Drug czar post for a drug war critic: The strange place Leni Robredo is in

November 8, 2019 - 2:44 PM
Robredo with Army officials
Vice President Leni Robredo banters with officials of the Philippine Army's 2nd Infantry Division after taking breakfast with them at Camp Capinpin sa Tanay, Rizal in a photo released on Nov. 7, 2018. (OVP)

Vice President Leni Robredo accepted the Duterte administration’s offer to designate her as a key official in the brutal war on drugs she has long criticized for causing the deaths of thousands of suspected drug users, dealers and runners ahead of trial.

Robredo made an announcement earlier this week that many, her allies in the Liberal Party included, wished she didn’t—to become a co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs or ICAD.

A memorandum signed by Duterte dated Oct. 31 formally appointed her on the position that would last until the end of his term in 2022.

He also mentioned that relevant agencies such as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Philippine National Police and policy-making body Dangerous Drugs Board are ordered to “extend their full assistance and cooperation” to her to ensure a “successful” narcotics crackdown.

Robredo said that she is aware the offer is suspect; that it could be a trap setting her up for failure. She said she will endure the expected politics and warned the Duterte government to be ready for her.

Explaining her decision, Robredo said she wanted to seize the chance to save lives. “Because if I could save at least one innocent life, my principles and my heart dictate that I should try,” she said.

And what exactly is her function?

While there were some administration-allied lawmakers who welcomed her acceptance of the position, other Filipinos claimed that the ball might not be entirely on Robredo’s court.

Her spokesperson, for one, admitted that the position’s functions are still unclear. For one, the Executive Order 15 creating the ICAD does not have a provision for a co-chair.

“What happens in the next few days, actually, that is up to the administration. We will see if they were serious about it,” lawyer Barry Gutierrez said.

Barry Gutierrez
Atty. Barry Gutierrez speaks in a conference. (Photo from Facebook page of Atty. BarryGutierrez)

ICAD is an agency tasked to implement the administration’s anti-narcotics campaign through policies, laws and issuances. It is head by PDEA and is composed of four clusters—the Enforcement, Justice, Advocacy and Rehabilitation and Reintegration Cluster.

Panelo previously said that “all offices, bureaus, agencies or government instrumentalities involved in the enforcement of the law on prohibited drugs” will be placed under Robredo’s supervision with a “Cabinet secretary portfolio.”

However, reports note that he “did not categorically answer if Robredo can suspend anti-drug operations without President Duterte’s permission, given her new role.”

Back with the team that shunned her

Robredo, a stalwart of the opposition Liberal Party, was previously chief of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council or HUDCC in Duterte’s first year in office.

The position elevated her to Cabinet before the president asked her to stop attending meetings a few months into the post in December 2016.

Robredo described the order as the “last straw” after the executive branch failed to support HUDCC during her stint as chairperson.

The 2017 budget of the council’s key shelter agencies were “slashed by more than P19 billion” while their key shelter agency appointment recommendations “were not acted on.”

“I had hoped that this shared commitment to the poor and marginalized would transcend the differences between us. So, I took the job of Housing Secretary when it was offered to me,” she said.

Some Filipinos were not warm to the idea that Robredo is again working with the administration that cut her off from gaining access that would allow her to accomplish her objectives.

“Not a fan of Leni accepting the position. Drug issues, like poverty, are multilayered. Unless she’s given power over all relevant agencies, including the DOH, DepEd, TESDA, etc. this is not going to work. HUDCC nga dati she kept getting roadblocked by sycophants e,” a Twitter user wrote.