‘He said… she said’ word war
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 10, 2020 - 12:00am

As usual, no debasing insults President Rodrigo Duterte dished out against Vice President (VP) Leni Robredo could make her respond with an equal venomous retort. A day after President Duterte called her a “colossal blunder” since both of them got elected into office in May 2016, VP Robredo merely shrugged off the latest diatribes as nothing new to her.

The latest President’s tirades against VP Robredo were his rebuttal to the latter’s attack on the anti-illegal drugs war of the Duterte administration as a “massive failure.”

As she has been doing whenever asked about the presidential digs at her, Mrs. Robredo projects her cool composure. Her body language though seemed to me is a pained smile to cover whatever true feeling she has on the indignities thrown by the President and the rest of her most bitter critics.

It was how I saw her up close and personal when I finally succeeded in getting her to guest in my weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum at Café Adriatico at Remedios Circle in Malate. This is the first time ever I’ve met her since she was thrust to politics barely a year after the airplane crash that killed her late husband, former Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo in August 2012.

Originally, VP Robredo was set to guest at my Kapihan sa Manila Bay last November. She had to cancel it after she accepted the President’s offer to become co-chairperson of the Interagency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD).

After 18 days of taking over the helm of the ICAD, the Chief Executive “fired” her for allegedly bungling the new post given her and ridiculed VP Robredo’s “record” in office. Having served for several years as public prosecutor, the President even went on to question Mrs. Robredo’s knowledge of laws, as a fellow lawyer.

But would you believe that both the President and the Vice President also share another thing in common? This I learned from Mrs. Robredo that she, too, attended her law schooling at San Beda College in Mendiola, Manila.   

When the 53-year-old widow first entered politics – albeit reluctantly – she run and won as Camarines Sur Congresswoman under her late husband’s Liberal Party (LP). While in Congress, she took her Masters in Laws at San Beda. She told me she used to take the Light Rail Transit-2 station, located beside San Beda College where she attended her law classes every Saturday.

While the latest harsh words from President Duterte still did not affect her, or so she swore, the Vice President, however, could only sneer at the reactions of Duterte administration allies, including those of certain Cabinet and other government officials who are members of the ICAD for apparently criticizing her after she released to the public her 40-page exit report as ICAD co-chair.

“Please read it before making hirit,” the Vice President jokingly told her most bitter critics. This is precisely why, she pointed out, she made available to the public and media her ICAD report for them to read and go over her findings and recommendations. The Office of the Vice President uploaded the copy of the entire report. This can be accessed by anyone who cares to read it.

This is the link to her ICAD report: https://www.scribd.com/embeds/441844548/content?start page=1

During the same conversation with her in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, VP Robredo explained her ICAD exit report actually included the contents of her first two letters sent to the President that updated him on the initial activities and information she gathered in her brief stay in that office. Unfortunately, she rued, the President apparently has not read them.

She was quoting though the information given to Malacañang media by presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo who confirmed VP’s two letters have been transmitted and received by the Office of the President. But for whatever reason, Panelo merely disclosed, President Duterte never mentioned if he read these letters.

According to the VP, she has written a third letter to the President while she was still the ICAD co-chair seeking clarifications on what specific “role,” duties, functions or powers that she was supposed to perform. At that time, she recalled, she was asking her ICAD co-chair, Director General Aaron Aquino of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) about the much reported “high-value targets” (HVT) in the on going war against local and international drugs syndicates. 

The PDEA chief  – who has not made secret at the outset he was not comfortable sharing the ICAD post with the Vice President – offered to brief her on HVT. But, according to her, she refused it until she gets the President’s response on her official queries about her role. However, before she could send this third letter to Malacañang, she was unceremoniously removed from her ICAD post.

Later events showed President Duterte obviously did not anticipate that VP Robredo would accept the designation when he first offered the ICAD post out of obvious exasperation after she was quoted saying to a Reuters interview last October that the anti-drug war has not solved this problem. She subsequently denied it. Reuters, in turn, stood by its story that repeated reports on extrajudicial killings (EJKs) of suspected drug users and peddlers by law enforcement authorities led by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

However, both the PNP and PDEA are refuting the data that the VP used as official source of information. These data, she cited, were all attributed in the more than 100 footnotes in her ICAD report. Contrary to claims of critics of her ICAD report, the VP believes it is supportive to the anti-drug war to protect and further strengthen institutions like the PNP, PDEA, and the rest of the agencies involved from abuses of the few. 

The VP is drafting another letter to President Duterte and hopes he would find time to read it this time. Instead of joining forces in the campaign against illegal drugs, it has been sadly reduced to “he said…she said” word war between the two highest elected officials of the land.

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