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Hangers on back off

The Vice President must be given a wide latitude in outlining her own anti-illegal drug scheme.

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Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo

“Quarter backers” should stay clear of Vice President Leni Robredo as she performs her duties as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), the Palace said yesterday amid political opponents of President Rodrigo Duterte converging behind Robredo to push their agenda.

“The Vice President must be given a wide latitude in outlining her own anti-illegal drug scheme and pursue, without interference from other quarter backers, her own agenda, which she envisions to be effective in addressing the drug menace,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

Robredo held her first meeting with ICAD member agencies at her office in New Manila, Quezon City on Friday afternoon, two days after she accepted President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s challenge to lead the anti-narcotics campaign by serving as co-chair of the anti-drug body.

She will serve as ICAD co-chair, along with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Aaron Aquino, until 30 June 2022.

Among those who initially met with Robredo was Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson who claimed yesterday he has given the Vice President classified information as to the drug war in the country.

“She appreciated it. She took note. I cannot discuss it publicly — on how to deal with big-time drug dealers, especially the importers,” Lacson, who was former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, said in an interview on Saturday.

The senator said he met with Robredo on Friday morning before she held her first meeting with members of the ICAD and told the Vice President to do her job and make the people know how she is doing her job.

He also advised Robredo to watch her back at all times and to develop people who could be trusted within the agency.

“What she got into, of course there would be lots of characters, especially within the police. There is a lot of characters there, so she should really watch her back at all times,” according to the senator.

Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said he does not see any reason why President Rodrigo Duterte will not support Robredo.

Mr. Duterte appointed Robredo to the agency amid the criticisms of the Vice President against the administration’s war on drugs.

For Go, while he and the President fully support Robredo in her new Cabinet role, he said she should not “baby” the campaign and the drug lords while advising her that “killings are inevitable.”

“We (he and the President) are very much thankful to VP Leni for accepting the post. We give her full support and we wanted her to succeed,” the senator said during a visit to Cebu yesterday.

However, he challenged Robredo to make the campaign against illegal drugs a 100 percent success.

“The Filipino people supported President Duterte in his campaign against illegal drugs and it is very evident as we got 82 percent, and let’s hope that Robredo will make it to 90 to 100 percent,” he advised. But he insisted that killings in the campaign cannot be prevented.

Unforgiving creatures

“Drug lords are unforgiving and they can’t be given a kids’ gloves treatment,” he added.

He said that he and the President will not judge Robredo on her plans in the campaign, but insisted that there should be a fear factor used against the drug lords.

After her first ICAD meeting, Robredo emphasized that the drug problem in the country “should first be solved internally,” but said she was amenable to a possible intervention of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) if the Philippine government fails to punish rights offenders in the conduct of the campaign.

The 47-man UNHRC on 11 July adopted the Iceland-led resolution that seeks a probe into Duterte’s war on illegal drugs. The adoption of the resolution mandates UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to present a “comprehensive” report on the drug war in the Philippines during the council’s 44th session in June 2020.

On 17 July, the President made it clear that he would ignore the investigation that would be initiated by the UNHRC, as he is only inclined to face a “Philippine court.”

“We take note that the Vice President called for the meeting to acquaint herself on the status of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, a step demonstrative of her willingness to suspend all her negative notions about the drug war, mostly based on false, if not exaggerated, information and media hype,” Panelo said.

No ‘bloody’ drug war

About 5,779 drug personalities died in legitimate police anti-drug operations from 1 July 2016 to 31 August 2019, based on data released by the PNP on 6 November.

Despite the drug-related killings, Panelo said the President did not order a “bloody” war against drug suspects.

“In that meeting, VP Leni stressed that the campaign against illegal narcotics can succeed even without bloodshed,” he said. “Noting that the pronounced policy of the drug czar appears to be in direct contrast of what they wrongly perceive to be the bloody strategy of PRRD, the detractors and nitpickers pounce on the apparent strategic contradiction and have raised the specter of, even this early, a collision between the appointee and the appointing power.”

The PNP and PDEA have assured Robredo that the government’s anti-drug operations would be conducted within the bounds of the law.

Aquino has asked Robredo to join actual operations against illegal drugs for a better understanding of the anti-narcotics drive.

Robredo accepted the offer, saying that she would like to see the real drug situation in the country.

Panelo said the Palace is “pleased” with Robredo’s openness to joining any operation by the PDEA or the PNP against drug lords and pushers, “without putting her life in peril.”

“She may see the hostile and mortal realities on the ground that could pave the way for the reassessment of her previous adversarial position on the government’s relentless drive against prohibited drugs or her adoption of better and effective measures not heretofore done,” he said.

Internal solutions

After her meeting with the ICAD, Robredo said she believes the Philippines should initially be given a chance to solve its illegal drug problems internally.

“I have said this time and again that I feel that our problem should first be solved internally. If I was already of the impression after going around, after meeting with the different clusters, after having all the information that I need to have, if I believe that the government is not doing anything to punish whoever needs to be punished or to put to justice whatever needs to be put to justice, then I don’t have any problems with inviting them over,” she said.

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