VICE President Leni Robredo yesterday vowed to push for “zero deaths” in the administration’s war on drugs after accepting President Duterte’s offer as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD).
“Wala sa plano natin ang pagpatay. Kasi wala iyon sa bounds ng rule of law (Killings is not part of our plans because it’s not within the bounds of law),” Robredo told reporters during a visit to Sitio Macantog in Tanay, Rizal where she turned over solar kits that residents can use as their source of power.
Robredo said her 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.
“Iyon ‘yong ating directive. Pero iyong pagpatay, whether maliit o malaki, wala iyon sa usapan (That’s our directive. But killing, whether small or big drug dealers, that’s not part of the plan),” she said.
Robredo said her decision to accept the Cabinet post does not have anything to do with her future political plans, particularly the 2022 national elections.
“Kung iniisip ko iyong 2022, hindi ko ito tatanggapin kasi too much of a risk (I wouldn’t have accepted this job if I was thinking of 2022 because this is too much of a risk),” she said. “Madedehado masyado ang ating mga kababayan ‘pag kaming mga nakaupo tinitignan na agad ang 2022 (The people will be put at the disadvantage if we’ll look at 2022 this early).”
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, expressed confidence that once the Vice President is briefed on the illegal drugs trade situation in the country, she will have a better grasp on why deaths has become inevitable in the pursuit of drug lords.
“With the Vice President at the helm of the anti-narcotics campaign, President Duterte expects that the former would see the realities on the ground, particularly with respect to the government’s position against extrajudicial or state-sponsored killings, and understand that deaths occur due to the violent reactions on the part of agents of the illegal drug trade against the strict enforcement of the law,” Panelo said.
But while the Vice President shuns the killing of individuals involved in the trading of prohibited drugs, Robredo said the war on drugs will not be “softer” under her because it will be waged with the same level of intensity.
“Pero iyong pinakaklaro na mensahe natin sa kanila: iyong laban sa iligal na droga will continue with the same vigor, with the same intensity, with the same strength. Ang iibahin talaga natin, iyong manner by which ginagawa ito (This is my clearest message to ICAD: the war on illegal drugs will continue with the same vigor, with the same intensity, with the same strength. The only thing we’ll change is the way it is being done),” she said.
Robredo said she believes that the war can be waged “within the bounds of the rule of law, human rights and standards of procedure.”
“So iyon iyong aalamin natin, ano ba iyong metrics na ginagamit ngayon. Bakit ba nahayaan na for the past three years, napakaraming patayan na nangyayari. Iyon iyong mga gusto nating alamin. Pero in the next few days, lahat pagpupulong at lahat pag-aaral (That’s what we’ll find out. What metrics are being used now and why there were so many killings in the past three years. That’s what we want to know so in the next few days, it will all be meetings and studies),” she added.
In preparation for her new role as ICAD co-chair, Robredo said she has sat down with former officials from the PDEA, the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) after accepting the job last Wednesday to get an eye-view of the illegal drugs situation in the country.
“I have to study the enforcement aspect,” Robredo said. “Kapag sinabi kasi nating giyera, dapat kilala natin kung sinong kalaban. (When we say it’s a war, we have to know who the enemy is).”
PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon said the Vice President is due to preside a meeting of the ICAD this afternoon.
Robredo confirmed she will be briefed by her ICAD co-chair PDEA chief Director General Aaron Aquino at the Quezon City Reception House, along with other ICAD members who will report to her the current status of the campaign.
Panelo said Robredo has likewise been invited for a meeting with President Duterte. The invitation was in the form of a letter that was allegedly sent to the Vice President through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
Panelo was uncertain as to the details of the meeting but said “it should be a one-on-one” between the President and the Vice President.
Senate minority leader Frankln Drilon gave Robredo, his party chairman at the Liberal Party, an unsolicited advice: “Halimbawa, pigilan ang Operation Tokhang, huwag patayin ang mga sinasabi nating drug pusher. Eh kung magpapatuloy ‘yan at hindi susundin, kung ako, I can’t speak for the Vice President, pero kung ako lang, magbibitiw ako (If the police and other law enforcement agencies won’t follow orders to stop Oplan Tokhang and the killings of drug pushers, if that will continue and my orders are not followed, if I were in her place, but I cannot speak for the Vice President, I will quit my post).”
Drilon made the suggestion in an interview over dzBB, where he added that Robredo should not think twice of giving up her drug czar post if her orders in connection with the war on drugs are not followed.
Drilon was referring to Oplan Tokhang made “popular” during the time of former PNP chief and now Sen. Ronald dela Rosa. Tokhang is a combination of two Visayan words “toktok hangyo” which means to knock at the doors of suspected drug users and pushers and plead that they stop with their illegal activities.
Oplan Tokhang earned notoriety since it became a by word to scare people that they will be dealt with accordingly, usually killed, if they continue with their illegal drug activities.
From July 2016 to June 30, 2019, official government drug war figures showed there were 5,526 drug pushers and users killed, and 193,086 arrested in 134,583 anti-illegal drugs operations nationwide. The same operations also led to the dismantling of 348 drug dens and 14 clandestine drug labs.
The overall amount of recovered drugs amounted to P34.75 billion, with shabu having the biggest chunk at P25.99 billion (4,409.69 kilograms).
Dela Rosa looked at Robredo’s acceptance of the drug czar job as a unifying factor for the Filipinos.
“Magkaisa na tayo. We will win this war as a nation, dapat hindi na tayo magkawatak watak (Let us unite. We will win this war as a nation, let us not be divided this time),” he said.
Sen. Christopher Go said Robredo must be tough against drug pushers and users as she will be dealing with violent individuals in the fight against drugs.
“Hindi pwedeng malambot ka dito sa kampanya laban sa iligal na droga. Ilang presidente na po ang dumaan pero milyong milyong adik pa rin ang andyan po sa Pilipinas. (You must be tough in the campaign against drugs. Many presidents have served the country but drug addicts are still here),” Go told radio dzBB.
Sen. Panfilo Lacon, also a former PNP chief, said Robredo has already sent her a text message expressing her interest to learn from him how to fight illegal drugs.
Lacson said he will schedule a meeting with the Vice President.
“We are fixing our schedule to sit down. I am grateful and humbled by her gesture. More than that, it shows her sincerity and seriousness in tackling her new task,” Lacson said.
In a statement, Robredo said: “I’m looking forward to working closely with Sen. Lacson and learning from his insights and experience. I’m grateful that he offered his help and support as I take on this new responsibility.”
Meanwhile, the Makati Business Club expressed high hopes over Robredo’s acceptance of her ICAD post.
“MBC hopes the President and Vice President work together to strengthen the rule of law in the war on drugs and provide more rehabilitation, education, and other programs to curb drug abuse, which the business community is ready to support,” it said in a statement.
CBCP Vice President Bishop Pablo David has likewise committed the CBCP’s cooperation and assistance to Robredo in her new post as drug czar.
In a Facebook post, David said the Church is ready to help Robredo since they both disagree with the bloody war on drugs while having similar ideas on how to solve the problem.
“The Church is a partner of government in every sincere effort to solve the problem of illegal drugs firmly but humanely, to address it at its roots but respect human lives and human rights,” said David.
“We are partners of government if it deals with addiction mainly as a health issue than as a crime,” he added.
David’s position was seconded by CBCP – Commission on the Laity Chairman Bishop Broderick Pabillo who said he believes that Robredo has the right vision on how to properly address the drug problem in the Philippines.
In particular, Pabillo pointed at Robredo’s pronouncement for an end to the killings of drug users and pushers, as well as promoting rehabilitation of drug addicts.
“The big drug dealers should be relentlessly pursued with the force of the law and not just kill the small users,” said the Manila auxiliary bishop, adding: “She has previously stated that she is for rehabilitation. That is the right approach.” – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Raymond Africa and Gerard Naval