It’s Leni’s war now
Judging from the public utterances of President Duterte’s surrogates, it is hard to believe that building a consensus on a new or different approach to confronting or solving the drug problem in the Philippines under the supposed leadership of Vice President Leni Robredo, the newly appointed “drug czar,” is bound to proceed on a smooth course.
In the first place, the drug czar appellation is a misnomer, because the official designation of the Vice President in the President’s memorandum dated Oct. 31, 2019, is “cochairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Illegal Drugs” (Icad). Cochair is obviously a quick pullback from Mr. Duterte’s original dare to Robredo to head the government campaign against illegal drugs. Remember that this was how a peeved Mr. Duterte addressed Robredo’s criticism: “I can commission her to be the drug czar… I’ll hand to you full powers over the drug [war]. I’ll give you six months. Let’s see if you can handle it… I will surrender my powers to enforce the law. I will give it to the Vice President. I will give it to her for six months.”
Mr. Duterte’s cop-out notwithstanding, Robredo has accepted the challenge while conveying clearly the core principles she wants to bring into the antidrug campaign: 1) stop the killings of innocent people; and 2) put accountability on those responsible behind drug crimes. Nothing from such proposed game plan implies that she is ducking encounters with drug lords and drug syndicates. It just means plainly that false or fake encounters that result in the deaths of innocent people will not be tolerated. She also had issued statements beforehand that “the criminal justice approach should be applied to drug suppliers and drug dealers. For drug addicts, it should be heavier on community-based prevention.”
Mr. Duterte’s proxies and allies, while feigning support for Robredo’s monumental task, wasted no time to becloud her intentions with snide and supercilious, or otherwise condescending, public remarks. Yet, within 48 hours from her acceptance of the position as cochair of Icad, Robredo hit the ground running, to the apparent chagrin of Team Duterte. “Gustong-gusto ko ’yan (I like that very much),” she promptly retorted when dared by Icad cochair and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino to join actual drug operations.
She promptly rolled up her sleeves for the hard work ahead. First, she made it clear that she’s for scrapping Bato dela Rosa’s “Operation Tokhang,” the door-to-door drive that has been blamed for the extrajudicial executions of thousands. She was likewise quick to raise the lack of credible data to serve as a “common baseline” for assessing the progress and success of the new antidrug campaign, which she wants refocused toward a “public health approach.” The Vice President also wanted the government’s antidrug campaign to involve international stakeholders, to pick up the “best practices” being pursued or in place in other countries.
Consequently, within a week from being appointed as Icad cochair, Robredo, on her own initiative, met with officials of the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the US state department, the US Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and US Agency for International Development. More recently, Robredo broached the possibility of engaging the Chinese government, considering that many persons apprehended in drug operations have been Chinese nationals or Tsinoys, and that most of the illegal drugs in the country reportedly come from syndicates based in China.
The jeers are somewhat tempered now, but no sincere cheers either from the camp of Mr. Duterte, or a show of great enthusiasm for collaboration from any of the 42-member agencies that make up the Icad. (Last Nov. 15, Aquino bucked Robredo’s request to obtain and share with her a list of high-value targets in the drug war; the flimsy, indeed, funny, reason given was that it is not within Icad’s mandate to get such a list.)
Clearly, there remains a general unwillingness on the part of the Duterte administration to deviate from the gruesome course that is laden with the corpses of innocent people, and take the jagged and uphill path still less traveled that Robredo wants to trudge on to fight the scourge of illegal drugs in the country.
Robredo, still just warming up, is already stirring up a hornet’s nest.
Are you with or against her?
Abe N. Margallo is a published author and a former Constitutional Law professor.
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