Duterte formally appoints Robredo as co-chair of anti-illegal drugs body

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 5) — President Rodrigo Duterte has formally appointed Vice President Leni Robredo as the co-chair of the government body that oversees the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, Malacañang said Tuesday.

In a memoranum signed October 31, Duterte designated Robredo as head of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) alongside the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief. Duterte also directed ICAD members to "extend their full assistance and cooperation" to Robredo.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Cabinet-level position gives Robredo oversight function over drug enforcement agencies and offices, including the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the Dangerous Drugs Board and the Philippine National Police until the end of her term on June 30, 2022.

If Robredo accepts the position, she will head the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) alongside the PDEA chief. Duterte has directed ICAD members to "extend their full assistance and cooperation" to Robredo.

Panelo told CNN Philippines that if Robredo accepts the post, she has full control over what to do with the drug war, which includes possibly terminating the controversial — and sometimes brutal — Oplan Tokhang.

“The President was thinking, when she was criticizing, she must have some ideas in her mind that would effectively implement the drug war. When you’re saying that it’s ineffective, you must have some ideas to make it effective,” Panelo said.

He said the formal appointment of Robredo as co-chair of the ICAD should show the Vice President and the administration’s critics that Duterte is sincere in offering her a Cabinet-level post to deal with illegal drugs.

While Robredo can still decline the appointment, Panelo said they want her to accept it.

“We want her to accept the appointment. We want her to succeed because her success would be the success of the Filipino people,” he said.

But if Robredo does refuse the post, Panelo said, “It means that all her criticisms are for naught and have no basis at all.”

Position 'meaningless'

Robredo had kept from directly responding to Duterte's offer pending the release of official papers, on suspicion that the President is not serious and only offered her the position after being annoyed at her over an interview where she called the drug war a failure.

The Vice President, however, is not budging from this view, with her spokesperson telling reporters Tuesday evening that they suspect that her appointment is mere politicking from Malacañang, who would want to use her as a scapegoat for the supposed failures of the drug war.

"Hindi kami ang nangako na aayusin ang problema ng droga in six months. Tapos in a day, kami ang ine-expect na ayusin ito?" Robredo's spokesperson, Barry Gutierrez said.

[Translation: We weren't the ones who promised to solve the drug problem in six months. And then we're being expected to fix it in a day?]

Gutierrez said, while still refusing to give a direct answer whether or not Robredo would accept the appointment, that the Vice President would rather focus on finding solutions for the drug war, especially the killings brought about by the campaign.

He added that the appointment is "meaningless" as the executive order which created the ICAD does not provide for a co-chairperson.

Executive Order No. 15, issued by Duterte in 2017, which created the ICAD does not provide for a co-chairperson. It only appoints the PDEA chief as chairperson of the body who has the "overall responsibility to ensure that the objectives of the ICAD and the clusters herein created are accomplished."

Duterte's memorandum to Robredo is silent on what tasks she would do as co-chairperson of the ICAD.

"Kung seryosong offer, unang-una, the position actually exists. Kung totoo ang offer, naka-specify kung ano 'yung mga obligations and responsibilities. Walang ganoon," Gutiertrez said.

[Translation: If the offer is serious, first of all, the position actually exists. If the offer is true, then the obligations and responsibilities of the position should be specified. But it's not.]

Gutierrez said Robredo will be issuing a statement on her recommendations on the drug war tomorrow. He added that the Vice President will also transmit this through a letter to Duterte.

'Robredo can do good'

ICAD members are optimistic that Robredo's appointment, if accepted, would be good for the drug war.

After declaring that Robredo will fail as drug czar, PDEA chief Aaron Aquino changed tune saying that the PDEA believes she can contribute in the advocacy, rehabilitation and reintegration clusters of the ICAD.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año told CNN Philippines' Politics as Usual that he can work with Robredo.

"Dito naman sa trabahong ito, ang importante dito 'yung commitment and determination. Kung magiging drug czar siya, then we're prepared also," Año said.

[Translation: In this job, what's important is your commitment and determination. If she becomes the drug czar, then we're also prepared.]

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that he hopes Robredo "will inject fresh and constructive insights into the government's anti-illegal drug campaign."

The PDEA and the Interior and Justice departments are part of the 21-member ICAD, which is tasked to "ensure that each member agency shall implement and comply with all policies, laws and issuances pertaining to the government's anti-illegal drug campaign, in an integrated and synchronized manner."

Lawmakers aligned with the administration are calling for Robredo to accept the position, saying she would greatly help in the drug war.

"I am optimistic that our war on drugs will become more successful. I hope that we can win this war as one nation undivided by political colors," former top cop turned Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa said.

For Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, this opportunity would make Robredo and her advisers realize that the war on drugs cannot be stopped.

Opposition lawmakers, however, are wary that the plum post for Robredo is meant to be a trap.

"The Vice President is being thrown into a composite of an inter-agency committee with no less than 20 agencies as members," Liberal Party stalwart Rep. Edcel Lagman said. "The Vice President, before she could act, will have to contend with the Chair and the multiple membership of ICAD."

Liberal Party President, Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, said the appointment may be accepted if the government's anti-drug framework is changed so it treats drug addiction as a health issue instead of a criminal issue, and the killings of drug users are stopped.

If she accepts the position. this would mark Robredo’s return to the Cabinet after two years. The Vice President was previously appointed Housing Secretary, but resigned in 2017 after being barred from attending meetings.

But Panelo said that should Robredo accept it, she will be allowed to attend Cabinet meetings again and may even join them in their meeting on Thursday.

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.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong, Alyssa Rola and Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.