Philippine VP Says She Will Go Public with Findings on Drug War

Basilio Sepe
191125-PH-Robredo-1000.jpg Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo (right) attends a press conference with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino in Manila, Nov. 8, 2019.

The Philippine vice president warned Monday she was “only just getting started” and would publicize what she found out as co-head of a task force on illegal drugs before President Rodrigo Duterte fired her just 18 days into that role.

The president on Sunday dismissed Vice President Leni Robredo, the Philippine opposition’s top leader and a vocal critic of the Duterte administration’s deadly war on narcotics, as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), days after publicly saying he did not trust her.

While visiting her home constituency on Monday, Robredo reiterated that she had never asked for the ICAD job, but that she had accepted the appointment when Duterte challenged her to take it on.

“You can count on me. Even if they removed me from that position, they cannot remove my determination,” Robredo said in San Fernando.

“In the next few days I will give a report to the public. I will reveal what I discovered and my recommendations,” Robredo said.

In the videotaped comments, she added a warning.

“If they think things will end here, they don’t know me. I am just getting started,” the vice president said, according to reports.

In a statement, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that Duterte had taken offense at Robredo for going public last week in challenging him to fire her after he had said that he did not trust his deputy, the leader of the opposition whom the president tried to sideline in the past.

After accepting the ICAD job on Nov. 6, Robredo promised to put an end to killings of suspects in the three-year-old national campaign against the narcotics trade and drug addiction, a crackdown that has taken at least 6,600 lives, according to police statistics.

“In effect that was what she was saying, ‘Fire me, if you don’t want me.’ In effect, that’s what she was saying,” Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s spokesman, said Monday.

“You don’t say that to your boss, who is the president of the Philippines,” he said.

If Robredo had been serious about her new role, she could have embarked immediately on a fact-finding mission and spoken to families of the victims, as well as visited their poor communities, Panelo suggested.

“Instead, she opted to have an audience with the United Nations and the United States embassy officials, who remain out-of-touch with the realities of the local drug problem on the ground,” Panelo said.

According to Panelo, the President informed him about his decision on Sunday night.

“The Vice President has [committed] many missteps,” Panelo said, citing Robredo’s decision to talk with officials from the United Nations and U.S. law enforcement agencies, and “others who have prejudged the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.”

The director of the Philippine chapter of Amnesty International lauded Robredo for calling for an end to the killings in the drug war and using her role on ICAD to demand “bold” reform.

“Every week, more cracks appear in the Duterte administration’s murderous campaign against poor people. In only a few weeks, Vice President Robredo was able to confront the government with the staggering scale of its own crimes. That is why she was sacked,” Butch Olano said in a statement issued Sunday.

“Vice President Robredo did not waste this opportunity. She has tried to save lives, and she has lifted the voices of brave Filipinos around the country who oppose this deadly policy,” he added.

According to Olano, it was “absurd” for the government to accuse her of not delivering in less than three weeks on the job, considering that Duterte had admitted that the drug problem was only getting worse despite his administration’s bloody campaign.

“Each day, the pressure is building for a new drugs policy based on health and human rights,” Olano added.

Luis Liwanag contributed to this report from Manila.


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