Duterte fires Robredo from anti-drug czar post

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 24) — President Rodrigo Duterte has fired Vice President Leni Robredo from her post as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), less than three weeks after her appointment, his spokesperson told CNN Philippines.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Sunday that apart from her missteps, Duterte dismissed Robredo because she spoke with foreigners, was asking for the scope of her powers and was among those daring the President to fire her, along with Senator Francis Pangilinan.

"So pagbibigyan niya (Duterte) na rin si Pangilinan," Panelo said.

[Translation: So the President is also giving in to Senator Kiko Pangilinan.]

In a separate statement Sunday, Panelo said Robredo's position in the ICAD was a way for both the administration and the opposition to work together and improve the campaign against drugs.

However, Panelo said Robredo wasted the opportunity and "used the same as a platform to attack the methods undertaken by this Administration."

He added Robredo could have been given clarification on the scope and limitations of her role as ICAD co-chair, had she requested to meet with the President; but Panelo says this was never done.

Even though she met with various stakeholders and foreign bodies on the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, Duterte told reporters earlier on Sunday that he has “yet to see” Robredo work as ICAD co-chair.

"The President has been more than patient enough, giving the Vice President adequate opportunity to discuss possible courses of action with him. More than two weeks have passed since the Vice President accepted her designation as ICAD-Chairperson. But 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 can not twiddle its thumb(s) and sit idly hoping for a flash of brilliance from the Vice President," Panelo said.

In an interview with media Sunday evening, Panelo said Robredo could have jumped in with suggestions or plans on how to revamp the government's war on drugs, given that she had been criticizing it even before becoming part of the ICAD.

He claimed she submitted papers only after President Duterte said he did not trust her.

He also said an executive order wasn't needed to remove the Vice President as anti-drug czar.

Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, said Robredo's appointment and firing proves "both the war on drugs and the appointment of the vice president as ICAD co-chair are bluff and bluster."

"Their scheme to make VP Leni look weak back-fired. Just two weeks after her appointment, she has shown courage and competence in facing the problem at hand and redirected the anti-drug war track from a criminal justice issue to a public health problem," he said.

Robredo is the chairman of the Liberal Party.

Duterte: Robredo has not started working

Duterte told reporters earlier on Sunday that he has “yet to see” Robredo work as ICAD co-chair, even if she has met with various stakeholders and foreign bodies on the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.

Ako, hindi pa siya nagta-trabaho talaga nang husto [For me, she has yet to actually work.] I have yet to see the Vice President working as an ICAD or ICAD chair, co-chair, and there is a product of their discussion,” Duterte told reporters in Davao City.

He reiterated that he cannot trust her because she is part of the opposition, but she can continue her work as ICAD co-chair.

He also said that Robredo only needs to see the executive order that created the ICAD for guidance on her powers as ICAD co-chair.

“It’s there in the law, it’s there in the executive order creating itong ICAD … Nandiyan ‘yan. So basahin lang niya ‘yan, it’s all there and that is where she would really exercise ‘yung — kung mayroon,” he said.

[Translation: It’s there in the law, it’s there in the executive order creating the ICAD … It’s there. So she should just read it, it’s all there and that is where she would see what powers she could really exercise.]

Executive Order No. 15, which created the ICAD, does not provide for a co-chair post. It only says that the ICAD chairperson “shall have the overall responsibility to ensure that the objectives of the ICAD and the clusters herein created are accomplished.”

Speaking in her radio program earlier, Robredo stood pat on remaining in her post, unless Duterte fires her.

"Ako, siyempre, kapag tinanggal ako, wala naman ako, wala akong magagawa. Pero hindi ako magre-resign, dahil ngayon pa—ngayon pa na ang dami kong nakita na kailangan pang gawin, ngayon pa na tingin ko marami akong maitutulong," she said.

[Translation: Of course, if I am removed, I cannot do anything about it. But I won't resign, especially now that I've seen a lot of things that we can still do, I've seen that I can help in a lot of things.]

Duterte has earlier said he will fire Robredo if she discloses confidential information to foreign individuals.

In her two weeks as ICAD co-chair, Robredo has met with United Nations (UN) and US officials, several national and local government bodies, and members of the private sector and religious groups to consult them on how to move forward with the campaign against drugs.

This, despite receiving no clear guidance on what her powers as ICAD co-chair are. Malacañang initially said it was a Cabinet post where Robredo can have complete control over the anti-drug campaign, but the Palace backtracked on this Tuesday over "missteps" — her meeting with the UN and her request to receive classified information.

Robredo’s firing came after stiff opposition from the Duterte administration, including her fellow ICAD members, over her request for access to a list of high-value drug targets. Officials have said that the list should only be provided on a “need to know” basis and that they have fears that the Vice President will leak information to “enemies of the state.”

Malacañang also backtracked on a previous pronouncement that Robredo's new appointment is a Cabinet-level post, saying that Duterte shied away from promoting the Vice President to the Cabinet due to her engagements with foreign bodies.

Panelo had said her request and her appointment to the Cabinet may put the country’s security at risk because she might leak information to critics.

Robredo has assured Duterte that she will not divulge classified drug war information with the United Nations and other foreign agencies critical of the administration.

She has also argued that it is part of her mandate as ICAD co-chair to get access to this data as she has to ensure the arrest of high-value targets.

The executive order that created the ICAD does not provide for a co-chair post, but does state that among the committee’s duties is to “ensure the … arrest of high-value drug personalities down to the street-level peddlers and users.”

Robredo was in the Cabinet as Housing Secretary in the early days of the Duterte administration, but resigned after she was barred from attending meetings.

But even outside of the Cabinet, the Vice President still has access to matters affecting national security as she is part of the National Security Council.

Duterte designated Robredo as co-chair of the ICAD after she declared that his administration’s flagship program — the war on drugs — is a failure. He said since Robredo appears to have a lot of solutions, she should try implementing them.

Robredo accepted the position despite being told by her daughters and the opposition not to. She, however, remained cautious, acknowledging that she might encounter difficulty in her new position.

Robredo, the chair of the Liberal Party, had been vocal in her opposition to the killings in Duterte's war against drugs — criticisms that the President has frequently brushed off with an expletive.

Duterte has also belittled Robredo's capabilities to take the helm of the country should he step down from office.

He even went as far as suggesting that someone like former Senators Francis "Chiz" Escudero or Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. would do a better job at being president than Robredo.

This story is breaking and will be updated.