As the country’s anti-illegal drugs czarina, Vice President Leni Robredo will now be exposed to the realities on the ground, including violent resistance from drug suspects that lead to killings that will belie allegations by critics, including herself, of extrajudicial killings (EJK) in the efforts to keep the public safe from the menace.
This was aired by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte during Wednesday night’s Cabinet meeting that she missed despite her acceptance of the appointment earlier during the day.
The President also welcomed during the assembly Robredo’s acceptance of his offer for her to become co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD).
Robredo, however, appeared to have jumped the gun on the President as she called for a meeting of the ICAD without first meeting with Mr. Duterte for details of her appointment.
In the same Cabinet meeting, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President also mentioned that Robredo’s acceptance was good and will enable her to show her mettle in personally dealing with the problem.
“With the Vice President at the helm of the anti-narcotics campaign, President Duterte expects that the former would see the realities on the ground,” Panelo said.
“Particularly with respect to the government’s position against extrajudicial or state-sponsored killings, and understand that deaths occur due to the violent reactions on the part of agents of the illegal drug trade against the strict enforcement of the law,” he added.
The spokesman also relayed Mr. Duterte’s message welcoming Robredo as ICAD co-chairman.
“Well, he (Mr. Duterte) welcomes the acceptance to the appointment of the Vice President. He expressed it’s good that she’s back in the Cabinet. That’s what he said,” Panelo said.
However, he said the President did not reveal or discuss the scope of Robredo’s job as the country’s anti-illegal drugs czarina.
“No, we did not,” he said.
When asked if the President expected Robredo to accept the job, Panelo said he had no idea.
“I don’t know if he was expecting it. The point is he believes in the capability of the Vice President, that is why he offered initially and he appointed. That alone should tell us that he believes in the capability of the Vice President to perform a job tasked to her,” he added.
He also bared that Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea revealed during a phone conversation that Robredo had called for a meeting of the ICAD, co-chaired by Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Undersecretary Aaron Aquino.
“According to ES (Executive Secretary), the Vice President has already called a meeting with ICAD,” Panelo said.
When asked if he was surprised that Robredo has already called for a meeting despite the fact that she still has not yet met the President to determine the parameters of his job, he said he was not.
But being the country’s anti-illegal drugs czarina, he said the Vice President has the authority to call for it.
“It only means she is very dedicated to assume her new job,” Panelo said.
At the same time, the spokesman said it’s up to Robredo if she still wants to have a meeting with the Chief Executive.
With regards to her attendance in the next Cabinet meeting next month, Panelo said Medialdea has yet to make a formal invite for her to attend it.
“None yet, he still has no letter. The President told me, ES (Medialdea) will be the one in charge to coordinate. But if she already called ICAD, she already knows what to do,” he said.
According to Panelo, he also has no idea if there will be a formal one-on-one meeting between the President and Robredo.
On the possibility that Robredo would allow personalities critical to the war on drugs including Agnes Callamard, the UN Rapporteur for extrajudicial killing, Panelo stressed the Duterte administration’s policy of non-intrusion into the country’s internal affairs stays.
“The policy of the President is he doesn’t want these people intruding into the affairs of the state,” he said.
Robredo formally accepted Mr. Duterte’s offer and appointment at ICAD on Wednesday following initial reservations coming from her camp and colleagues in the opposition Liberal Party.
Prior to her acceptance, Robredo has been among the staunch critics of the Duterte administration’s all-out war against illegal drugs launched upon the President’s assumption in 2016.
In fact, Robredo was among the government officials who brought the war against illegal drugs to the international stage.
In an interview with Time in March 2017, Robredo said that it was “inspiring” to witness growing opposition to the brutal war being waged against drugs and renewed her calls for an end to the slaughter.
In a video address during the 60th annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna immediately after the Time interview, Robredo highlighted alleged human rights abuses in the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs.
In the video — recorded in February 2017 — Robredo claimed that more than 7,000 people had been killed since the drug war began on 1 July 2016.
Robredo’s figure, however, was very far from the official data presented by the Philippine National Police (PNP) before the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs only last Wednesday.
Official PNP records showed that a total of 5,779 drug suspects have been killed in police anti-drug operations from 1 July 2016 to 31 August 2019.
During the same period, the PNP said a total of 142,996 anti-drug operations were launched, where 1,499,474 drug personalities were accounted for. Of these, 1,285,416 personally appeared or surrendered, while 208,279 were arrested.
Government critics, however, have been claiming that the number of suspected drug personalities killed in the campaign could go as high as 27,000.
In fact, days before Mr. Duterte made the offer, Robredo was also quoted by Reuters calling for a stop to the Duterte administration’s all-out campaign against illegal drugs. She clarified later on that she only said the government needs to “tweak” its strategy.
Reuters, however, stood firm on its story.
Meanwhile, officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Thursday welcomed the decision of Robredo to accept the challenge as ICAD co-chairperson.
With Raymart Lolo