President Duterte signed Robredo’s appointment paper on Oct. 31.
“Pursuant to the provisions of existing laws, rules, and regulations, you are hereby designated as the co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs until 30 June 2022, unless sooner revoked,” the letter addressed to Robredo read.
Duterte asked the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Philippine National Police, Dangerous Drugs Board, and other drug-related agencies to extend their “full assistance and cooperation” to Robredo to ensure the government’s success in its anti-drug campaign.
The PDEA has been assigned to lead the 20-member inter-agency committee, which was formed in 2017 through Executive Order No. 15.
Despite being a co-chairman, Robredo’s post would be of Cabinet rank and she could attend Cabinet meetings if she accepts the offer, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
A spokesman for Robredo, however, said the offer was “not serious.”
“It is very clear that the President’s order is only an acceptance that there are shortcomings in his drug campaign,” said Barry Gutierrez, Robredo’s spokesman. “That’s why they approached the vice president,” he added.
He added that Robredo would send the President a list of specific recommendations to address the shortcomings of his war on drugs, but said she need not be co-chair of ICAD to do it.
Panelo, on the other hand, said that if Robredo accepts the post, she has full control over what to do with the drug war, which includes possible termination of the controversial Oplan Tokhang.
“The President was thinking, when she was criticizing, she must have some ideas in her mind that would effectively implement the drug war. When you’re saying that it’s ineffective, you must have some ideas to make it effective,” Panelo said.
While Robredo can still decline the appointment, Panelo said the Palace wants her to accept it.
“We want her to accept the appointment. We want her to succeed because her success would be the success of the Filipino people,” he said.
Panelo said if Robredo declines the appointment, her criticisms against the administration’s anti-drug campaign were not true.
He added that he hopes the President’s critics will finally see his sincerity in making the offer to Robredo.
Robredo previously declined the drug czar offer, suggesting that it might be the Duterte administration’s way of conceding that the anti-illegal drug campaign has been a failure.
READ: Rody needles Leni on drug czar, VP retorts: Won’t be ‘scapegoat’
Before her appointment, PDEA chief Aaron Aquino said Robredo would likely fail as drug czar.
“PDEA believes that the Honorable Vice President is not abreast with the supply reduction efforts and lacks experience in dealing and working with law enforcers,” Aquino said.
On Oct. 28, Duterte dared Robredo to take he helm of his administration’s campaign against illegal drugs following a report by international news outfit Reuters quoting Robredo as saying that the government should abandon the anti-drug campaign since it is “not working.”
Robredo later said she did not say the drug war should be stopped, but merely “tweaked.”
Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs has been criticized by both local and international human rights groups, citing alleged police abuses and vigilante-style killings.
It has also been tainted with controversies that even led to the resignation of former Philippine National Police chief General Oscar Albayalde recently, as he fought allegations that he had protected his men accused of selling seized narcotics.
If she accepts the appointment, this would mark Robredo’s return to the Cabinet after two years.
She used to be part of the Cabinet as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council until her resignation in December 2016.
Robredo at the time cited “major differences” with Duterte, and revealed that she was directed to “desist from attending all Cabinet meetings.”
The two leaders belong to opposing sides of the political fence, as Robredo leads the opposition Liberal Party, while Duterte is the head of the ruling PDP-Laban.
Panelo said the appointment would give Robredo the opportunity to “show her mettle” and prime her to become the next president.
He recalled that President Fidel Ramos had made then-Vice President Joseph Estrada the head of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, which was tasked to go after criminal syndicates, a role which catapulted him to the presidency.
“When you say drug czar, that means you will oversee all drug-related agencies. That means she’s the boss,” Panelo said in Filipino.
Panelo said the President’s offer was “serious.”
Senators said Robredo should accept the appointment, with the President’s aide Senator Christopher Go telling her “to kill all drug lords.”
Although a recent survey showed that 82 percent of respondents favored the administration’s war on drugs, Robredo might do better, Go added.
“We all have our own style. She might have a new style to curb illegal drugs,” he said.
“When July 1,  comes, and you did not succeed, and if you failed to kill the drug lords, I will be the one to ask you why you did not kill the drug lords,” Go said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in accepting the position, Robredo would realize the gravity of the country’s drug problem.
“Was it not their camp who has always been calling to stop the drug war? Why would you stop it when it’s an ongoing struggle?” he said.
“If we kill all the drug pushers in the Philippines today, tomorrow, there will be new drug pushers. When we jail all drug addicts today, there will be new drug addicts tomorrow because drug pushers will look for persons whom they can sell the illegal drugs,” Sotto said.
Senator Ronald dela Rosa, once head of the war on drugs when he was national police chief, said he is optimistic that with Robredo on board, the anti-drug campaign would be a success.
“I hope that we can win this war as one nation undivided by political colors,” he said.
Senator Imee Marcos said Robredo should accept the job because the President needs all the help he can get against the drug lords.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said this will be a good opportunity for Robredo and her team to use their alternative strategies to eliminate illegal drugs.
Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin, Jr. of Ako Bicol welcomed the appointment of Robredo as co-chair of the Interagency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, saying she would be able to contribute significantly to the war on drugs.
“We see this appointment as a positive step towards reconciliation between the current administration and the opposition. It may well serve as the bridge which would allow both parties to work together towards a common goal of eradicating, not only the menace of drug addiction but such other problems confronted by our country,” said Garbin, deputy minority leader.
“Our party is throwing its support to the appointment of the Vice President and is ready to assist in whatever way it can once called upon to do so,” he added.
Party-list Rep. Michael Defensor said he believes Robredo will be able to do the job.
“As co-chairperson, the vice president will have full perspective of the drug situation and can assert her position as regards the drug campaign and how it should be executed. She will now be working with the intelligence and enforcement agencies rather than observing it from the outside and not having a full grasp of the situation,” he said.
But Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay said the position that was offered to Robredo was a trap. “The diluted position validates the fear that the vice president is being set up to fail,” Lagman said.
“No less than Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Chief Aaron Aquino, the chairman of ICAD, ominously predicted that Robredo would fail,” Lagman said.
Aquino on Tuesday changed his tune, saying he felt Robredo would be effective “when it comes to advocacy, rehabilitation, and reintegration.”
Commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana of the Commission on Human Rights also welcomed Robredo’s appointment.
“We all know that she does not believe in the approach of our government in its fight against [illegal] drugs. May be now, we could give the vice president a free hand. I think she could come up with a change in the policy. The approach is not to kill [suspected drug offenders] but to rehabilitate,” she said. With Rio N. ArajaREAD: Robredo clarifies drug war yarn, opts for ‘review’
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