Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday said the decision whether or not to she should have a list of the police’s high-value drug targets and drug dependents is best left to the discretion of President Duterte.
“Eh nasa Pangulo iyan. Inatasan ako maging co-chairman ng ICAD (Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs). Kasi ‘yun sakin, Ka Ely, hindi ko naman ito hiningi. Pero dahil inatasan ako, at lahat ng nakakakilala sa akin kilala ako na wala tayong inuurungan – maliit man o malaki iyong responsibility, kinukuha natin (It’s up to the President. I was tasked to be the co-chairman of ICAD. For me, Ka Ely, I didn’t ask for it but since it was given to me, and everyone who knows me also knows that I don’t back down from anything, big or small, I took it),” Robredo told co-anchor Ely Saludar on her radio program Biserbisyong Leni aired over RMN-DZXL.
Robredo, a lawyer, dismissed the President’s apprehension that she might share sensitive information to countries that are critical of the administration’s war on drugs.
“Alam naman nila iyon (they know what I’m a lawyer),” she said. “Pero hindi natin ida-divulge iyong mga sensitive information na makakasama sa kampanya. (But we will not divulge sensitive information that may imperil the campaign).”
“Tingin ko wala naman silang tinatago na anything. Naiintindihan ko naman kung ano iyong mga hindi puwedeng sabihin sa media; kapag sensitive, hindi iyon puwede (I don’t think they’re hiding anything. I know what I can’t discuss with the media. When it’s sensitive, I can’t),” Robredo said.
Duterte had threatened to remove the Vice President from her “drugs czar” post if she shared state secrets with foreign individuals and entities.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Aaron Aquino has earlier objected against furnishing Robredo with the narco-list, saying this was beyond her mandate as ICAD co-chair to request for the list and that the request has no real purpose.
Robredo however insisted it was clearly part of her official functions under Executive Order No. 15, which created the ICAD, to “ensure the effective conduct of anti-illegal drugs operations and arrest of high-value drug personalities.”
“Paano ko ma-e-ensure nang hindi ko nga alam? Paano ko ito ma-e-ensure na nahuhuli iyong mga high-value targets, kung hindi ko nga alam kung ilan ba ang high-value targets, ano ba iyong status doon sa pagtugis ng mga high-value targets? (How can I ensure it I don’t know them? How can I ensure that high-value targets will be caught if I don’t even know how many they are? What’s the status of the efforts to get them?),” she said.
Robredo reminded all concerned agencies of the President’s directive for them to cooperate with her “but if they still won’t, it’s up to them.”
The Vice President said she will be left with no other choice but to just send recommendations to “uncooperative” agencies because time is running out.
“Wala na tayong time para magpaligsahan. Parati ko itong inuulit: two and a half years na lang. Sasayangin pa ba natin? Sasayangin pa ba natin sa mga paligsahan? (We don’t have time for competition. I’ve always stressed that we only have two and a half years left. Are we going squander it? Are we going to waste it competing with each other?),” she said.
Changing his initial tone, Aquino yesterday said PDEA is willing to present to Robredo the list of high-value targets but will do so only in a closed-door meeting, with the presence of personnel with security clearance only.
He reiterated the list contains classified information.
“In the simplest explanation — if we give the list to VP Robredo, we do not know the people who are going to have an access to the list. That will compromise our negation operations,” Aquino said.
Aquino there is such a thing as “need to know rule” in law enforcement, which means that not everyone are given access to sensitive and classified information.
“I myself has no copy of the list in my possession. What I am doing is I check it from time to time with my intelligence service and conduct workshops against these personalities,” Aquino said.
Aquino said his stance not to give Robredo a copy of the list is not an act of resistance or disrespect to Robredo. He said this is merely in compliance to standard operating procedures in law enforcement.
“Imagine what will happen to the efforts of law enforcement if that list landed on wrong hands?” Aquino asked.
Aquino said the list is not even discussed during ICAD meetings. Robredo requested a copy of the list during the ICAD’s meeting on Thursday last week.
‘NO SHARING OF STATE SECRETS’
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, in a radio interview, expressed confidence that Robredo, being a lawyer, will not disclose state secrets to foreign groups as it could endanger the welfare and security of the Filipinos.
“The President stated that disclosing classified information of the Philippine government to foreign individuals and entities will cause the removal of the Vice President from her current post. She may not realize it but she could be treading on dangerous grounds. It could be an overreach of the granted authority hence the reminder,” Panelo said.
Revealing state secrets to foreign individuals and entities violates Article 229 of the Revised Penal Code and is penalized with perpetual disqualification from public office, among others.
“Detractors are once again are making a hysterical fuss about the Chief Executive’s statement, with some arguing that such statement of the President validates the suspicion that the appointment was a trap. Other pessimists even contend that with the President’s remarks, he had begun clipping her wings so as not to fulfill her mandate. Such speculations are unfounded as they are unproductive as well. The President is merely reminding VP Leni of the imperatives as well as the limits of her appointment lest she transgresses it,” Panelo said.
The President made the statement after Robredo had demanded for access to all documents, including classified data, related to the government’s anti-illegal drugs program, as well as its funding sources, after she invited members of the United Nations “who have described the country as a murderous country and who have called for the arrest of PRRD (President Duterte), and the prosecutor of the rejected Rome Statute ICC (International Criminal Court) that has no jurisdiction over the country.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Duterte as the appointing authority has the power to fire Robredo if she reveals to international bodies classified information that will compromise the country’s national security.
“As the appointing authority, the President may remove any appointee when trust and confidence, which is the principal basis of any appointment, is lost. Needless to say, disclosing sensitive and classified information to unauthorized persons is betrayal of trust, and is therefore a proper and reasonable basis for revocation of one’s appointment,” Guevarra said.
At the same time, Guevarra said it’s too early to make an assessment of Robredo’s performance since she has just started buckling to work.
But he added if Duterte made good on his threat, the work of the ICAD will not be affected as there are others who can take her place.
“Although it’s too early to assess the VP’s performance as co-chair of the ICAD, her possible removal from the ICAD, for whatever cause, like the removal of any member of the committee, will have no bearing on the work of the committee as no one is indispensable in the drug campaign,” the DOJ chief said.
“There will always be someone better to take his or her place,” he added.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman of the Liberal Party, said it doesn’t make sense to him that Robredo was being threatened with dismissal as ICAD co-chair if she would reveal “state secrets” on illegal drugs because the President, himself, has long been doing it in many occasions.
“No less than Duterte has previously released on several occasions the names of high-profile suspects in the drug list which included businessmen, politicians, generals and police officers, among others,” he said.
Lagman said Robredo knows only too well that “state secrets” must not be made public or shared with unauthorized persons “in order not to jeopardize national security and she would treat classified information given to her as confidential.”
“But why should the narco-list of high-profile narcotics traders and users as well as the records of those involved in extrajudicial killings related to the brutal war on drugs be elevated to the status of ‘state secrets’”? Lagman said.
“In America’s Old West and until now in most countries, the watch-list of dangerous criminal suspects are publicly released and posted to prevent their commission of more crimes and help in their capture,” he said. – With Victor Reyes, Jocelyn Montemayor and Ashzel Hachero