Leni pushes for zero killings in drug war

Robertzon Ramirez, Helen Flores, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla, Emmanuel Tupas - The Philippine Star
Leni pushes for zero killings in drug war
“Killing is not part of our plan because that is outside the bounds of the rule of law. That is my directive,” Robredo told reporters in Tanay, Rizal where she distributed solar kits from One Meralco Foundation to a school and several houses.
Leni Robredo's FB Page

MANILA, Philippines — The war on drugs will be fought with the same zeal, but there will be zero killings, Vice President Leni Robredo declared yesterday as she prepared to assume her new job as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD).

“Killing is not part of our plan because that is outside the bounds of the rule of law. That is my directive,” Robredo told reporters in Tanay, Rizal where she distributed solar kits from One Meralco Foundation to a school and several houses.

“But my message to them is clear: this war against illegal drugs will continue with the same vigor, with the same intensity, with the same strength,” she stressed.

“We should have many resources and time to run after the big fish. That is my directive. But the killings, whether big-time (traffickers) or small fry, that is not part of the deal,” she said.

The Vice President on Wednesday accepted President Duterte’s challenge to lead the war on drugs as ICAD co-chairperson until the end of her term on June 30, 2022.

She is scheduled to hold her first meeting with ICAD member-agencies in her office in New Manila, Quezon City this afternoon.

Among those invited to the meeting were officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Philippine National Police, Department of the Interior and Local Government and the National Bureau of Investigation.

At the meeting, Robredo is expected to receive briefing from PDEA director general Aaron Aquino, who had previously belittled her ability to lead the drug war.

“We requested my co-chair, PDEA director-general, to report on the status, not just the accomplishments of ICAD,” she said, adding she was not affected by Aquino’s comments.

“I’m not affected, I don’t take their criticism personally,” she said. Robredo also said she has consulted former officials on the drug war when she accepted the ICAD post.

The Vice President added said she still has no plans of getting her own people as the budget and the details of her post still have to be ironed out.

She said she wants to review the enforcement of the drug war in order to get accurate data on anti-illegal drug operations.

“What we will change here really is the manner by which it is executed. It was clear in my message yesterday (Wednesday) that my number one concern is the killings,” she said.

“I believe that we can still continue this fight with the same vigor, within the bounds of rule of law, human rights and standards of procedure,” she stressed.

Robredo said she might also join police raids or inspections at the Bureau of Customs.

Body count not important

Robredo, who was a human rights lawyer prior to joining politics, emphasized that the success of the anti-drug policy does not depend on the number of killed drug personalities.

“We will change the metrics. This is not the gauge on the number of people killed. Our metrics will be on the number of people whose lives have improved,” she said.

The Vice President also said she is willing to meet Duterte if invited and that she is unperturbed by apprehensions that her position is “non-existent.” 

“For me the position is not important. Actually, that was part of the discussion, whether I should accept or not, there were many who were questioning the legality of my appointment because I was designated to a non-existent position,” she said.

“But what’s important to me is the work. Again, two and a half – 900-plus days – are left. Our problem remains big. Let’s no longer debate on other things and instead work together. We should do our best to make this campaign successful,” she said.

Robredo also shrugged off criticisms that she accepted the appointment to boost her political ambition in 2022.

“If I’m thinking of 2022, I would not have accepted this because this is too much of a risk,” she said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Robredo has accepted his offer of help. “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, a former chief of the PNP, said.

Lawmakers are generally optimistic about the appointment of Robredo to ICAD.

“She will now be working with the intelligence and enforcement agencies rather than observing it from the outside and not having a full grasp of the situation,” Rep. Mike Defensor of Anakalusugan party-list said.

With her new job, the Vice President will now have “full perspective of the drug situation and can assert her position as regards the drug campaign and how it should be executed,” Defensor said.

For Rep. Eric Go Yap of party-list ACT-CIS, Robredo’s new appointment would provide an “opportune time for her to contribute further in the government’s battle against illegal drugs in the country.”

Yap’s colleague in ACT-CIS, Rep. Nina Taduran, said that in solving complex problems like illegal drugs, “sometimes what is needed is a fresh perspective, and this is exactly what the Vice President is bringing to the table.”

Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., for his part, expressed belief the opposition leader “would be able to contribute significantly” to the government’s war against drugs.  

Former president and mayor Joseph Estrada also said he expects administration-opposition unity with Robredo’s acceptance of her new job.

“Gender is not a problem. I welcome Vice President Robredo’s appointment as ICAD co-chairman. The necessary unity between the President and the Vice President would be realized. It is for the good of the people,” Estrada told The STAR.

After initially expressing reservation about Duterte’s appointment of Robredo to ICAD, some Roman Catholic bishops said they respect her decision and that her acceptance of the job has shown all the more her sincerity.

“Like most other people, I was full of apprehension for Vice President Leni when I heard about her decision to accept the offer. But after listening to her brief but straightforward speech, I admired her for her bold decision,” Caloocan Bishop Virgilio David said. “I admired her even more for her sincerity.”

For Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Robredo’s decision shows her determination to “save human lives and to make government accountable for its actions.”

Pabillo said Robredo’s new position would help her promote the rehabilitation of drug users instead of letting them get killed in police operations.

“Her purpose for taking on this charge is clear – to save human lives and to make government accountable for its actions. Both are laudable. She has previously stated that she is for rehabilitation. That is the right approach,” he said.

“I wish and pray for the success of this fresh approach to this old problem,” he said. Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chairman Catalino Cuy said lapses or even abuses in anti-drug police operations should be addressed. “Maybe, it’s where the VP wants us to focus on,” he said.

Robredo’s Liberal Party ally, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, said her “diluted position validates the fear that the Vice President is being set up to fail.” Delon Porcalla, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Robertzon Ramirez, Jose Rodel Clapano, Emmanuel Tupas

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