Impossible to ignore was the crude edge to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s tone when he assailed Vice President Leni Robredo for supposedly talking too much about her ideas on the administration’s war on drugs, ideas that, having accepted the Cabinet-rank designation of cochair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (Icad), she had every reason to propound.
“I’ve been monitoring the last three days” and it seemed like Operation Tokhang had become “Operation All Talk,” Cayetano told CNN Philippines last Monday. Laying aside an apparent effort to get on the good side of his patron, President Duterte, his tone made him appear as though he were blindsided by Robredo’s surprise embrace of what all and sundry had earlier warned as a trap, a veritable thicket of brambles, and was maneuvering to counter her masterful move.
Robredo had barely warmed her seat and already she was talking about whether to let United Nations investigators look into the killings, the possibility of disbanding Operation Tokhang, and the need to be briefed by various agencies, Cayetano complained: “Pag-upo pa lang, o UN papapasukin ba o hindi? Tokhang, tanggalin ko, so it’s hard. Then now she’s saying magpapa-briefing siya sa lahat nang agencies, eh hindi pa pala nagbi-briefing, eh why already all those ideas and criticisms?”
The tone was astonishing for petulance and disrespect, such that Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon was moved to politely declare that he was “saddened” by Cayetano’s words, which he decried as “totally uncalled for, especially coming from the Speaker of the House.” On social media, many other astonished Filipinos expressed displeasure at Cayetano in less than civil terms.
Cayetano, who, as Mr. Duterte’s running mate, lost to Robredo in the 2016 elections, also told CNN Philippines that “since the 1970s,” the administration’s war on drugs had been “the most successful,” and that the Vice President should “respect the work that has been done in the last three years.” Surely he wasn’t referring to the more than 6,000—the official figure of the Philippine National Police—mostly impoverished drug pushers and users slain in suspicious circumstances in the brutal Tokhang campaign. Rights advocates peg the death toll at more than thrice that number, and last July the UN Human Rights Council formally raised the need to look into the killings and the glaring absence of accountability among the involved law enforcers.
At another occasion, the Speaker amped up his strange cannonade on the Vice President and said she should explain her “flowery words” such as a “health-based approach” to solving the drug problem. Feigning (or maybe not) ignorance of the correct perspective that has generally eluded the enforcers of the antidrug campaign—that drug addiction is a public health problem and not merely a criminal matter—he said: If a cop is confronted by an armed drug suspect, what’s the cop to do, tell him to take vitamins first? He even dismissed Robredo’s sound advice of cops being fitted with body cameras to ensure the integrity of antidrug operations!
All this was obviously intended to follow up on his earlier broadside portraying the female Vice President as taking on her new role with her mouth, without benefit of a grasp of the realities: “I think the point … is to say, ‘Ma’am, wag ka muna mag-comment hangga’t di mo nakikita ang nangyayari on the ground.’”
Surely the perpetrator of this misogynist impertinence is undeserving of the post he holds.
At any rate, if Cayetano was banking on extra ammo for his jeering from the President, nothing of the sort appears to be forthcoming. At this writing, the word from Malacañang has been mostly to provide Robredo the necessary leeway—“free rein” as Icad cochair, an openness to end Operation Tokhang for a more effective way to carry on the drive against illegal drugs, even, from Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson: “We will give her all the support that she needs.”
The rookie senators Bato dela Rosa and Bong Go have made typical noises—the former spluttering that there was nothing wrong with Tokhang and also, in the face of wilting online memes, backpedaling from his sexist “pa-cute” to “I think she’s cute,” the latter inveighing on the Vice President to kill all the drug lords, with no one of bureaucratic consequence expressing horror at his temerity.
“Politics,” Cayetano whined, politics must be removed from the war on drugs. Was he panicking at what Robredo might accomplish in the administration’s centerpiece program? After three years, after all, that program has produced wildly divergent assessments of drug dependence among Filipinos: around 4 million, per the government; 1.8 million, per the Dangerous Drugs Board; up to 8 million, per the President.
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