Vice President Leni Robredo has been calling on the Duterte administration to treat the drug problem not just as a law enforcement issue but a health issue as well.
Boy Santos/File
Robredo, UN discuss ‘best practices’ in tackling drug problem
Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - November 12, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Phillipines — Vice President Leni Robredo met yesterday with officials of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), who briefed her on the strategies of other countries in fighting illegal drugs.

“I can’t disclose to you all the details of the discussion. Of course some of it is confidential. But in broad terms, what have been covered in the UNODC meeting are the best practices that we can learn from other countries in terms of addressing the drug problem,” her chief of staff Undersecretary Philip Dy told reporters.

Dy said one of the key findings in other countries that was discussed was the emphasis on the public health approach alongside law enforcement.

Robredo has been calling on the Duterte administration to treat the drug problem not just as a law enforcement issue but a health issue as well.

The UNODC sought the meeting with the Vice President, following her appointment as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) last week.

Apart from the UNODC, Robredo also met yesterday with the group Community-based Drug Rehabilitation Alliance or COBRA.

The group is composed of members of academe, civil society groups, faith-based organizations pushing for a more public health-based manner of solving the demand side of the drug problem.

These were the same groups her office had been working with since she assumed office in 2016, Robredo said.

Dy said the Vice President and COBRA agreed on the establishment of more community-based rehab centers.

“The community-based rehabilitation approach is something that is really done in partnership with the local government units. And part of the discussion was how can we support the local government units more, particularly in terms of strengthening the Anti-Drug Abuse Councils and making sure that they have the adequate resources and capacity to implement community-based drug rehabilitation programs,” he said.

President Duterte, meanwhile, is ready to provide Vice President Robredo everything she needs to perform her functions as drug czar, including an appointment paper and free rein to review existing policies, Malacañang said yesterday.

Asked if the President would issue an appointment paper, Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo replied in Filipino, “The President said she would be appointed to a Cabinet rank post. That will happen.”

Panelo could not say when the appointment paper would be released.

Panelo said Robredo has been given the authority to assess existing policies on the drug war, including the controversial Oplan Tokhang, a knock-and-plead campaign targetting drug offenders.

Pressed if the Palace is open to scrapping Oplan Tokhang, Panelo replied: “VP Leni is in charge so whatever she feels that should be enforced, we will do it.”

“It is a yes. If she wants it... But I heard her saying tokhang is not that serious or deadly. They were just asking people if they want to voluntarily surrender... If that will be effective insofar as the drug war is concerned, she has been given the authority,” he added.

The President, Panelo claimed, is also willing to provide Robredo additional budget to enable her to implement her policies on narcotics.

Panelo said Duterte would invite Robredo to Malacañang for a conversation on the anti-drug campaign.

“I think everything will be threshed out the moment the two talk,” he said, adding that the meeting may take place after Duterte’s three-day break this week.?While he gave Robredo free rein on the anti-drug crackdown, the President is not keeping his hands off the campaign.

“He is accountable to the whole country. If she fails, the President also fails,” Panelo said.

Panelo said the Duterte administration is leaving it up to Robredo to decide whether to consult with the United Nations and US officials on the drug war.?Malacañang, however, maintained that the International Criminal Court (ICC) cannot come to the Philippines to probe the drug war because it does not have jurisdiction over the country.

Asked whether he thinks Robredo can submit documents to the ICC, Panelo replied: “We will defer to the VP on how she would implement her strategies.”

PNP promises support

The leadership of the Philippine National Police (PNP) has vowed to make the Vice President as “comfortable as possible” in her newly designated role as the administration’s drug czar.

PNP officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa said they are looking forward to an intensified anti-illegal drug campaign that upholds the rule of law under her leadership.

Following the Vice President’s new role in the anti-illegal drug campaign, Gamboa said the PNP is open to studying the recalibration of the drug war.

“In any government approach it should be dynamic because time changes and me, personally, I would like to open up options because we had a drug war which I think is very successful. But if there is a need to recalibrate and maybe touch a few points, study it, then the PNP is open to it,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Waiting for official invite

Because of a text message sent by then Cabinet secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. telling her to “desist from attending all Cabinet meetings” in late 2016, Robredo has no plan of going to such meetings until she is officially invited back by Malacañang.

Panelo has repeatedly said the Vice President’s position as co-chairperson of ICAD has Cabinet rank.

“I was appointed co-chairman of ICAD, the position has Cabinet rank, but it was not indicated in the designation. That was what Sec. Panelo was saying during briefings, media guestings, but I’m still waiting for clarifications,” Robredo said on her Sunday radio show BISErbisyong Leni over dzXL.

She said she will continue to follow the Palace’s previous order asking her to skip Cabinet meetings unless she is invited.

Panelo, however, insisted there is no need for a formal invitation because Robredo is already part of the Cabinet when she accepted the post.

“Actually, if you are a member of the Cabinet, you don’t need invitation. If there is a scheduled Cabinet meeting, you are supposed to attend unless you cannot and you have to notify the Cabinet secretary,” Panelo said in a press briefing.

The Vice President stressed the cooperation between agencies under ICAD is more important than being invited to Cabinet meetings.

Senators urge CHR to work with VP

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) should be of help in the campaign against illegal drugs by trying to involve itself in the work of Robredo, senators said yesterday.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said it appeared the CHR does not know what the role of ICAD is when the commission requested documents from the body in connection with the administration’s war on drugs.

“They don’t have records. It’s a meeting of different agencies involved in illegal drugs and drug abuse, that’s how the inter-agency works. It does not have its own statistics, they might as well ask the PNP for it or the Dangerous Drugs Board, or the DOH, that’s the inter-agency committee,” Sotto told reporters.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson directed the CHR to the PNP. He recalled that when he spearheaded the inquiry into extrajudicial killings in the 17th Congress, the records of the campaign were “a source of miscommunication between the PNP and CHR.”

“The PNP had agreed at that time to provide the CHR with the records of their operations on a case to case basis,” Lacson said.

Sen. Christopher Go said the CHR should instead gather data on the victims of drug traffickers and pushers.

“The CHR should prioritize investigating the victims of drugs – not the lives of criminals. Let’s focus on the innocent victims,” he said.

‘Operation All Talk’

On Robredo’s media appearances since accepting the ICAD post last week, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano reminded the Vice President to do her job first.

“I’ve been monitoring for the last three days, and it’s like from ‘Operation Tokhang,’ it became ‘Operation All Talk.’ Well, I was surprised. I guess it just so happens that the Vice President is the media’s favorite, or she likes media exposure,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

In an interview over CNN Philippines’ The Source, the leader of the 301-member House of Representatives said the more prudent thing for the Vice President to do at this early stage in her job is to focus on the task at hand.

Reacting to Cayetano’s comments, vice presidential spokesman Barry Gutierrez said yesterday there is no point in criticizing Robredo in her first few days as drug czar, as bickering will only make the drug lords happy.

“VP is just starting the work delegated to her by the President. It’s barely a week since she was appointed. If Speaker Cayetano couldn’t help the VP, he should stop attacking her,” he said in Filipino.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he is saddened by Cayetano’s comments, which he said “are totally uncalled for.”

“The gravity of this issue on illegal drugs calls for every one to set aside politics. In the remaining two and a half years of the administration, we should all work together to solve this problem,” he added. – With Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Romina Cabrera

LENI ROBREDO
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