POSTSCRIPT / November 19, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Robredo as ICAD chair now a threat

THIS noisy debate over what Vice President Leni Robredo can and cannot do as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD) could have been avoided had President Duterte defined from the very start her functions, powers and duties.

All that came out of Duterte’s irritation over her criticism of his bloody war on illegal drugs was a one-paragraph office 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 President probably thought that the scanty document was enough to reduce Robredo to a silent onlooker intimidated by his challenge to try doing what a President wielding the awesome powers of his office failed to do in three years.

An unintended consequence is Robredo’s emerging as a serious threat not only to the administration’s presidential candidate in 2022 (assuming there will be elections), but also as a worthy replacement of Duterte in case a permanent vacancy occurs before then.

The current confusion over her job as ICAD co-chair confirms suspicion that her designation was a mere taunt not expected to be accepted — and if accepted, calculated to trap her into exposing her lack of guts and executive ability.

Her co-chair Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director Aaron Aquino publicly cast doubts on her capabilities and denied her access to files of ICAD, an agency created to “ensure the effective conduct of anti-illegal drug operations and arrest of high-value drug personalities down to the street-level peddlers and users.”

How could the new ICAD co-chair function, for planning and policy-setting, if Aquino denies her  access to such data as high-value targets? It may not be fair to ask, but what sensitive secrets are being hidden from her, and why?

The acting chief of the Philippine National Police joined the chorus saying she should stay out of law-enforcement, contrary to the opinion of others such as former PNP chief now senator Bato dela Rosa that Robredo should join operations to show her mettle.

So when Robredo did the unexpected (that of accepting a Mission Impossible) and proceeded to work methodically — as if showing Duterte how to do the job? — she had to be restrained by all means if she could not be sabotaged to fail.

When she consulted concerned sectors, as well as foreign entities that have announced an oversight interest in the brutal war on drugs, Duterte had to come out of his recuperative rest to warn her against passing on “state secrets.”

His suddenly citing unspecified “state secrets” sounded like an order to stop talking to United Nations and other foreign groups looking into alleged extrajudicial killings. He warned that he would recall her designation as ICAD co-chair if she divulged “state secrets.”

She had said that the trafficking and abuse of illegal drugs “should first be solved internally,” although she admitted she has no problem inviting UN investigators if the government “is not doing anything to punish whoever needs to be punished.”

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo remarked: “She may not realize it, but she could be treading on dangerous grounds. It could be an overreach of the granted authority, hence the reminder.”

Panelo elaborated on Section 229 of the Revised Penal Code which says: “Any public officer who shall reveal any secret known to him by reason of his official capacity, or shall wrongfully deliver papers or copies of papers of which he may have charge and which should not be published, shall suffer the penalties of prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods, perpetual special disqualification and a fine not exceeding 2,000 pesos if the revelation of such secrets or the delivery of such papers shall have caused serious damage to the public interest….”

 Just what is a ‘state secret’?

WE cannot imagine the Vice President doing it, but suppose she tells visiting foreign officials “We have information that President Duterte is seriously ill.” Would she be divulging a state secret for which act she would be penalized?

When does a high official’s personal secret become a state secret? What is a “state secret” in the first place? Who decides and classifies files as “secret”? Can the President unilaterally decide that a certain matter is a “state secret”?

In the United States, the classification system is established under Executive Order 13526 and has three levels — Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. There was a fourth level, Restricted, during the last World War, but not anymore, according to Wikipedia.

The Philippines, a former American colony impatient to move on quickly, liberally copied the four-tier US classification system.

A colleague (aka Noni) who covered the defense establishment for many years told us that our information classification is governed not by law but by AFP regulations, which he said are extensions of Commonwealth Act No. 1, the National Defense Act of 1935.

He said the intelligence agencies and units classify their documents: TOP SECRET, usually for strategic information (green on white cover with the border in green stripes like an old airmail envelop); SECRET (red on white cover with the border in solid red); CONFIDENTIAL (blue on white); and RESTRICTED (no cover, just “RESTRICTED” marked at the top and bottom of the page.

For ease of identification, he added, in a four-drawer steel cabinet, the lowest drawer is for Restricted, the second to the lowest for Confidential, the third from the bottom for Secret, and the first one for Top Secret.

But these notes do not answer: “What is a state secret?” “Who decides what a ‘state secret’ is?” “Can the President legally do the classification by himself?” Readers’ opinion would be interesting.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 19, 2019)

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