VICE President Leni Robredo yesterday stood up to Malacañang’s challenge to give her personal imprint on the government’s war against illegal drugs as she agreed to play the role of drug czar and address the worsening criminal narcotics trade in the country.
But while accepting the offer to be co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), Robredo said she will not be silenced into consenting to irregularities in the drug campaign.
“Hindi laro-laro ang usapang ito. Seryosong usapan kapag buhay ang nakataya. Tinatanong nila ako kung handa ba ako para sa trabahong ito. Ang tanong ko: handa ba kayo para sa akin? (This isn’t child’s play. It’s always a serious issue when lives are at stake. They asked me if I was ready for this job. My question is: are you ready for me?),” the Vice President said in a short televised speech.
She added: “Sa Pangulo nanggaling ang ideyang ito, pero sa dulo ang pinakamahalagang konsiderasyon para sa akin ay simple lang: kung ito ang pagkakataon para matigil ang patayan ng mga inosente at mapanagot ang dapat managot, papasanin ko ito. Kaya tinatanggap ko ang trabaho na ibinibigay sa akin ng Pangulo (This was the President’s idea but in the end, the most important consideration for me is simple, if this is the chance to stop the murder of the innocent and hold accountable those responsible, I will carry the weight. I am accepting this job that the President gave me).”
Robredo, who did not entertain questions from reporters, warned the President that she will continue to speak out her mind and criticize the war on drugs if there are excesses.
“Alam ng Pangulo ang posisyon ko sa drug war, tutol ako sa pagpatay ng mga inosente, kontra ako sa pang-aabuso ng mga opisyal, alam niya ang aking mga puna, alam niya ang mga balak kong ayusin kaya kung iniisip niya na sa pagpayag ko na ito ay tatahimik ako, nagkakamali siya. Kailangan ko itong subukan (The President knows my position on the drug war. I’m against killing the innocent, against the abuse of certain officials, he knows my criticisms and the things I want to change. If he thinks that my acceptance will silence me, he’s mistaken),” she said.
The Vice President’s decision came a day after her spokesman, Barry Gutierrez, expressed doubts on the sincerity of the President’s offer.
Gutierrez, in press conference on Monday, said the Vice President could not immediately entertain Duterte’s appointment because the position of co-chairperson of the ICAD “does not legally exist.”
The former Akbayan party-list congressman, who is a lawyer, said Executive Order No. 15 creating the ICAD does not provide for the position of a co-chairman.
Robredo said she accepted the position even if some quarters had warned her that it could be a trap to set her up to fail because “my personal principles and my heart dictate that I should try to do it even if I can only save one life.”
“Kahit sabihin na natin na ang alok na ito ay pamumulitika lamang at ‘di naman ako susundin ng mga ahensya at gagawin nila ang lahat para ‘di ako magtagumpay, handa akong tiisin ang lahat ng ito (Even if this is just politicking and the [various anti-drug] agencies will not follow my orders and will do everything to ensure my failure, I’m prepared to endure all of it),” she said.
In a press conference, Gutierrez clarified that Robredo never declined the job even if their camp was hesitant about her taking up the challenge.
“Like I told you (last Tuesday), it was not a definitive yes or no. It was an observation on how we viewed Malacañang treated this offer, we felt that it wasn’t serious. And actually, until now we still think that there were certain aspects of the designation which seemed to need further action on their part,” he said.
Gutierrez said even Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea was quoted as saying that the EO will be amended once Robredo accepts it.
He said Robredo has made it clear that the all technicalities and political questions hounding the offer “to take on the challenge because I believe I can help the people.”
Duterte previously offered Robredo to be a drug czar for six months after she continued to criticize the administration’s war in drugs which she called a “failure.”
However, in a memorandum last October 31, the President appointed Robredo as ICAD co-chair, which holds a Cabinet rank, until the end of his term on June 30, 2022, unless sooner revoked.
SMARTER THAN HER PARTYMATES
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Robredo appears to be smarter than her fellow leaders in the opposition after she accepted Duterte’s appointment.
“Her acceptance shows she is smarter than her colleagues in the opposition who do not want her to succeed in serving the people. She is finally her own person. She is much better off listening to her own instincts as a mother and a lawyer,” Panelo said.
He turned the tables on Robredo’s allies and said those who say that the assignment was a “trap” are actually the ones who do not want the Vice President to succeed.
Panelo welcomed Robredo back to the Cabinet and said she can start her job as drug czar by Thursday, or she can immediately join the Cabinet when it holds its meeting on Wednesday. He, however, acknowledged that the time is tight between the time she accepted the offer and the scheduled Cabinet meeting.
Robredo’s position, according to Panelo, holds the rank of a Cabinet even if she will sit as co-chair of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Aaron Aquino.
Panelo said the Vice President should seize the opportunity and prove her mettle, as well as turn her criticisms into constructive inputs in the campaign against illegal drugs.
He said the Duterte government looks forward and is ready to work with her, assuring her of the cooperation and support of the Cabinet and the other members of government.
Robredo used to be part of the Duterte Cabinet as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) which oversees the government housing projects. She resigned from her post due to differences with the administration.
Panelo advised Robredo to first talk with Duterte about her plans and needs on addressing the drug problem, the scope and extent of her work and get possible directives from the President.
He said the Vice President may also need to seek a clarification from the President on whether she can appoint, remove or replace any officials involved in the campaign.
He said the Vice President can request for a courtesy call on the President to enable them to sit down and talk about her new job.
On Robredo’s pronouncement that her acceptance of the position will not mean that she will stop being critical of the administration especially its anti-drug war, Panelo said it is unlikely to happen since the Vice President will be leading the campaign and to criticize the drive against illegal drugs will mean criticizing herself.
He reiterated that Malacañang wants Robredo to succeed as her success will mean the success of the government and the country and her failure will mean the failure of the government and the country.
Duterte, when he ran for the presidency in 2016, had promised to finish the illegal drug problem within six months from his assumption of office.
The President later on admitted he will not be able to realize this promise and had initially extended his self-imposed deadline, which he later again amended and simply promised to just reduce the drug problem, if he cannot completely eradicate it, within the remainder of his term.
The crackdown is popular among Filipinos, with a September opinion poll showing 82% of respondents believed it effective, although critics say it has been failed to curb addiction or drugs supply or rein-in drugs kingpins.
Activists accuse police of executions and cover-ups on a massive scale being ignored by the government. Police killed only in self-defense, the administration says.
In an Oct. 23 interview, Robredo said the death toll was too high and international help should be sought if the government kept tolerating abusive police. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Reuters