Duterte: No Cabinet post for Robredo because 'I don't trust her'

MANILA, Philippines – Going against his own word, President Rodrigo Duterte said he did not appoint Vice President Leni Robredo to a Cabinet post simply because he does not trust her. 

In a late night press conference on Tuesday, November 19, the President said he disliked how Robredo began consulting foreign organizations like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) after she agreed to be co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD).

"Ang problema kay Robredo, right after she was appointed, she began talking publicly about inviting the Human Rights Commission. She was talking to the United Nations. She wants to talk to the European…at marami na siyang pinagsasabi. Kung gano'n, sabi ko, I cannot appoint her as a Cabinet member," Duterte said. 

(The problem with Robredo is that, right after she was appointed, she began talking publicly about inviting the Human Rights Commission. She was talking to the United Nations. She wants to talk to the European...and she said so many things. If that's the case, I said, I cannot appoint her as a Cabinet member.)

"If that is the way her mouth behaves, there can never be a position for her. Kasi kung Cabinet member sana siya, she would be an alter ego of me. Ang problema kasi dito, ganito: I cannot trust her not only because – not only ah? – not only because she is with the opposition; I do not trust her because I do not know her. 'Di ko alam kung sino ang kausap niya noon, kung sinong mga pulitiko o sinong mga tao," the President added. 

(If that's the way her mouth behaves, there can never be a position for her. Because if she's in the Cabinet, she would be an alter ego of me. The problem here is this: I cannot trust her not only because – not only, okay? – not only because she is with the opposition; I do not trust her because I do not know her. I don't know who she was talking to before, who were the politicians and the people she's talking to.)

Duterte may have mistaken the "Human Rights Commission" with the Human Rights Watch, whose former director for Asia Phelim Kline offered to help Robredo now that she co-leads the anti-drug campaign. But her office has not sent any invitation to Kline. 

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier said the Vice President's meetings with foreign institutions – like the UNODC and intelligence agencies from the United States – "did not sit well with the President."

Smarting from Robredo's criticism that the drug war is "not working," Duterte offered to make the Vice President the "drug czar" for 6 months so she could fix the drug problem. 

In a span of a week, the offer turned into a supposed Cabinet post then, finally, co-chair of the ICAD, a position that did not exist in the Executive Order that Duterte signed to create the anti-drugs body. (READ: The gamble of Leni Robredo)

Duterte already threatened to fire Robredo if she would aid investigations into the drug war that are against him.

Still, Robredo is undeterred by the President, saying she will still do what she can to reform the drug war despite the limitations thrown her way. (READ: 5 fatal obstacles in Robredo’s target of a deathless drug war

'More transparent' drug operations

Duterte clarified he is not firing Robredo, but said he is merely setting the "parameters" of her tasks in the ICAD. 

The President then instructed Robredo to guide law enforcement agencies so their anti-drugs operations would be "more transparent to her liking."

"I'm just saying the parameters, but she is there. I do not have to fire her. She is there, she is working. In the first place actually, the first thing she should have done is to give the direction and the guidance and instruct the law enforcement agencies to make it more transparent to her liking," Duterte said.

He added, "Make it more transparent for the people."

Robredo has long been a staunch critic of Duterte's bloody drug war, where more than 6,000 people have been killed in anti-drug operations. Human rights groups, however, estimate the numbers could reach almost 27,000 to include victims of vigilante-style killings. (READ: The Impunity Series)

Robredo had been part of Duterte's Cabinet as housing czar in 2016. She resigned after he shut her out of Cabinet meetings following her consistent criticism of the drug war. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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