Abrupt turnaround as Duterte dismisses Robredo from lead in drug war

Vice president Robredo of the Philippines. Photo: Office of the Vice President/Public domain

MANILA (SE): Only weeks after challenging Philippine vice-president, Leni Robredo, to head the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, made a stumbling walkback as he fired the co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) on November 24, only 18 days after she accepted his offer, media reported (Sunday Examiner, November 17). 

The appointment came with a directive to all agencies to support her and a promise to give her everything she would need to press the crackdown on narcotics, the Inquirer reported on November 25. She was supposed to hold the position until 2022.

However Robredo noted, “The attacks (against her) immediately started. The criticisms have been persistent. They said I don’t know anything about crime. They said I shouldn’t meddle with police’s job. They said I can’t be trusted. They ganged up on me so I will not succeed.”

She asked, “Aren’t they serious in this fight? Or did I crash into some vested interest? What were you afraid I might find out, the people might find out?” 

Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, said that Robredo’s firing only showed Duterte’s “fickleness,” CBCP News reported on November 25.

“He has no plan at all and governs by his whims. It also shows his great insecurity in front of women. He shows his tyrannical bent. He cannot tolerate others who have different ways of doing things. He wants his own way at whatever cost it may be. Can we trust such a leader?” Bishop Pabillo asked.

Duterte claimed to have never seen Robredo work, according to an article in the Inquirer, although presidential spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, admitted that the president had not read two reports that had been already submitted by the vice president following her meetings with members of the interagency committee, different sectors and community-based rehabilitation centres for drug dependents, drug-infested communities, officials from the United States and the United Nations, and representatives of several organisations.

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A third report is in the pipeline and was due to be submitted PhilStar reported on November 26. However, Robredo said, “In the coming days I will give a report to the people. I will reveal what I discovered and my recommendations. I assure you that even if I was stripped of the position, my determination to stop the killings, to make those accountable pay and to win our campaign against illegal drugs remains.” 

Panelo said, “She (Robredo) can do as she pleases. Anything that she claims she has discovered was accessed to her,” he said in a statement. He claimed, “She was fired for incompetence, in addition to her failure to introduce new measures she claimed she had, as against what she claimed to be ineffective, method in fighting the drug menace.” 

However, PhilStar reported the spokesperson for the Philippine National Police (PNP), Brigadier Geneneral Bernard Banac, as saying the police did not notice any missteps, further noting that Robredo is capable and competent.

Banac said their only concern was her supposed participation in actual drug operations, adding that the police suggested that the vice president stay at the command centre to monitor the drug operations rather than potentially get in harm’s way.

He said that the PNP was also thankful for the vice president’s ideas during her three-week stint as anti-drug czar.

“We were able to gain a lot of ideas from her especially her advocacy and her desire for community-based rehabilitation of drug users and, of course, her desire for a more transparent campaign against illegal drugs,” Banac said.

Bishop Arturo Bastes, the apostolic administrator of Sorsogon, lamented that Robredo was fired over her desire to reform the conduct of the drug war.

“The decision of Duterte is shameful! He is treating the vice president just like a housemaid of his cabinet,” CBCP News reported him as saying.

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Carlos Conde, Asia researcher of Human Rights Watch, lamented, “Vice President Robredo barely warmed her seat before President Duterte fired her as co-chairperson of the ICAD. Was his offer of involving her in finding solutions to the situation of drugs in the Philippines ever really serious?”

Conde said that firing Robredo on such ludicrous grounds, showed Duterte’s insincerity and exposed that his plan to appoint her was a total sham.

The Inquirer reported that, Leila de Lima, the senator detained on questionable charges after she began investigating the killings in the war on drugs in 2016, suggested in a statement emailed to the media on November 25, that Duterte had been hoisted by his own petard. 

“By firing Leni Robredo, he has admitted that he was caught in his own trap, defeated in his own challenge, and thoroughly exposed as a man without honour and whose word is as good as the next lie that comes out of his big mouth,” she said. 

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