BY WENDELL VIGILIA and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
IT is just a rank.
This was Vice President Leni Robredo’s nonchalant rejoinder to Malacañang’s announcement that her position as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee Against Illegal Drugs (ICAD) does not hold a Cabinet rank.
“Ginagawa ko iyong lahat ng kaya ko, miyembro ‘man ako ng Cabinet o hindi (I’m doing everything I can, regardless if it’s a Cabinet rank or not),” Robredo told reporters.
“Iyong pagtanggap ko ng trabaho, hindi nagma-matter kung Cabinet post iyon o hindi. Full steam ahead. (I accepted the job regardless if it was a Cabinet post or not. (I’ll go] full steam ahead.)”
The Vice President said she will continue to do her best as co-chair of the ICAD.
“Papabayaan ko na lang sila kung hindi pa sila nagkakasundo kung ano talaga ang kaakibat ng assignment ko (I’ll just leave it up to them if they haven’t decided what my assignment really entails),” she added.
Robredo’s statement was a response to President Duterte’s statement that he has some “reservation” about making the Vice President a member of his Cabinet family.
Duterte, in an exclusive interview with GMA-7 that aired on 24 Oras on Monday night, has said that Robredo’s drug czar and ICAD co-chair post is not a Cabinet-level position.
“She is not a member of the Cabinet. I have not appointed her as a Cabinet member,” the President said.
He pointed out that if Robredo was given a Cabinet rank, she can attend the meetings of his official family. “In the Cabinet meeting, we talk about what’s happening. Eh kung marinig niya ‘yan dyan tapos idadaldal niya sa labas, so hindi ko siya in-appoint as a Cabinet member (In the Cabinet meetings, we discuss about what’s happening in the country. What if she hears them and spills them? So I did not make her a Cabinet member),” Duterte added in the television interview.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said Duterte opted not to make Robredo a Cabinet member because of “missteps” that she had allegedly committed since her appointment two weeks ago.
Panelo said that Duterte has some “reservation” about Robredo because of her supposed penchant to talk and seek advice from alleged “enemies of state” and her demands for access to classified information in connection with the government drug war.
Panelo said the President was unhappy with the Vice President connecting with foreign institutions and personalities that have been identified as enemies of the state, or those who have allegedly prejudged the campaign against illegal drugs as a violation of human rights and a crime against humanity, like human rights advocate and current Deputy Director of the Asia division at the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Phelim Kline.
Kline has been quoted as saying that Duterte should be arrested for the killings associated with the illegal drugs campaign and that the Philippines is a murderous country.
Robredo had also held meetings with anti-drug officials from the United States and the United Nations as well as some members of the International Criminal Court.
Panelo said another “misstep” is Robredo’s insistence on getting access to classified information “a revelation of which could imperil the welfare of the Filipino people and the security of the State.”
Panelo said another factor that contributed to the President’s decision against the appointment of the Vice President to the Cabinet is her “penchant or tendency to transmit acquired data or information to others who may have predilection that may not be in the best interest of the country.”
“These missteps not only derailed PRRD’s (President Duterte’s) well-meaning intent for the Vice President to be part of the administration, but registered red signs that could not be ignored,” Panelo said.
He said Robredo’s not being part of the Cabinet and her being denied access to classified information should not be a problem nor should it prevent her from doing her duties as drug czar.
Panelo also said that some of the information that the Vice President was asking had long been made public, like the narco-list.
Robredo wondered why she was appointed to the ICAD post when the President and his men do not trust her with the list of high-value targets.
“Kung wala silang tiwala, bakit nila ako dinesignate? Nung dinesignate nila ako, isa sa mga kailangan kong gawin ay masigurado na iyong nasa listahan ng high value targets ay mahuli (If they don’t trust me, why did they designate me? When they designated me, one of the things that I had to ensure that those in the list of high-value targets will be caught),” Robredo told reporters during a visit to Navotas City.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Robredo must be given a copy of the high value targets list so she will know how to start her campaign against illegal drugs.
“(She needs the information on high-value targets because) that’s basic information. Kung di niya alam ang nasa HVT list (If she does not know who are in the HVT list), how could she proceed in the first place?” Lacson said in an interview on CNN Philippines.
Lacson said handing Robredo the HVT list will not put the country’s security in jeopardy as he believes that the Vice President can handle sensitive information contrary to what Duterte believes.
“I think the VP knows how to handle classified information, because being the second highest official, I think she has the necessary security clearance to handle. And she knows the consequences in case she shares it with unauthorized persons, much less with foreign governments,” he added.
“(She needs all the information ICAD has) because she’s involved in policy making, policy formulation, so she’ll need all the basic information to formulate policies and to give direction,” he said.
Lacson surmised that the administration feared giving her the HVT list since she belongs to the opposition.
He said Robredo is in an awkward position in the ICAD since ICAD is led by PDEA chief Aaron Aquino who holds the rank of undersecretary, while the vice president, the second highest official in the land, is only the ICAD co-chair.
“How would a co-chairperson be secretary and the chairperson is undersecretary? Now it’s being corrected by Malacañang, it said (the President) did not sign her appointment as a Cabinet member. That’s awkward. They really have to sort it out for the sake of the drug war,” he also said.
Lacson said the first thing Robredo should have done after being appointed as ICAD co-chair was to clarify from the Palace her specific functions and responsibilities, especially the scope of her authority, in the war on drugs.
“During our meeting, sabi niya (she said) first thing I will do is clarify, define the parameters of my position.”… Sabi ko ( I told her) it’s better to write down everything.
Mahirap ang verbal. Kung official memo mas malinaw yan (It is better if your authority will be put in black and white),” Lacson said.
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Tuesday briefed the Vice President anew on the government’s war on drugs.
In a statement, the DILG said the department also heard Robredo’s “thoughts on future steps to combat the proliferation of illegal drugs in the country.”
It said Año and heads of DILG’s attached agencies “had a long and fruitful talk with the Vice President particularly on the need to synergize, synchronize and harmonize all the efforts of the various ICAD member-agencies.”
“There may be perceived differences in so far as the strategies, policies, and programs are concerned but at the end of the day, what binds ICAD together is the commitment to eradicate the drug problem for the sake of present and future generations,” it said.
The DILG said it is grateful for Robredo’s commitment to support the DILG’s program to fight illegal drugs and the community-based drug rehabilitation program.
“We likewise appreciate her initiatives to interact and engage with different sectors such as the Church and other faith-based groups which could then tap their huge network and followers to serve as advocates and volunteers in support of the anti-illegal drugs campaign of the administration,” it also said.
The DILG said it supports Robredo’s proposal to establish a technical working group “to study, review, and recommend bills or legislative measures that will further enhance the government’s capacity to fight illegal drugs.”
“Indeed, all amendments to existing laws and policies need to be harmonized and packaged as one when submitted to Congress,” the DILG said.
The DILG said it is looking forward to more meetings with Robredo in “reviewing and fast tracking the process of delisting drug surrenderers as well as in securing more funds for community-based drug rehabilitation and improving the capacities of anti-drug abuse councils on the local government level.”
The DILG assured that it is with Robredo in the “difficult journey of ending the illegal drugs problem in the country that has destroyed the lives of our youth, destroyed so many families, and shattered the future of so many of our countrymen.”
“We assure her of the support and cooperation of the DILG and its attached agencies to make her succeed in her task as ICAD co-chair,” the DILG said. – With Raymond Africa and Victor Reyes