FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - November 21, 2019 - 12:00am

President Duterte’s invitation for Vice President Leonor Robredo to participate in drug war started on the wrong foot. It has been wrong-footed since.

To begin with, the invitation for Robredo to join the anti-illegal drugs effort came during a moment of pique for the President. Robredo was criticizing the effort from outside, at one time suggesting that the centerpiece program of the Duterte administration was a failure. At the very least, it needed some “tweaking.”

An understandably peeved Duterte said that if she had better ideas, Robredo might do well to lead the anti-drug war. He offered to appoint her as “drug czar” with a seat in the Cabinet.

Having occurred during a moment of pique, the offer was clearly not thought through. Many in the law-enforcement community resisted the idea. If Robredo were put in control of the effort, she would tie the hands of law enforcers in the name of preventing bloodshed. She had no proven competence in law enforcement and that will be a disaster waiting to happen.

There was debate too within Robredo’s political camp. Some of her allies thought this a trap laid out by the wily Duterte to completely destroy her politically. Others, however, thought this was a rare opportunity for the Vice President to demonstrate executive ability and probably propel her to the highest office in the next elections.

While her own spokesman heckled the Duterte offer to the last minute, Robredo realized she had no choice but to accept. Had she rejected the offer, she would have been condemned roundly for being a useless public official. She would have been criticized for condemning the drug war without lending a hand to defeat the scourge.

Non-acceptance, which Duterte probably expected, would have been an irreversible political calamity for Robredo.

Which is not to say, however, that acceptance is a guarantee against political loss. It could still spell an irreversible political calamity at some point. We seem to be heading there. She could have stepped up to that proverbial level of incompetence.

Robredo, in the end, was offered to co-chair the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) with PDEA director-general Aaron Aquino.  The veteran law enforcement officer had earlier expressed doubts about Robredo’s capabilities to fulfill any role in the drug war.

When she accepted the appointment, Robredo was like a puppy just released from the pen. She was trying to be everywhere at the same time.

Attempting to defeat the perception she knew nothing about the job, she began sounding like she knew everything about it.

She proposed anti-drug operatives wear body cameras, although there already exists a resolution requiring exactly that. We have already seen on television video clips of armed encounters taken from body cameras.

After meeting with US embassy officials, she declared that most drugs proliferating here came from China and were distributed here by Chinese nationals or Filipinos of Chinese ancestry. The PDEA chief corrected her immediately, saying most of the drugs came from the notorious tri-border region between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos known as the Golden Triangle. The Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce warned her about stoking ethnic biases.

Late in the budget process, Robredo asked for more money for the anti-drug campaign. Yes, the same one she declared a failure weeks ago.

Robredo suggested we start a community-based rehab program for drug addicts. This seems a continuation of the proposition that the drug problem is principally a health problem. But what that program actually looks like, she did not say. Drug rehabilitation requires large facilities with a complement of medical personnel.

She invited for advice some loudmouth from Human Rights Watch who promptly tweeted that her first duty was to arrest Duterte. That prompted a declaration from the Foreign Affairs Secretary that the brainless loudmouth would be deported promptly if he tried to enter the country. Duterte for his part said he would slap the man in front of the Vice President.

Then Robredo demanded a copy of the list of top drug personalities compiled by our intelligence and investigation agencies. Since she is a member of the policy-making inter-agency committee rather than directly involved in enforcement activities, people wondered loudly what she might do with such a list. One cruel wit suggested the list might come in handy when the time comes to solicit for campaign donations.

What, in Heaven’s name, might she ask for next? Might it be to include Chito Gascon of the Human Rights Commission to be the third co-chair of the ICAD?

It has been painful observing Robredo these last two weeks. She was like a marathon runner with the shoelaces of both feet tied together. She just kept on stumbling.

Early this week, the President drew the line. Robredo will not be given a seat in the Cabinet.

The President’s reason for the exclusion is that she talks too much (apart from organizing meetings with foreign groups that have prematurely condemned the drug war). That could imperil state secrets and compromise national security.

Finally, and this takes the cake, the President declared he does not trust Robredo.

In response, Robredo announced she wrote a letter to the President asking for a clearer demarcation of her role. That role was demarcated from the start. She is co-chair of the ICAD. She presides at the meetings of that committee and tries to bring forth consensus at every turn – not make unilateral proposals each time a microphone is poked at her face.

She was not appointed to overrun all the myriad agencies involved in the anti-drug campaign.

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