Vergel O. Santos
So, why would Duterte, a can-do-no-wrong case, yield the running of his centerpiece campaign to Robredo, thus implying that he could not hack it himself?

The war on drugs is becoming unmistakably revealed for its confused, incompetent, and arbitrary prosecution, thanks to President Duterte himself.

It began once he passed the generalship of his war to Vice President Leni Robredo, a miscalculation apparently proceeding from the assumption that she would not be suckered into taking the job, but that her refusal would all the same make her look cowardly or derelict. In fact, people around her had viewed the offer automatically as a trap leading to worse situations than any she had been put in by Duterte.

First in line to succeed Duterte in case he quit, became incapacitated, or died, she makes him uncomfortable. He likes instead Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of the dictator he has always professed to idolize; with Bongbong succeeding, he feels reassured he will not be hounded out of retirement or the grave for wrongdoing. Never mind that Robredo is an oppositionist – not a few of her party colleagues have been co-opted into the Duterte regime – but, on her own, she is just too independent-and righteous-minded to be co-optable.

She has been vocal, if dispassionate, in her criticism of the draconian ways of the regime in general and the conduct of the drug war in particular, and has been marginalized for that. Not only has she been kept out of the Cabinet; her office has been starved of budget, thus forced to rely on philanthropy for its projects, aimed mainly at providing the most forgotten of the poor access to services so basic as power and potable water and their children better opportunities for education.

She is, moreover, persecuted along with other critics and steadfast oppositionists, like Senator Leila de Lima, in detention for more than a thousand day now for concocted drug cases, and ex- Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, himself taken to court on all sorts of whimsical charges. With both of them and others, including some of the religious, Robredo is accused of plotting against Duterte.

So, why would Duterte, a can-do-no-wrong case, yield the running of his centerpiece campaign to Robredo, thus implying that he could not hack it himself? It’s all about character and capacity, ironically the exact same things that define Robredo, except that, with her, they do so in normal and positive ways.

The misogynist and narcissist that he is, Duterte cannot stand being upstaged by a woman, not in particular one merely, officially second to him. As for capacity, hugely diminished as it is in his case by a certified disorder, he is afforded little or no sense of what happens next.

And what happens next after Robredo surprised him by taking him up on his tricky offer – which certainly looks more like a piqued loser’s dare than an SOS – is a blowback. For an idea how very bad, indeed, that blowback is and how fatefully eventual it was, we have to go back to the beginning of his war.

His count of drug traffickers and users has been changing constantly. For some time, it did stay at 3 million. At 4 million, Duterte asked to be given until the end of his term to eliminate them, and that was after he had moved his self-imposed deadline from 3 to 6 months to one year. Actually, before trying to trick Robredo, he already had implied he could not win his war within his 6-year term.

Of course, he can’t, not in less than a millennium even at the brutal-enough rate of admitted police kills – around 4,000 in the first year – and at constant factors, without accounting in particular for newcomers to the stubborn illicit trade. At the more credible kill rate of 20,000, also in the first year, which the police would only concede if the excess were ascribed to vigilantes, not them (as if the vigilantes were fighting a different war, marching to a different drumbeat, inspired by a different muse), the efficiency is quadrupled: all 4 million are dead in a mere 200 years.

Robredo, though, prefers a corrective, thus more benign, strategy, one that seriously considers the cultural, economic, and health dimensions of the drug menace. She also intends to seek help from countries that have had some success fighting it and international organizations that have contributed to that success. Characteristically prompt and serious, she lost no time in calling on the agencies enlisted in the campaign and is now trying to sort the wildly conflicting facts and figures she got from them – the estimates of the number of drug victimizers and victims, for instance, go from 1.8 to 7 million.

But what has got her in decisive trouble with Duterte, and given him an excuse to undo her before she could get going, is her request for his list of “high-value targets.” As much touted as it is, the list is supposed to be too sensitive to be put in the hands of someone too cozy with outsiders, particularly with foreign outsiders. What makes all this very curious is that no one on that list of big fish has been caught and that Duterte himself happens to be the subject of an inquiry undertaken to determine whether he deserves to be tried by the International Criminal Court  for his cruel war.  

Not surprisingly, the regime is closing ranks to continue to keep Robredo out. There’s absolutely no question that Duterte has realized that by passing his war to Robredo he put himself on the road toward self-incrimination. But he is reluctant just so soon to take his war back, the same war that, admittedly, he couldn’t hack, for it will make him look doubly dumb. So, he passes that problem, too, and one underling has been only too eager to grovel up.

General Aaron Aquino, director-general of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, says Robredo knows nothing about drugs (“Wala siyang kaalaman sa ilegal na droga”) and therefore does not deserve to be co-chair with him on the interagency committee in charge of the war.

The war actually has been going well, without her, he adds. Apparently, he feels it safe to contradict the President on his appointment of Robredo now that he has realized he needs to be rescued from it.  

As it happens, there’s no worse rescuer than Aquino. Only recently he was revealed at Senate hearings as having gone too easy on police officers – comrades-in-arms – who had stolen confiscated drugs and sold them for personal profit. Instead of prosecuting them, he simply reassigned them, at the request of their complicit chief.

Being part of the problem, Aquino has lost every right to lecture to Robredo, indeed to have anything to do at all with the drug war. But, again, he’s just the sort of perfect fit in the Duterte regime that Robredo is not.

At any rate, if it’s Aquino who is retained and Robredo who is ousted, still a good unraveling will have already happened on her account. – Rappler.com

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