By Catherine S Valente/Manila Times
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo will have a free hand in handling the drug menace in the country, Malacanang said yesterday, as it would let her create her own approach to solve the problem, “without interference from other quarter backers.”
The assurance came after Robredo convened the Inter-Agency Committee of Illegal Anti-Drugs Committee (ICAD) at her office in New Manila, Quezon City, two days after she accepted President Rodrigo Duterte’s challenge to lead the anti-narcotics campaign by serving as co-chairman of the anti-drug body.
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo took Robredo’s initiative as indication that she was open to “suspend all her negative notions about the drug war,” which he claimed were “mostly based on false if not exaggerated information and media hype.”
“The vice president must be given a wide latitude in outlining her own anti-illegal drug scheme and pursue, without interference from other quarter backers, her own agenda which she envisions to be effective in addressing the drug menace,” Panelo said in a statement.
Panelo added that Robredo’s earlier statement that she intended to enforce government’s anti-narcotics policy without “senseless killings” should not be used to “pit” the vice president against other government officials with a different view.
“Noting that the pronounced policy of the drug czar appears to be in direct contrast of what they wrongly perceive to be the bloody strategy of (the president), the detractors and nitpickers pounce on the apparent strategic contradiction and have raised the spectre of, even this early, a collision between the appointee and the appointing power,” he said.
“We call on everybody to give VP (vice president) Leni space, allow her to perform her assigned task and not to create roadblocks and imagined conflicts, pitting her against her fellow workers of government by way of intrigues, as well as wild and off-tangent speculations engineered by the usual suspects,” Panelo added.
The Palace official welcomed the willingness of Robredo, the second highest official of the land, to accept Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino’s offer for
her to join the agency’s anti-illegal drug operations.
“We are pleased to note that VP Leni is open to our suggestion that she oversee — and without putting her life in peril, personally join — any operation by the (PDEA) or the police against drug lords and pushers, that she may see the hostile and mortal realities on the ground,” Panelo said.
“That could pave the way for the reassessment of her previous adversarial position on the government’s relentless drive against prohibited drugs or her adoption of better and effective measures not heretofore done,” he added.
On Wednesday, Robredo accepted her appointment as ICAD co-chairman, saying she would pursue an anti-drug campaign without “senseless” killings. While she pointed out that the drug problem in the country “should first be solved internally,” the vice president was amenable to a possible intervention of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), if the Philippine government fails to punish drug offenders. The 47-man UNHRC on July 11 adopted an Iceland-led resolution that seeks a probe of Duterte’s war on illegal drugs.
The adoption of the resolution mandates UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to present a “comprehensive” report on the drug war in the Philippines during the council’s 44th session in June 2020.
The president had made it clear that he would ignore the investigation that was initiated by the UNHRC, as he was only inclined to face a “Philippine court.”
Meanwhile, Robredo yesterday noted that body cameras were “indispensable” in drug war operations, as they would protect law enforcement agents.
“It was not discussed yesterday, but I think they are indispensable. Body cams are indispensable for many reasons. First, they will serve as protection for law enforcement agents. Protection because some of them are charged without basis. So, for me, number one, that is protection for law enforcement agents,” she said in an interview.
The vice president added that body cameras would show true events that happened in drug busts and would also protect innocent victims of the government’s drug war.
“It will protect the people and would show the real events that happened during the operation. There would be a basis on how they would proceed. Because there are now accusations based merely on word of honour. But body cameras will preserve the integrity of the operation,” Robredo said.
“For me, I think the government must invest in this. I will know this week what is really needed, and how many we already have, when I meet with the Law Enforcement Cluster,” she added.
Robredo clarified that she was willing to join anti-drug operations if law enforcement officers think her presence would not be a nuisance.
“I think, the invitation is just like the president’s offer. We do not back down from any challenge. But for me, what is important is, what will be the result of the operation? Not who is there,” she said.
“But if I am invited, I will go, but the question is: Would I not cause a disturbance, right? Because for me, if there is a disturbance, the operation gets more compromised. But as to willingness, I am willing. If they think that I would not cause a disturbance, I would gladly be there,” the vice president added.
Robredo will be serving as ICAD co-chairman until the end of Duterte’s term on June 30, 2022, unless sooner revoked by the president.
The ICAD, composed of several government agencies, is assigned to ensure the integrated and synchronised implementation of the government’s anti-drug campaign.
The vice president has long been a vocal critic of the administration’s anti-illegal drug operations, which, according to government data, have resulted in the killing of at least 6,600 people since Duterte took office in 2016.
Duterte had vowed as a 2016 candidate for president that he would solve the drug menace within three to six months.
After three years in office, he admitted that his administration’s war against drugs, which was met with widespread criticisms from rights groups in and out of the country, including the UN, has failed to deliver desired results.
Duterte has also faced a complaint before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in connection with the drug war.
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