MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo has the power to scrap the controversial "Oplan Tokhang" anti-drugs campaign of the Duterte administration, said Malacañang on Monday, November 11.
"Basta si VP Leni ang in charge (VP Leni is in charge) so whatever she feels that should be enforced, we will do it. It is a yes, if she wants it," said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo when asked if Robredo can stop the Tokhang operations.
"If she wants it, she is the anti-drug czar. If she thinks there is something more effective than Tokhang, she can do it," he added.
Oplan Tokhang is the name of a type of anti-drug police operations in which police personnel visit houses of suspected drug addicts or dealers and "ask" them to stop their habit or trade.
But it became synonymous to extrajudicial killings after reports surfaced of police killing unarmed suspects and after lists of drug suspects compiled during Tokhang operations led to their deaths.
Public outrage was particularly strong against the killing of teenager Kian delos Santos in Caloocan because there was CCTV footage showing cops had murdered the teen while he was unarmed. The cops were eventually convicted, among the few convictions of a campaign that has killed some 6,000 people, according to government statistics. Human rights watchdogs say the number could be as high as 20,000 dead.
In October 2017, Duterte ordered a revamp of the drug war because of the deaths of Delos Santos and other teens during drug operations.
The spokesman said Duterte had told him last Saturday, November 9, that he expected Robredo to be "on top" of the drug war and function as his "alter-ego."
Previously, Panelo said Robredo would be given access to all drug war documents and intelligence reports.
No problem with Robredo speaking to foreign officials. Malacañang also has no problem with Robredo consulting with various foreign officials, including the United Nations and United States, which have been critical of Duterte's drug war.
"If she feels America can help in the drug war, the Americans have been helping us for a long time, sharing intelligence," said Panelo.
As to her speaking with UN officials, Panelo said in Filipino, "Maybe let's just not interfere with VP Leni in her work."
Duterte and Robredo are yet to speak in person about her role as Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) co-chairperson. But Panelo said the President plans to invite the Vice President to discuss the drug war.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.