At a news conference, Robredo vowed to hold accountable officials involved in the drug war, including the so-called ninja cops, and those who have allowed the smuggling of shabu, and to run after big-time drug lords.
“They ask me if I’m ready for this job. My question is, are they ready for me?” she said in Filipino.
Initially, she was hesitant to accept her designation as a co-chairperson of the Interagency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs, citing concerns that the appointment was not a serious one but was just a trap so that the Duterte administration could blame her for its shortcomings.READ: Rody appoints, Leni declinesREAD: Rody needles Leni on drug czar, VP retorts: Won’t be ‘scapegoat’
“But in the end, the most important consideration for me is simple: if this is an opportunity to stop the killing of innocent people and hold accountable those who must be held accountable, then I will shoulder this responsibility,” she said.
“I did not ask for this. It is the President [Rodrigo Duterte] who offered me this. At the end of the day, if that would just be the solution to end the [drug-related] killings, I accept the offer of the President,” she told reporters.
In her speech, Robredo highlighted her longstanding differences with the President.
“The President knows my position on the drug war: I am against the killing of innocent people, and I am against abusive officials. He knows my criticisms. He knows what I intend to fix,” she said.
“So if the President thinks that in accepting this position, I will be silenced, he is dead wrong. From the start, we are ready to help for the good of the nation. But we will never surrender our principles. This is not a game. This is a serious discussion when lives are involved.”
In an Oct. 31 memorandum, the President appointed Robredo to be the ICAD co-chairperson with a Cabinet rank until June 30, 2022 unless sooner revoked.
Saying the President is just left with “two-and-a-half years in your administration,” Robredo said “it is not yet too late for us to help one another.”
“There is still a chance for us to fix this,” she added.
Barry Gutierrez, Robredo’s lawyer-spokesperson, said the Vice President’s next step is to know the scope of her work as ICAD co-chairperson, and functions and duties.
He said she would soon meet with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency director general Aaron Aquino, ICAD chairperson, and the other committee officials from different government member-agencies.
“We would be dealing with the details of her new designation. It is important that we actually get the right information so we would know clearly the problem we would be facing,” he said.
This puts Robredo in the cockpit of the President’s internationally condemned war on drugs.
“I want to fix the campaign against illegal drugs, stop the killing of innocents and bring to account abusive officials,” Robredo told a press conference.
Duterte critics were skeptical of the appointment, with Senator Leila de Lima calling it a “silly trap.”
The President wants to “create the narrative of putting all the blame of his failures on someone else,” added De Lima, who is imprisoned on drug charges she says are politically motivated.
Opinion polls say the drug war has the overwhelming backing of Filipinos, yet it has high-profile critics among opposition politicians, the powerful Catholic Church and advocacy groups.
Foreign institutions have also stepped in to question the killing, including International Criminal Court prosecutors who have launched a preliminary probe.
Drug agents say they have killed just over 5,500 alleged dealers and users who fought back during arrest, but watchdogs say the true toll is at least four times higher.
Advocates allege the campaign is a war on the urban poor which has had the side effect of unleashing a rush of killings linked to everything from personal disputes to political rivalries.
Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo has denied the appointment was an effort to drag Robredo into the morass of the campaign to co-opt her.
“Effectively, we’re giving her a ladder to the presidency. This is her chance,” Panelo said on Tuesday.
Duterte has previously derided Robredo’s capability to potentially lead the country, which she would have to do if the president dies or cannot function.
But in a turnaround labelled by critics as a trap, Duterte said in a speech last week that the drug situation has “worsened” with the police on the “brink of surrendering.”
“It’s beyond my competence, but maybe she will do better,” Duterte told reporters last week.
Several members of Duterte’s Cabinet said they would work with Robredo in good faith, but not all of them were so welcoming.
“C’mon Leni, let’s try something new. Except legalizing the drug trade, rehabbing drug dealers instead shootin’ ‘em,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin wrote in a tweet.
Malacañang welcomed Robredo’s acceptance of her appointment.
“We welcome the acceptance of VP Leni to her appointment by the President as anti-drug czar. We welcome her return to the Cabinet. This is her moment. She should seize this opportunity,” Panelo said.
“By her acceptance, it shows she is much smarter than her colleagues in the opposition,” Panelo added.
Panelo said Robredo should talk to President Duterte to determine her role as co-chair of the anti-drug body.
The Palace official refused to answer reporters’ queries if Robredo, given her new role, could suspend anti-drug operations without President Duterte’s permission and if she will be granted appointing powers in drug-related agencies.
Aquino, who had initially expressed doubts about Robredo’s ability to succeed in the job, said members of ICAD were “ecstatic” about her appointment.
“The members of ICAD are happy and we expect that she will make a call within the week and hopefully we can brief her on the accomplishments that were made by ICAD for the past years,” said Aquino, who is her co-chair.
President Duterte will extend help to Robredo if she needs it, Panelo said.
“If the help of the President is asked, why not help?” Panelo told Palace reporters.
In a memo, Duterte asked drug-related agencies to extend their “full assistance and cooperation” to Robredo to ensure the government’s success in its anti-drug campaign.
ICAD is composed of 21 government offices that is tasked to ensure that each member agency shall implement laws and policies pertaining to the anti-drug campaign in an “integrated and synchronized” manner.
Among the agencies were the Dangerou Drugs Board, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Health, Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture, and Department of National Defense.
Also part of ICAD were Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Philippine Information Agency, Public Attorney’s Office, Office of the Solicitor General, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Immigration, Armed Forces of the Philippines and Anti-Money Laundering Council.
Among its functions is to “ensure the effective conduct of all anti-illegal drug operations and arrest of high-value drug personalities” including “street-level peddlers and users.”
The ICAD is also mandated to “cleanse the bureaucracy” of government personnel involved in illegal drugs and advocacy initiatives.
It is also tasked to ensure the implementaion of the Barangay Drug-Clearing Program and National Anti-Drug Plan of Action 2015-2020.
ICAD has four clusters: enforcement, justice, advocacy, and rehabilitation and reintegration.
Aquino earlier said the Vice President could be a “good leader” for the ICAD’s advocacy and rehabilitation and reintegration clusters.
“It doesn’t mean if she handles those 2 clusters she doesn’t have any say on the other two clusters that I’m handling. She can put any program or maybe do something for the betterment of our committee,” he said.
An ally of Vice President Leni Robredo in the House of Representatives on Wednesday backed her decision to the anti-drug czar post offered to her by the President.
Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte, a Liberal Party stalwart, said their reservations about Robredo’s appointment were dispelled by her sincerity and determination.
“We had reservations... We know that for the administration, this is just politics,” Belmonte said during the minority bloc’s weekly press conference.
“But VP Leni does not play high politics with the lives of our people. We know that her sincerity overcame her own doubts, and it overcomes ours,” he added.
Belmonte also said the Vice President’s political party--Liberal Party--expected that she would take the offer as “she will never shrink from any responsibility to do what she can to make our people’s lives better.”
Senators on Wednesday welcomed Robredo’s acceptance of the offer to become co-chairperson of ICAD.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III described Robredo’s decision 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,” he said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson commended Robredo for accepting the position.
“Kudos to VP Robredo. I take my hat off to her for accepting the daunting challenge,” he said.
He said experience counts but sincerity and mental honesty, not to mention the willingness to learn should count more.
“We should all give her the support she needs to contribute her share in battling this pestering problem of illegal drugs that destroys lives, families and the youth to whom we will bequeath the future of our beloved country. In my case, I am ready and willing to humbly share whatever modest law enforcement experience I gained in my previous life,” said Lacson, who was a former PNP chief.
Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who used to lead the administration’s war on drugs, said he was happy that the vice president chose to help the government.
“This is not just the problem of President Duterte. This is the problem of the whole Filipino nation so we need a whole nation approach to eradicate the drug problem.”
Dela Rosa said he hopes that Robredo, in accepting the job, will share the solution she knows in the war against drugs.
“We will be victorious in this war as a nation, undivided by political colors,” he said.
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said they have full confidence that she can carry out the task when she accepted the challenge.
Being the leader of the opposition, he said Robredo will continue to watch over the government.
“But in instances such as this, when she is called upon to do her share, she will not shirk from this challenge,” said Drilon.
He said the task is enormous as the problems on illegal drugs continue to infect society and ruin lives and families.
“I call on the Filipino people and government instrumentalities involved in the campaign against illegal drugs to rally behind the Vice President. Her success is the success of our nation,” he said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, a member of the minority bloc in the Senate, said she welcomes the vice president’s decision despite concerns that it could set her up for failure.
“The vice president’s decision is extremely laudable. It demonstrates her readiness to lead and sacrifice for the people and provide better solutions to the country’s drug problem,” she said.
“If Robredo is provided all the necessary powers and resources and given the full liberty to implement a public health approach coupled with a rights-based law enforcement strategy, she can do a much better job in responding to the drug problem, she added. With AFPREAD: Robredo clarifies drug war yarn, opts for ‘review’
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