Robredo named anti-drug czar

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Robredo named anti-drug czar
President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his intention to involve Vice President Robredo in his drug crackdown during the oath taking of new appointees in Malacañang last October 28.
The STAR / KJ Rosales

Rody appoints VP as co-chair with PDEA

MANILA,Philippines — President Duterte has formally named Vice President Leni Robredo as one of the heads of an inter-agency body on illegal drugs, making good his previous pronouncement that critics said was a trap meant to embarrass her.

Robredo, the leader of the opposition and a critic of the war on drugs, was offered the Cabinet-rank post of co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) until the end of Duterte’s term in 2022, a memorandum signed by the President on Oct. 31 showed.

A document signed by President Duterte designating Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs.

She is expected to announce her response to the offer today.

The duration of the appointment was longer than the six months initially floated by Duterte, who made the offer as a response to Robredo’s call for a “tweaking” of his anti-drug campaign, which she had described as “obviously not working.”

“Pursuant to the provisions of existing laws, rules and regulations, you (Robredo) are hereby designated as the Co-Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs to lead the government’s efforts against illegal drugs until 30 June 2022, unless sooner revoked,” Duterte’s memorandum read.

The President has directed the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the Philippine National Police (PNP), Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) and all other law enforcement agencies to “extend their full assistance and cooperation” to Robredo “to ensure the success of the government’s efforts in the war against illegal drugs.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the designation offered to Robredo is a Cabinet-rank position.

“The moment she accepts it, she can join us in the Cabinet meeting on Thursday,” Panelo told CNN Philippines yesterday.

“My message will be congratulations! This is your time. This is your moment,” he added.

The ICAD was formed through Executive Order 15 signed by Duterte in 2017. It was tasked to ensure the effective conduct of anti-illegal drug operations, the arrest of high-value drug personalities down to street-level peddlers and users and ensure the comprehensive implementation of the drug-clearing program in barangays, among other roles.

The PDEA is chair of the committee, which consists of the PNP; DDB; the Departments of the Interior and Local Government, Justice, Health, Education, Social Welfare and Development, Trade and Industry, Agriculture and Defense; Technical Education and Skills Development Authority; Philippine Information Agency; Public Attorney’s Office; Office of the Solicitor General; Philippine Coast Guard; National Bureau of Investigation; Bureaus of Customs and Immigration; Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Palace: We want her to succeed

Duterte expressed his intention to involve Robredo in his drug crackdown during the oath taking of new appointees in Malacañang last Oct. 28.

“I am sending a letter to her through Executive Secretary (Salvador) Medialdea, I will surrender the power to enforce the law, I will give it to the Vice President, I will let her have it for six months,” the President said, adding the Vice President apparently thought she was bright enough to handle the problem.

Robredo, however, ignored Duterte’s offer for her to become drug czar, saying the country’s problems cannot be addressed through insults.

Administration critics have cautioned the Vice President against accepting the post, believing the offer was just intended to shame her.

Some members of the opposition also suspect that Duterte merely wants to turn Robredo into a scapegoat for the supposed failures of the war on illegal drugs.

Panelo, however, said the memorandum dispels claims that Duterte is not serious about his offer to Robredo. The presidential spokesman said the President heeded the demands of the opposition, including calls to give the Vice President authority over drug enforcement agencies, allow her to become drug czar until the end of his term and issue a formal order on her appointment.

“With this development, the Palace supposes that detractors and critics will finally see the sincerity of the President in making such offer to the Vice President and understand that the Chief Executive’s ultimate motivation in making the same is the welfare of the Filipino people,” Panelo said in a statement.

He added that the President wants the fight against narcotics to succeed “regardless of who greatly contributed to such success.”

“(If she accepts the post), she can do everything within the law to enforce the war on drugs initiated by the President. We want her to accept the appointment. We want her to succeed, because her success will be the success of the Filipino people,” Panelo told CNN Philippines.

Panelo believes being a drug czar could even propel Robredo to the presidency.

“In fact, it can be a ladder to the presidency if she succeeds, just like Erap (former president Joseph Estrada), when he became a crime czar,” the Palace spokesman said in a separate interview with radio station dzMM.

Robredo has had a frosty relationship with Duterte since leaving the Cabinet in late 2016. She served as the administration’s housing chief for a few months until she was barred from joining Cabinet meetings in December of that year due to her alleged participation in anti-Duterte rallies.

The Vice President has since criticized some of the policies of the Duterte administration, including its handling of the West Philippine Sea dispute, the President’s statement that policemen can accept gifts and the war on illegal drugs, which has so far left more than 6,000 drug suspects dead, based on official data.

Human rights groups have claimed that Duterte’s campaign against narcotics has encouraged summary executions and other abuses, but officials have denied this, saying police officers only use force if drug suspects fight back.

Two communications related to the deaths tied to Duterte’s drug war have been filed before the International Criminal Court, but the President has brushed aside the complaints and has even expressed readiness to be imprisoned over the campaign.

‘Non-existent’ post

Robredo has not yet responded to Duterte’s designation of her as ICAD co-chairperson, but her spokesman said the appointment was for a “non-existent” post.

Lawyer Barry Gutierrez called Duterte’s move as a mere “show,” adding that the memorandum “has no substance at all.”

Gutierrez said the Vice President would submit today her proposal on how the government should address the illegal drug problem.

“It’s clear from the memorandum that we received that there’s nothing in it,” the official told reporters in Filipino.

EO 15 which created the ICAD does not include the position of a co-chairperson, according to Gutierrez.

“We think this is just a mere show,” he said, insisting that the offer was “not serious” and was mere politicking.

“The co-chair of the ICAD has no power. The offer was not serious. Clearly, this is just a way to pass on the shortcomings of this drug war,” he added.

Gutierrez said it was also surprising that instead of being designated as drug czar, Robredo was named co-chair, alongside PDEA head Aaron Aquino, whose rank is only undersecretary.

Gutierrez said Robredo is expected to speak on her position on the drug war, including her comments on Duterte’s appointment today. 

Gutierrez stressed that Robredo has always been willing to help in the government’s anti-narcotics campaign and did not ask for a position.

Last month, Robredo called on Duterte to allow the United Nations to undertake a comprehensive review of his war on drugs which she said was “obviously not working.”

The Vice President’s criticisms irked Duterte, who challenged her to lead the drug war for six months.

She later clarified her statement, saying she meant to urge the administration to “tweak” and “step back and assess” its war on drugs as the number of drug addicts even rose since Duterte launched the campaign.

Makati City police chief Col. Rogelio Simon presenting sachets of shabu, drug paraphernalia and firearms seized during a raid in Barangay Pembo, Makati City the other night.

Ready to work

Amid the developments, Aquino has expressed readiness to work with Robredo.

The government’s chief anti-narcotics officer said Robredo could help in the rehabilitation of drug surrenderers.

“The PDEA believes she can contribute on the advocacy and rehabilitation/reintegration clusters,” he said in a text message.

Aquino is chairman of the interagency body which has 41 government agencies subdivided into four clusters namely enforcement, justice, rehabilitation and reintegration, and advocacy.

In an interview over dzMM, Aquino sees no problem working with Robredo even if the latter is the leader of the opposition, adding they need all the help they can get in ending the drug problem.

“Whatever questions she might have about the war on drugs, I am willing to answer everything,” he said in mixed Filipino and English.

On his earlier statement that Robredo will fail if appointed as drug czar, Aquino said he was only referring to the Vice President’s lack of experience in law enforcement.

“Pagdating sa law enforcement cluster, there is a lot of catching up to do,” Aquino said.

DDB chairman Catalino Cuy has also welcomed Robredo’s appointment, saying she could be the source of fresh ideas on how to solve the drug problem.

“She can introduce and improve our existing anti-illegal drugs campaign,” he said in an interview over dzMM.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said they are ready to work with Robredo, noting that they all have the same goal, which is to reduce the supply of illegal drugs.

The PNP, meanwhile, said it is ready to give full assistance to Robredo.

“The PNP will extend its utmost courtesy, cooperation and full assistance to the Vice President,” PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday expressed hope that Vice President Robredo would be able to bring fresh and constructive insights into the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

‘For the good of the country’

Senators yesterday urged Robredo to accept her designation as ICAD co-chairperson so she could contribute to the fight against the drug scourge.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Robredo should help the country fight the problem of illegal drugs.

“She does not have to help the President. You don’t have to support the administration. You support the fight against illegal drugs for the good of the country and for the good of the people,” Sotto told reporters.

He suggested that Robredo “study the problem, give alternatives and give solutions to the current problem instead of just criticizing, and never ever say that you should stop the war on drugs.”

The designation should not be met with suspicion or be politicized as Duterte simply wants to win the fight against drugs, according to Sotto.

“The only people who could say that (stop the war on drugs) would be the drug dealers themselves, or perhaps even users,” Sotto said.

He added that the campaign against illegal drugs must be holistic, addressing supply as well as drug abuse.

Sen. Christopher Go challenged Robredo to accept the post as she may actually be able to contribute significantly in the war against drugs.

“Who knows Ma’am, you would be able to do it, and you’d see the work of a president. Try it up to the last day of your term, and the term of the President on June 30, 2022. Let’s see if you’d be able to sleep,” Go said.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also strongly suggested that the Vice President accept the “drug czar challenge.”

“It will be a good opportunity for her and her team to use their alternative strategies to eliminate illegal drugs in the country,” Gatchalian said on Twitter.

Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, however, discouraged Robredo from accepting the post as she would only be made a “display” in the administration’s anti-drug campaign.

“I would discourage VP Leni from accepting because she would not be able to do anything because as co-chairperson, she would not be able to give directives, especially if it conflicts with the other side,” Trillanes said. – With Helen Flores, Emmanuel Tupas, Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Edu Punay

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