Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday expressed her impatience with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), saying that members of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) had no time to waste competing with each other.
“We have only two-and-a-half years left. Are we still going to waste this just to compete with one another?” Robredo said on her weekly radio program, after her co-chairman in ICAD, PDEA chief Aaron Aquino, refused to furnish her with a list of high-value targets in the government’s war on drugs.
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She cited the importance of having the list, saying it is within her official function as ICAD co-chairperson “to ensure the arrest of high-value drug personalities.”
Aquino, in a Nov. 16 statement, said that while the agency did not provide the list of the high-value targets to Vice President Leni Robredo, the agency was willing to present the list to her in a closed-door meeting only with personnel with the needed security clearance.
Saying the list is considered classified information, he said not everybody must have a copy of it.
“In the most simple explanation, if we give the list to VP Robredo, we would not know who else could have the access to it. That will compromise our... operations,” the PDEA chief.
He said it was the rule of law enforcement that “not everybody is given access sensitive and classified information.”
He said he himself does not have a copy of the list.
“Imagine what will happen to the efforts of the law enforcement if that list landed on wrong hands?” he asked.
He said he was not resisting the vice president’s request or disrespecting her.
“Rather this is a mere standard operation procedure on law enforcement operations,” he said.
The vice president said it would be up to President Rodrigo Duterte to deal with the members of ICAD who would refuse to cooperate.
“If the agency-member is not cooperative, that is no longer my fault. But despite the limitations to bar me, I will still do my work,” she said.
But the Palace on Sunday warned Robredo she could be treading on dangerous ground for welcoming foreign officials critical of President Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign
Palace Spokesman Salvador Panelo issued the warning after the President said he would fire Robredo as anti-drug czar if she shared secrets with officials from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) whom she met last week.
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“Revealing State secrets to foreign individuals and entities as well as welcoming those who have trampled the country’s sovereignty would be damaging to the welfare of the Filipino people,” Panelo said in a statement.
“Such revelation of privileged information is a crime which has perpetual special disqualification from office, among its penalties,” he added.
Panelo noted that Robredo has asked agencies under the ICAD, which she has been leading, to produce clear baseline data on the campaign against illegal drugs by the end of the year.
READ: Leni assured of drug war data
The Palace official also noted that Robredo has welcomed United Nations personalities and an International Criminal Court prosecutor, who have described the Philippines as a murderous country and even called for the arrest of President Duterte.
READ: Leni turns to UN for ‘lessons’
“She may not realize it but she could be treading on dangerous grounds. It could be an overreach of the granted authority hence the reminder,” Panelo said.
The vice president, who as opposition leader criticized the President’s war on drugs, earlier said she would shift the campaign’s focus on preventing unnecessary killings.
She also said the UN Human Rights Council may investigate alleged abuses in the campaign if Philippine authorities fail to do so.
The 47-member UNHRC on July 11 adopted an Iceland-led resolution seeking to present a “comprehensive” report on the drug war in the Philippines during the council’s 44th session next year.
Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia, also expressed willingness to go to Manila to help Robredo end “murderous drug war” waged by Duterte.
Robredo’s ally, detained Senator Leila de Lima, said the vice president is “intelligent and trustworthy enough” and a “conscientious public servant who knows what or may not be disclosed to the public.”
“We see a lot of duplicity here. What vicious political game is Duterte and his men playing this time?” she said.
Panelo denied claims that President Duterte is hindering Robredo’s work as ICAD co-chair.
READ: Duterte: Give Leni greater leeway
“Such speculations are unfounded as they are unproductive as well. The President is merely reminding VP Leni of the imperatives as well as the limits of her appointment lest she transgresses it,” he said.
He also said the anti-drug czar could share drug war records, but only those which are not considered confidential.
The Palace official also warned Robredo to be careful of seeking advice from those who are critical the government’s anti-narcotics drive since it could harm her.
“She should be careful about asking advice from others. She may get advice that may be detrimental to her and to the country as well,” Panelo said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Sunday said President Duterte can fire Robredo as co-chair of ICAD or any appointee at his pleasure, particularly if trust and confidence are lost.
“Needless to say, disclosing sensitive and classified information to unauthorized persons is betrayal of trust, and is therefore a proper and reasonable basis for revocation of one’s appointment,” Guevarra said.
Nonetheless, in the event that Robredo is removed as co-chair of ICAD, the committee will continue to do its mandate to implement the government’s anti-drug campaign, he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Robredo should reciprocate the trust vested on her by President Duterte when she was appointed as co-chair of ICAD.
“It’s his way of saying she is now in his complete confidence in his government. No secrets. Total trust. Reciprocate, Leni,” Locsin said on his Twitter account.
“So don’t betray that confidence. He went out on a limb with his offer to appoint her. Appreciate that and don’t be an ingrate,” he added.
Also on Sunday, party-list Rep. Mike Defensor urged Robredo “to destroy the demand for illegal drugs by sending as many abusers as possible to compulsory rehabilitation.” He said there are two sides to the drug problem, the supply side, and the demand side. “We have to suppress both sides at once if we are to succeed in the war on drugs,” Defensor said.
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