Vice President Leni Robredo, the new leader of the Philippine government’s war on illegal drugs, said Wednesday that she sought advice from the United States as she moves to cut back on killings associated with the campaign.
Robredo said she met in Manila with officials from the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the FBI and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to talk about the Philippine counter-narcotics drive.
“We discussed the deficiencies of the current campaign and the assistance they can still give to further intensify the campaign against illegal drugs,” Robredo said.
“This includes having clear baseline data on the situation of drugs in the country, studying a possible amendment of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act to ensure that it is apt for our current needs, and strengthening our programs on drug-use prevention and community-based drug rehabilitation,” she said.
Robredo said the U.S. officials expressed their full support.
“And as a friend of the Philippines, they will be doing everything they can to help us succeed in this fight,” she said.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the American embassy in Manila said the delegation of law enforcement officials discussed with Robredo’s team ongoing U.S. government-funded programs to assist the Philippines in reducing the demand for narcotics.
Spokeswoman Heather Fabrikant said no commitments were made during the meeting, which was meant to brief Robredo on Washington’s current anti-drug programs.
Earlier, Robredo said she wanted to know what kind of assistance the U.S. could extend to local agencies, especially on the side of intelligence gathering.
Last week, Robredo surprised her political opponents and close advisers when she accepted President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer to be in charge of his administration’s drug war. She promptly announced that her strategy would focus on giving more access to public health.
Duterte had been at odds with the United States after former President Barack Obama expressed concern about killings in the Philippines associated with the drug war.
Police have reported that more than 6,000 drug suspects were killed since Duterte took office in 2016, but rights groups have attached a much higher figure to the death toll.
'Watch your back'
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday described Duterte’s appointment of Robredo to the lead role in the drug war as seemingly “farcical given the contentious relationship” between the president and the vice president, who is the country’s top opposition figure.
The New York-based watchdog noted that Duterte had called Robredo weak and filed sedition charges against her and several opposition party allies.
“Some suggest that Robredo fell into a Duterte trap,” said Carlos Conde, a Philippine-based Asia researcher for HRW.
“It seems unlikely that the drug enforcement agency and the police – the drug enforcers Duterte has promised to protect – would cede any sort of operational control to the vice president,” he said.
While one senator actually told her to “watch your back” – Robredo could make it work, Conde said.
Such an effort would mean “ending the murderous police drug operations that have become rampant throughout the country,” he said.
Jojo Rinoza in Manila and Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato, Philippines, contributed to this report.