FACT CHECK: Malacañang’s spin on Robredo’s ‘failures’ as anti-drug czar

Pia Ranada
FACT CHECK: Malacañang’s spin on Robredo’s ‘failures’ as anti-drug czar
The Palace accuses Vice President Leni Robredo of failing to present a new anti-drugs plan, failing to visit communities affected by illegal drugs, and 'baiting' international groups to probe the drug war. Do the claims hold water?

MANILA, Philippines – It’s all her fault, according to President Rodrigo Duterte and Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, before announcing Vice President Leni Robredo’s sacking as Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) co-chairperson, pointing out her alleged missteps.

Her firing, announced to the media on Sunday, November 24, had been built up for days with Duterte and Panelo saying they disapproved of her actions.

Despite saying he did not trust her and opposed her meetings with foreign entities, Duterte had repeatedly said he was not firing her – until Sunday swung around.

Panelo’s announcement of the decision in a press conference in Busan, South Korea, coincided with the flurry of reports on Southeast Asian (SEA) Games hosting debacles being pinned on key Duterte ally House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

Critics, including Senator Risa Hontiveros, hit the Palace for sacking Robredo just to distract from the SEA Games mishaps, prompting a denial from Panelo.

What “missteps” did Duterte and Panelo cite which supposedly convinced the President to dismiss Robredo? Do they hold water? Rappler goes through them one by one.

Claim 1: “Robredo did not seek clarification on role as ICAD co-chair” 

“If VP Robredo wanted clarification in the scope and limits of her new task, she could have sought audience with the President, which she failed to do,” said Panelo on Sunday.

Rating: FALSE

The facts: Robredo said she had written to Malacañang asking for the parameters of her role. She and her spokesmen, through public statements, had also asked for clarifications on her role. 

On Saturday, November 23, Duterte himself said Robredo only had to read Executive Order No. 15, which spells out the ICAD’s mandate, giving the impression he did not even think it necessary for the Vice President to have an audience with him on the matter. 

Duterte’s instructions did not clarify Robredo’s role since the EO does not create the position of ICAD co-chairperson. This had been the concern of Robredo’s office’s from the start. Duterte designated her to a position that does not even legally exist, they said. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, in response, said the Palace would issue additional provisions to the EO to satisfy Robredo. This, however, never happened.

Panelo, on Monday, said Robredo should have asked to meet with Duterte on the first day of her job as ICAD co-chair. But later on in the same press conference, he admitted Duterte had said publicly he would be the one to invite Robredo. Robredo’s office had said they were waiting for the invitation, which never came.

Claim 2: “No presentation of new strategy or plan”

“She has not presented any new program that she envisioned to implement. In a campaign where people’s lives are at risk, a day is an eternity. The government cannot twiddle its thumb and sit idly hoping for a flash of brilliance from the Vice President,” said Panelo on Sunday.

Rating: FALSE

The facts: Robredo sent two reports containing her recommendations on combating illegal drugs. Panelo said Duterte was too busy to read them. 

Eh una tinanong ko siya, ‘Mr. President natanggap mo ba? Eh sabi niya, ‘Alam mo, alam mo naman iyong mga dokumento, parang ikaw iyon, iyong la mesa mo.’ Pag dumating ang sulat, hindi naman kaagad mababasa iyon, sa dami, sa dami siyempre, kumbaga nakapila ka diyan,” said the spokesman. 

(I asked him, “Mr President, did you receive it?” He said, “You know, you can’t read all those documents right away since they are so many.” They are lined up.) 

Robredo had also promised to send weekly reports to Malacañang. At the time she was sacked supposedly for underperformance, she had been ICAD co-chair for only 19 days.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former police chief, said Robredo had been on the “right track” as ICAD co-chair by first consulting with various agencies and entities involved in tackling illegal drugs.

Claim 3: “Robredo should have spoken with drug war victims and communities”

“If VP Robredo is really serious in addressing the cause of the drug problem, she should have gone down to the grassroots – talking to the victims, to their families, and to the communities,” said Panelo in his statement.

Rating: FALSE

The facts: Robredo did visit depressed communities affected by the illegal drug trade. On November 19, she went to Barangay Market 3 in Navotas City identified as a drug hotspot by police. On November 21, she and ICAD co-chair Aaron Aquino dropped by Dinalupihan, Bataan, to attend the graduation of around 950 drug addicts from a 30-day rehabilitation program. On November 22, the Vice President went to Barangay Culiat in Quezon City, another drug-infested community, and then visited recovering drug addicts at the Tahanan Rehabilitation Center, also in Quezon City.

Claim 4: “Robredo plans to invite international “prosecutor” to probe drug war.”

Yang prosecutor and the tweet. Nakita ko yung tweet eh. ‘I am packed and ready to go and arrest Duterte.’ Yan ang imbitahin mo? Ganun ang salita sa akin. Putang ina, Leni, sa harap mo sampalin ko yan,” said Duterte in a November 19 outburst. 

On Sunday, Panelo said Robredo’s baiting” of international groups was one of the reasons for her sacking.

Rating: FALSE

The facts: Robredo said she never invited any “prosecutor” to investigate the anti-drugs campaign. 

The “prosecutor” Duterte was referring to is not a prosecutor at all but former Human Rights Watch director for Asia Phelim Kine. Kine, on November 11, tweeted “My bags are packed and I’m ready to come to the #Philippines to help advise how to end this murderous ‘drug war.’”

“Meanwhile here is my Recommendation No. 1: Arrest #Duterte and his henchment for inciting & instigating mass murder,” he continued.

Kine’s tweet was in reaction to a news report that Robredo was planning to meet with United Nations officials for their inputs on how to handle the anti-drugs campaign.

Apart from these claims, Duterte described Robredo as “scatterbrained” and given to making “knee-jerk” reactions. He also accused Robredo of planning to use “state secrets” about the drug war for politics, which Panelo later on connected to the 2022 national elections. 

Robredo, meanwhile, had earlier promised not to divulge confidential information to any foreign entity. 

From the start, Duterte’s offer to Robredo of the ICAD post was vague and marred with legal issues. While Malacañang had announced it was a Cabinet position, no document ever formalized this. Over a week later, Duterte would backtrack on giving her Cabinet rank, saying Robredo was not trustworthy. 

Robredo said she had accepted the post against the advice of some in her camp because she did not want to miss any opportunity to improve the human rights record of the anti-drugs campaign. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.