Panic in the air | Inquirer Opinion

Panic in the air

/ 05:15 AM November 19, 2019

The amount of official drivel that has permeated the air just in the last few days has been extraordinary, ever since Vice President Leni Robredo gobsmacked the administration, particularly its swaggering old boys’ club, by accepting President Duterte’s dare for her to join the antidrug campaign.

How did Malacañang frame again that surprise invitation to Robredo? “If she wants it, she is the antidrug czar,” declared presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo. “Basta si VP Leni ang in charge so whatever she feels that should be enforced, we will do it.”


Clear and definitive. But was that only Panelo talking, or was the President personally in on the matter? According to Pia Ranada’s Nov. 11 Rappler report: “The spokesman said Duterte had told him last Saturday, Nov. 9, that he expected Robredo to be ‘on top’ of the drug war and function as his ‘alter-ego.’”

Robredo as Mr. Duterte’s “alter ego”—does that mean the VP would also have access to all documents and intelligence reports needed to do the job effectively? “Of course, she is the cochair,” said Panelo in another media briefing, referring to the new post as cochair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (Icad) that Mr. Duterte had offered to Robredo, backed up by a formal memorandum, and that the VP eventually accepted. “Why should she not have access? We will give her all the support.”


Those statements are all in public record. So at this point, it must be asked whether PDEA director-general Aaron Aquino, Robredo’s cochair in Icad, does not read the news, or was sent a different memo by the Palace. Because, in response to Robredo’s commonsensical first move to request a list of the government’s high-value drug targets, Aquino balked and gave the most incredulous remarks: “Bakit kailangan niya in the first place… Wala naman sa mandates namin ’yun… Why is she asking all these things?”

Probably because Robredo is taking seriously her appointment papers, which say that her responsibilities include ensuring the “effective conduct of all anti-illegal drug operations and arrest of high-value drug personalities”? To repeat, for Aquino’s benefit—the “arrest of high-value drug personalities.” Why, then, is Aquino denying his cochair access to that list? How can Robredo be “on top” and “in charge” (Malacañang’s words) of the drug war without knowing who the war is supposed to pursue in the first place? And who told Aquino—or, worse, how come he believes—that “wala naman sa mandates namin ’yun”? Might that explain why such a high-value target as Peter Lim, for instance, continues to elude arrest?

What appears to be Aquino’s fear of what Robredo may uncover if she burrows in too deeply finds confirmation in another pushback—Interior Undersecretary Ricojudge Echiverri’s astounding reminder to the VP that “kung may malaman na impormasyon, sana ay walang laglagan.” The rough translation is that should Robredo come across compromising information, she should not be a snitch and throw people like Echiverri under the bus. Echiverri also said they are willing to share information with her “unless it’s a matter of national security.”

Will somebody please sit this bureaucrat down and remind him: He’s a DILG undersecretary. Robredo is the duly elected Vice President, and second in line in the presidential succession, which entitles her, in fact, to briefings by the Armed Forces on matters of national security. Echiverri has absolutely no business threatening to withhold vital information from the country’s second highest official, much less claiming to know what constitutes matters of “national security” and what doesn’t. And his “walang laglagan” warning? If that refers to lawbreaking in the conduct of the drug war, he basically wants Robredo to become a co-conspirator, an accessory to a crime or crimes. Is the drug war now a Mafia, with its own vow of omertà?

Where do these government officials get off spewing insanities like these? Then again, the House Speaker is also into it. Alan Peter Cayetano not only chided Robredo for supposedly mostly gabbing on the job—after only three days—but also objected to her sensible and easily doable push for requisite body cameras on “tokhang” cops because, as he put it, “’di ba may barilan ’yan, may patayan ’yan… it’s messy when it’s a war.” No shit. Isn’t that why body cams are precisely needed—to help clear up the mess and establish the truth?

From the abundance of the panicked heart, the mouth spews forth gibberish—and the President’s men are virtually reduced to speaking in tongues, the agitation visibly expelling out from their insides. One has to wonder why. Why this profound, palpable fear? What in God’s name are these people so desperate to hide?

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TAGS: drug czar, drug war, Government, Leni Robredo, politics, Rodrigo Duterte, Salvador Panelo
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