Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, a leading critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, accepted his challenge on Wednesday to lead the country’s campaign but she pledged to stop the killing of innocent people.
Supporters on Tuesday had warned Robredo not to accept the appointment.
“A lot of people were worried that this offer was not sincere, that it is a trap aimed to destroy and humiliate me,” Robredo told reporters. “But in the end, the most important consideration for me was simple – if this is a chance for the killings of innocents to stop and to hold the perpetrators responsible, I will take this on.
“This is why I am accepting the job given to me by the president,” she said.
Robredo insisted Duterte was mistaken if he thought that by accepting the appointment she would stop criticizing the government. Rather, Robredo stressed that it would afford her the chance to bring to account abusive officials.
While Duterte has promised to give Robredo the full backing of police, he repeatedly has urged police to shoot to kill suspects rather than be killed themselves. This has led to abuses, including the killing of Kian Loyd delos Santos, 17, in 2017.
Delos Santos was killed by three police who were participating in a series of night raids in Manila and nearby suburbs. A court determined he was mistakenly picked up and shot near a pigsty even as he protested his innocence.
On Tuesday, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte signed Robredo’s appointment as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) on Oct. 31. He scoffed at critics who claimed the offer was meant to discredit the vice president.
He said that “effectively, we’re giving her a ladder to the presidency.”
“This is her chance,” he said, without elaborating.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino welcomed Robredo’s appointment despite claiming country’s second highest official lacked experience.
“We believe that she can well contribute as a good leader, particularly on the advocacy cluster and rehabilitation and reintegration cluster,” Aquino said.
“By designating her as co-chairman of ICAD, it will greatly help and it’s nice to see when everybody’s working together,” he said.
Aquino said Robredo would be best suited to lead the rehabilitation efforts, admitting they have not been managed properly.
“There’s a lot of criticisms that have been made, I just hope we’ll just work together. It’s better if we do that,” he said.
Since 2016, more than 6,600 suspected dealers and addicts have died, according to government figures, while rights groups claim that many thousands more have been killed by vigilantes linked to police.
Robredo ally Sen. Franklin Drilon said he and others would rally around the vice president even though they believe Duterte’s staff would try to make it hard for her to achieve her goals.
“This demonstrates that the opposition is willing to cooperate with the government in cases of issues which are of primary importance,” he said.