POSTSCRIPT / November 7, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Leni enters lion’s den, takes ICAD job

VICE PRESIDENT Leni Robredo has entered the lion’s den. She accepted President Duterte’s designating her to co-lead the government’s campaign against illegal drugs – a move that many people, including this observer, believe is a trap.

Her appointment was made via a Palace memorandum dated Oct. 31 that said: “Pursuant to the provisions of existing laws, rules and regulations, you (Robredo) are hereby designated as the Co-Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs to lead the government’s efforts against illegal drugs until 30 June 2022, unless sooner revoked.”

The Vice President announced her acceptance of the challenge in a televised statement in Pilipino. A logical next step is for her to confer with the President on the details of her difficult assignment.

As chair of ICAD and member of the Cabinet, Robredo will get a closer view of the administration’s anti-narcotics campaign as seen from inside Malacañang.

In accepting the job, Robredo said she wanted to “stop the killings of innocent people and to make sure that abusive officials, such as ‘ninja cops,’ will be held liable.”

She admitted that many people have advised her against walking into a trap. But she said: “Even if we say that the offer is a politicized move and the agencies will not follow me and that they will do everything to make sure I fail, I will endure all of this.”

The Vice President explained her ignoring the warning that she was being set up for failure and humiliation: “Because if I can save just one innocent life, my principle and my heart are telling me that I should try.”

Duterte knows her being against the drug war, she continued, but warned him that she will continue to oppose his bloody campaign even if she holds the ICAD post of co-chair.

She said: “From the start, we have been ready to help for the sake of the nation, but I will never give up my principles. This is not a game. This is a serious issue because lives are at stake.

“They have been asking me if I am ready for this job. My question is this — are you ready for me?”

Pardon our saying it, but the President looked not only childish, but also overly sensitive, in telling the Vice President, whom he has repeatedly insulted as incompetent, to try running his failed drug war.

He was passing on to his under-inflated “spare tire” the responsibility of turning into a success a task in which he, the most powerful man in the country, has failed. He was unable to do it in three years, so how could she with limited powers succeed in less time?

What if she fails as anti-drug czar? Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo has the ready answer: Robredo should stop criticizing Duterte’s handling of the narcotics campaign! It appears that the job offer is intended to stymie, then silence, her.

Presidential aide cum senator Bong Go was more specific. He challenged Robredo to kill all drug lords during her stint with the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs as co-chair.

Go must be smarting from criticisms that Duterte’s drug war was wiping out mostly the small users and pushers but leaving untouched the mighty drug lords who control the supply chain.

How will Go and his boss react when Robredo unmasks the drug lords and their protectors in government and, using the forces and resources of ICAD, goes after them?

 Will Duterte share powers with VP?

UNLESS Duterte is ready and willing (assuming he can legally do it) to share with Robredo his powers as President and Commander-in-Chief, it would be difficult for the Vice President to win the drug war being tossed to her as one of the two ICAD heads.

But Robredo’s accepting the job could succeed elsewhere — in deflecting the human rights examination initiated by foreign entities, including the United Nations, of Duterte’s bloody drug war that has claimed thousands of victims without due process.

The Palace memorandum dated Oct. 31 appointing her said: “Pursuant to the provisions of existing laws, rules and regulations, you (Robredo) are hereby designated as the Co-Chairperson of the (ICAD) to lead the government’s efforts against illegal drugs until 30 June 2022, unless sooner revoked.”

While the “until 30 June 2022” term of her designation improved on the six months floated earlier by Duterte, her appointment could be terminated anytime (“unless sooner revoked”) after she is sufficiently embarrassed by failed attempts to do a good job.

It won’t be surprising to see some of the President’s men making sure that she fails, now that she has accepted the childish dare and walked in.

The more positive attitude to take is to grant the President and the Vice President good faith. They might just click working on the drug problem.

Duterte has directed the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Philippine National Police, Dangerous Drugs Board and other law enforcement agencies to “extend full assistance and cooperation” to Robredo.

The ICAD was formed by Duterte in 2017 to conduct anti-illegal drug operations, arrest high-value drug personalities down to street-level peddlers and users, and ensure the implementation of the drug-clearing program in the barangays.

The PDEA currently led by Aquino consists of the PNP, DDB, the Departments of the Interior and Local Government, Justice, Health, Education, Social Welfare and Development, Trade and Industry, Agriculture, and Defense; Technical Education and Skills Development Authority; Philippine Information Agency; Public Attorney’s Office; Office of the Solicitor General; Philippine Coast Guard; National Bureau of Investigation; Bureaus of Customs and Immigration; Armed Forces of the Philippines; and the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 7, 2019)

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