MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo entered the hall where the active and retired military and police generals who have been running the government’s war on drugs were waiting to brief her as their new boss, at least as far as anti-illegal drug operations were concerned.
“This afternoon will just be a listening exercise for me. The reason I requested for this meeting with you is, gusto ko malaman kung saan ako magsisimula (I want to know where I should begin),” Robredo said on Friday afternoon, November 8, as she opened her first meeting as co-chair of the government’s Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD) at the reception hall of her office in Quezon City.
It was two days since she accepted the post, which President Rodrigo Duterte assigned to her on October 31 as a dare. She had been critical of his flagship campaign that has killed around 20,000 people according to rights groups, and he would like to see her try to fight drugs – if it could be done bloodlessly as she insisted.
Before starting Friday’s meeting with heads and representatives of the over 40 agencies and sub-agencies comprising ICAD, Robredo met in private with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Aaron Aquino, who earlier predicted she would fail if she took on the job. After she did, he changed his tone and welcomed her decision.
Aquino is co-chair of ICAD; he and Robredo will be running the committee as equals. For this reason – that she won’t have full control – Robredo’s allies in the Liberal Party had admonished her to reject the job offer.
She and Aquino walked side by side, all smiles, as they crossed the driveway from Robredo’s office to the hall where the committee heads were waiting to receive them.
After a brief prayer, Robredo addressed the gathering, thanking them profusely for all the work they’ve put in thus far for the war on drugs. But she had a few things to say.
“Number one, I believe that drug addiction is a serious problem that our country is facing. Number two, I am all for a strong national policy against illegal drugs and I am all for a vigorous anti-drug campaign,” she began.
“Pero having said that, I also feel that we should do things right. Everything that we’re doing should be within the bounds of the rule of law,” she added.
Drugs are not only a problem of crime, so it goes beyond criminal justice, Robredo went on. Addiction is a medical and sociological problem – an issue of health.
“Ang kalaban natin dito, hindi ‘yung mga kababayan natin. Ang kalaban natin dito, droga,” she said. (The enemy we have here is not our countrymen. Our enemy here is drugs.)
Robredo rued Duterte’s statement from last February that the number of drug-dependent Filipinos has risen to 7-to-8 million. “That number is staggering,” she said, and asked whether it was time to “reasses” the current program against illegal drugs, and see whether efforts have been going to waste.
“Because of the many senseless killings that accompanied Operation TokHang, parang naka-reach siya ng certain level of notoriety na (it seems it reached a certain level of notoriety that)…it is a war against the poor,” she said in the presence of the men who have been operating the program, among them: Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Acting Philippine National Police chief Archie Gamboa, Dangerous Drugs Board chief Catalino Cuy, and of course, PDEA’s Aquino.
She congratulated and thanked the law enforcement agencies for their “successes.” On Friday, authorities recovered P1.4 million worth of dried cannabis in Quezon City, P9 million worth of shabu in Cebu, and 6 kg of shabu at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Aspects of the anti-drug program that have been delivering results should continue and be expanded, but maybe it’s time for a program in which no one dies senselessly, Robredo added.
The variety of persuasions and political alliances represented in that hall illustrated the odds stacked against Robredo as she took over the very program that propelled Duterte to power.
She knows that, she said, but “I would also like to believe that people expect us to go beyond the differences and for us to work together,” she added. – Rappler.com