Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo said Friday it was time to end “senseless” killings of thousands that marked the country’s three-year-old war on narcotics, as she met with law enforcers to plan strategies for efforts to eradicate illegal drugs.
Robredo, a member of the opposition Liberal Party, formally accepted a dare on Wednesday by President Rodrigo Duterte to lead the drug war, taking many of her foes by surprise and baffling allies who had warned that she was being set up to fail by the chief executive.
“There are many senseless killings that have accompanied Oplan Tokhang,” Robredo said during the meeting, parts of which were streamed live on social media. “It has reached a certain level of notoriety, that Tokhang is a war on the poor.”
Days earlier, Robredo was named co-chairwoman of a government panel on illegal drugs, and on Friday said the campaign – known as “Oplan Tokhang” – should primarily focus on access to public health, instead of violent anti-drug operations.
“Tokhang” is a combination of Filipino words that translate to “knock” and “plead” – meaning that police would rap on the doors of suspected drug dealers or addicts and ask them to peacefully surrender or undergo rehabilitation.
But the term has transformed to describe the Philippines’ violent anti-drug campaign, which has left thousands of suspected addicts and dealers dead, many of whom came from urban poor communities where addiction has been a major problem in years.
Robredo emphasized that it was time to change that strategy and shift to “something that is effective and that no one is killed senselessly.”
Robredo, a 54-year-old lawyer who was once part of a nonprofit group that works with poor communities, said her appointment was a signal that Duterte was “open to fresh perspectives about this entire campaign.”
The vice president said she never sought the position, but saving lives was more important than the political blowback of the campaign’s failure.
“My number one concern is these killings,” she said during the meeting in suburban Quezon City, northeast of Manila. “I believe that we can continue the campaign while maintaining it within the rule of law and the bounds of human rights.”
One of Robredo’s allies, Edcel Lagman, an opposition member at the House of Representatives, said the government should reallocate funds to support the vice president’s “non-violent and innovative approaches to solve the drug menace.”
Lagman said Duterte had “huge intelligence and confidential funds,” which were purportedly used to finance his bloody campaign.
“Inadequacy of funding support will imperil the success of Vice President Leni Robredo,” as head of the campaign, he said.