Philippines: Duterte Appoints Vice President to Head Anti-Drug Campaign

Luis Liwanag and Jojo Rinoza
Manila and Dagupan, Philippines
191105-PH-drug-czar-620.jpg Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo salutes during an Independence Day celebration in Manila, June 12, 2019.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte officially appointed one of his biggest critics as the country’s top counter-narcotics enforcer, but the appointee herself and other opposition politicians questioned the sincerity of his move.

Duterte, who is smarting from complaints that his drug war has failed, said last week that he would hand the reins to Vice President Leni Robredo as the next Philippine drug czar. On Tuesday, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte had made good on his offer.

“The palace wishes to announce that the president has officially signed the paper which designates Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chairperson of the inter-agency committee on anti-illegal drugs,” Panelo said in a statement.

With the appointment, the presidential palace “supposes that detractors and critics will finally see the sincerity” of Duterte’s offer, Panelo said.

Robredo, the de facto head of the political opposition, has come out publicly to say that Duterte’s three-year-old war on narcotics has not solved the drug problem. The crackdown, which his administration launched in mid-2016 when he took office, has left nearly 7,000 suspects dead, according to government figures, but human rights groups have estimated that thousands more were killed.

Duterte’s promise to end the drug scourge within six months of taking office captured the imagination of Philippine people who voted him into office and were tired of crime.

The president has acknowledged that he miscalculated, and that his tough, take-no-prisoners rhetoric led to wrongful deaths and the sacking of the country’s top police official, who allegedly protected dirty cops involved in drug offenses.

‘A show being put on’

Robredo spokesman Barry Gutierrez said Duterte’s offer to her was insincere because an initial study revealed that the vice president would not be given any real powers.

“We view this as a show being put on, that is not very serious and is politicking,” Gutierrez said of the appointment.

Panelo said the offer is real despite earlier assertions from the opposition that it was a ruse to discredit Robredo.

Sen. Leila de Lima, a jailed ally of the vice president, cautioned Robredo about falling into a “silly trap.”

“The real reason why Duterte is even floating this idea of offering V.P. Robredo that post is because he wants to shame her and all other critics of his flawed drug war and create the narrative of putting all the blame of his failures on someone else, instead of admitting that he lied about winning the drug war, despite killing thousands of people,” De Lima said in a statement.

The senator has been in jail for what she says are trumped-up charges of profiting from the drug trade when she served as justice secretary. Local and international rights groups said de Lima’s jailing was politically motivated in a bid to silence her.

Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Duterte’s offer to Robredo could be taken as a tacit admission “that the deadly drug war has failed.”

“But the motive is questionable,” Pangilinan said, emphasizing that it was likely meant to silence Robredo’s criticism.


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