when his administration’s top priorities such as eliminating illegal drugs and corruption which he used as his campaign platform become the subject of criticism,” Lacson said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a member of the opposition, said Duterte “appears to be washing his hands of his failed brutal war on drugs, and is tossing the narcotics problem for Vice President Leni Robredo to solve.”
Lagman said that without the “corresponding real power and constitutional mandate, Robredo cannot take up the President’s challenge or ruse.”
“She is not the President’s alter ego but his well-meaning critic who has no authority,” said the veteran lawmaker.
Lagman reminded the President that “strong-handed and violence-driven” police and military campaigns against drug pushers and users had failed in the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Thailand “because the drug problem is more a poverty issue and a health concern rather than a police matter.”
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, however, said the President is not merely trying to pass on the burden to Robredo.
He said it has always been Duterte’s personal crusade to try to put an end to the illegal drugs trade even when he was still mayor of Davao City.
“Even noong mayor siya, sabi niya ang responsibilidad ko sa taga-Davao is to keep them safe. (Even when he was mayor, he said his responsibility to the people is to keep them safe). Ang pangako (The promise) is to take out drugs. So how I do is between me and my God. And one day, I will face God and will have to explain to him,” Cayetano told reporters.
The Speaker said he will support Robredo as anti-drug czar for six months if she can show that she has a concrete program.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Robredo should instead be appointed to head the Dangerous Drug Board (DDB) and concurrent the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
But Sotto said this is only if Duterte is serious in his proposal to hand over law enforcement powers to the Vice President.
“If it’s a serious proposal, it’s best if the Vice President is appointed as DDB chair and concurrent PDEA Director General,” Sotto said in a statement.
Sotto previously headed the DDB.
PNP officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa said he is in favor of making Robredo the drug czar.
“Let’s give it a try if she accepts the challenge and of course it is upon the President to lay down the rules on what her role will be if ever she’s given that role,” Gamboa told CNN Philippines.
Gamboa said Robredo need not remind the PNP to make changes in its strategy in the fight on drugs as the PNP has been constantly making changes each time officials evaluate their men’s performances.
He said they do not feel offended by the Vice President’s suggestion for the PNP to revise its strategy as Robredo is entitled to express her opinion on what she thinks of the government’s war on drugs.
“The Vice President does not need to remind us because we have been doing this since 2016. As matter of fact in our campaign, there is double barrel and others, these are all results of reassessment of strategies, the PNP has been doing since 2016,” he added. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Ashzel Hachero and Raymond Africa