Malacañang is expecting a “fresh perspective” and results from Vice President Leni Robredo in the administration’s all out campaign against illegal drugs after she formally accepted President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer to become the country’s anti-illegal drugs czarina.
In a press statement, Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar stressed that the offer of the President is a genuine opportunity to turn criticisms into constructive inputs in the campaign against illegal drugs.
“We look forward to the fresh perspective that Vice President Robredo will bring in addressing the illegal drugs problem in the Philippines much faster instead of just criticizing without concrete actions,” Andanar said in a statement.
“We believe that the loudest critics should act beyond mere observers but be active contributors for change,” he also said.
Andanar stressed the need for unity in combating the illegal drugs menace.
“In these times, we should focus on our common goal of ridding the scourge of drugs from our local communities. Let us work together in giving Filipinos the safe and comfortable life that they deserve,” he said.
As a staunch critic of the war on drugs, Andanar said he expects Robredo to produce results as illegal drugs czarina.
“We welcome the inputs and contributions of Vice President Robredo who has been very vocal about the Duterte administration’s war on illegal drugs and look forward to the results she can produce,” Andanar said.
At a press briefing in Malacañang yesterday, Presidential Legal Counsel and spokesman Salvador Panelo said Robredo’s acceptance only proved that she is “smarter” than the leaders of the opposition.
Robredo, in a televised speech, formally accepted her appointment as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) headed by Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Undersecretary Aaron Aquino.
“She is welcome back to the Cabinet. Her acceptance shows she is smarter than her colleagues in the opposition who do not want her to succeed in serving the people,” Panelo said.
During the early part of the Duterte administration, Robredo served as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) with the rank of secretary but she resigned later on.
“She is finally her own person. She is much better off listening to her own instincts as a mother and a lawyer,” Panelo said.
“She is now the drug czar. Let’s see what she can do,” he added.
Panelo explained Robredo’s stint at ICAD could either “enlighten her or deepen her beliefs” regarding the all-out campaign against illegal drugs launched upon the assumption of Mr. Duterte in July 2016.
“I sent you my statement and said ‘this is her moment,’ and I said ‘destiny awaits her and history beckons her,’” he added.
At the same time, the official said there is no need for Malacañang to send a formal invitation for Robredo to attend the Cabinet meeting.
“She has been appointed and she has accepted it, then there is no need for any invitation. It goes without saying that if you are a member of the Cabinet, then you are free to come and to join us.
But if she would want an invitation, we can always give it to her,” Panelo said.
He added that he will let Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea decide whether to send a formal invitation to Robredo.
After accepting the offer, Panelo said Robredo can come to the Palace and talk to the President so she would know exactly the parameters of her powers as the drug czarina.
“Well, she’s welcome. We have a Cabinet meeting today and she can show up,” Panelo said.
“She has to talk to the President. It’s between the President and the appointee. The appointing power in my view should be talking. We can only speculate. Let us not get into that,” he added
The spokesman also assured Robredo that members of the Cabinet are ready to help her so that she will succeed in her job.
In accepting the post, Robredo, who has criticized the Duterte administration’s all-out campaign against illegal drugs, said that doubts cropped up within her camp after the President made the offer and went on to issue an appointment letter dated 31 October.
“I did not make criticisms to run after any post. I did not ask for this. It’s the President’s idea,” Robredo said.
The Vice President, however, sounded pessimistic on the support she could gather from various agencies involved in the campaign against illegal drugs.
Aquino, who initially predicted Robredo’s failure as illegal drugs czarina, said that members of the ICAD were happy with her acceptance as co-chairman.
“The members of ICAD are happy and we expect that she will make a call within the week,” Aquino said in a broadcast interview.
The PDEA chief said that he is ready to divide the functions of ICAD with the Vice President. He hinted at giving up the advocacy and rehabilitation and reintegration programs of the committed to Robredo.
He said he could retain the law enforcement and justice programs of ICAD, which has 20 government agencies under its wing, including the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of National Defense, Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), and the National Bureau of Investigation.
He, however, stressed that the Vice President can introduce fresh programs to the ICAD “for the betterment of our campaign against illegal drugs.”
PNP vows support
The 190,000-strong PNP vowed all-out support to the Vice President in her role as co-chairperson of the ICAD.
“The PNP will comply with and abide by the order of the President,” PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said in an interview.
“The PNP will extend its utmost courtesy, cooperation, and full assistance to the Vice President,” he added.
Banac also expressed confidence that gender will not be a hindrance in Robredo carrying out her duties and responsibilities at the ICAD.
What matters, according to Banac, is Robredo’s dedication in exerting efforts to have a drug-free Philippines in 2022.
“What matters here is the unity and cooperation towards a common goal — to have a drug-free Philippines by 2022 and continue the fight against illegal drugs,” he stated.
Senators welcome VP move
Senators crossed party-lines in welcoming Robredo’s acceptance of the appointment — mostly expressing hope she could help in addressing the drug problem.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III branded Robredo’s acceptance as a “very good move.”
“She can start by concentrating on prevention and rehabilitation. I’m willing to give her some ideas that have worked before,” said Sotto, who once served as DDB head.
Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said Robredo will now have the chance to deal with the drug problem the way she wants.
“Whatever ways she wants (to address the drug problem), we will support her,” Go vowed.
He also clarified that the designation is not a trap as claimed by critics of the administration.
“We want her to succeed. We should prioritize the interest of the majority, the interest of every Filipino,” Go said.
But the senator pointed out that strong political will is necessary in going after drug lords, citing that 82 percent of the Filipino people are in favor of Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.
Go said the administration’s tough stance against drug lords has succeeded in reducing their number.
With Kristina Maralit, Maria Romero and Hananeel Bordey