Veep’s acceptance of ICAD post welcome
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - November 17, 2019 - 12:00am

Vice President Leni Robredo’s bold move in accepting the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs co-chairmanship is a welcome development that I am certain would provide greater impetus to the government’s war against illegal drugs. I said as much when I called her senior adviser Rapa Cojuangco Lopa to convey to the vice president my congratulations for accepting the position. 

Everybody agrees that it was an excellent move on the part of President Duterte to offer VP Robredo the role of drug czar (or czarina, as some insist) because – and I say this in all sincerity – she can offer a fresh perspective on the gargantuan drug problem in our country. The President himself admitted that after promising to solve the drug problem in six months, he may not be able to finish it by the end of his term. Thinking ahead, he is hopeful that members of the opposition like the Vice President will see the “reality on the ground” and the dangers that are constantly faced by government operatives – and this latest development will hopefully provide the necessary equilibrium. 

There will surely be some people who will try to egg the vice president into using the position as a political tool. But being a lawyer and one who was married to a man like Jesse Robredo whose legacy of genuine and sincere public service has won the hearts and minds of the people – I am certain she will do this out of love for our country and uphold the name of her husband, whose legacy of doing what is good for the Filipino without regard for political color, will prevail over any political ambition.

Even when she was still a congresswoman, I have always seen Leni Robredo as someone who would look at an issue from a different angle. In fact, I personally endorsed her nomination to be one of the recipients of our PeopleAsia magazine’s “Women of Style and Substance” award back in 2013 when she decided to follow in the footsteps of her late husband and become a public servant.

The drug menace is a major concern and a global problem, with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reporting that the manufacture of illicit drugs has increased over the years, like cocaine for instance whose manufacture reached a record high of 1,976 tons globally in 2017. An estimated 271 million people reportedly used drugs in 2017, with organized crime syndicates now looking at Southeast Asia as their base of operations, if not location for their expansion plans, with synthetic drugs bringing in the biggest profits in this multibillion-dollar business. 

Chinese involvement in the drug trade is well known – with most of the supply of drugs and even precursor ingredients coming from China as highlighted in the 2019 International Narcotics Control and Strategy Report of the US State Department that also pinpointed the Philippines as a regional transit and destination point for illicit drug trafficking, particularly for methamphetamine (shabu). The vice president should closely monitor that vital information.

There is no doubt that the problem is more complicated with the involvement of police officers, local government executives, officials and employees of the Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Corrections who are on the take, if not involved in the distribution itself. Sadly, even the Justice system has also been compromised – and hopefully, the vice president will be able to see the complex network involving the illegal drug menace that has become very pervasive. 

Having been in media and a political observer myself, I have seen the magnitude of the drug problem grow rapidly over the years, destroying families and the lives of so many young people whom I personally knew – who needlessly died early. 

US officials have offered to help and discuss cooperation and intelligence exchange to Vice President Robredo. Cooperation with the US is actually something that we have been doing over the years, with intelligence information from the Americans helping in the arrest of drug suspects and the seizure of drug shipments like the P34 million worth of shabu discovered in Cavite early last year.

At the request of US Senators Dick Durbin and Edward Markey, I met with both of them at the US Capitol. I was pleased to inform them that VP Robredo is now part of the government’s anti-illegal drugs efforts. She will now have access to evidentiary documents and data involving drug cases including that of Senator Leila de Lima with her alleged drug involvement. VP Robredo’s involvement will make the drug cases more transparent. We all want to make sure that due process will be observed, with a fair trial to be conducted expeditiously. Everybody wants to see that happen. 

On Maria Ressa’s case – while I have a very high regard for her, I disagree with her characterization of the situation in the Philippines as “worse than any war zone” she has ever seen. The real war zone on drugs was in Marawi City and certainly not in the many urban areas. The National Press Club has issued a statement saying Maria Ressa’s description on the country’s war on drugs as totally false.

Being involved in media, I know that libel cases being filed against you by the powers that be are par for the course. Many years ago, I faced 32 counts of libel filed against me and our late publisher Max Soliven by a presidential adviser, and this went on for many years. Years earlier, Max Soliven and the late Louie Beltran also faced a libel case filed by then President Cory Aquino.

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