Robredo accepts anti-drug czar post, vows drug war policy changes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 6) — Vice President Leni Robredo on Wednesday accepted the challenge to help the Duterte administration in its controversial war against illegal drugs, but promised to implement reforms.

She acknowledged the warning of allies in the opposition that President Rodrigo Duterte may be setting up a trap by appointing her as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD). But she said she wants to bring changes to the bloody drug war. The Director-General of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency currently chairs ICAD.

"Kahit sabihin natin na ang alok na ito ay pamumulitika lamang at hindi naman talaga ako susundin ng mga ahensya at gagawin nila ang lahat para hindi ako magtagumpay, handa akong tiisin ng lahat na ito dahil kung meron akong maililigtas na kahit na isang inosenteng buhay. Ang sinasabi ng prinsipyo at puso ko ay kailangan ko itong subukan," she said in a media briefing.

[Translation: Even if this is all part of politics, even if they're waiting for me to fail, I am ready to take on the challenge if it means I can save one innocent life. My principles and conscience are telling me I need to try the offer.]

Duterte promised during the presidential campaign to wipe out illegal drugs within three to six months. After more than three years in office, the President admitted the drug problem has "worsened." Now, Duterte has tapped Robredo to co-lead the group that oversees the anti-illegal drug campaign.

Robredo said Duterte knows her stance against the drug war that has killed more than 6,600 people, and she will continue to bring that to her new job.

"Tutol ako sa pagpatay ng mga inosente. Kontra ako sa pang-aabuso ng mga opisyal. Alam niya ang aking mga puna. Alam niya ang mga balak kong ayusin, kaya kung iniisip niya na sa pagpayag kong ito ay tatahimik ako, nagkakamali siya," she said.

[Translation: I am against the killing of the innocent. I am against erring officials. He knows my issues. He knows the problems I want to fix, so if he thinks I am going to keep mum, he's wrong.]

Government data show at least 6,600 people have been killed in anti-illegal drug operations since Duterte took office in July 2016. Local and international human rights groups said the numbers are higher: more than 20,000 people in extrajudicial killings, a claim the government has denied.

Robredo said she is ready to work with the administration to end extrajudicial killings and corruption involving high-profile drug suspects and government officials.

"Tinatanong nila ako kung handa ba ako para sa trabahong ito. Ang tanong ko, 'Handa ba kayo para sa akin?' Mr. President, dalawa't-kalahating taon na lang ang naiiwan sa iyong administrasyon. Hindi pa naman huli ang lahat. Pwede pa nating pagtulungan ito," she said.

[Translation: They're asking if I'm ready for the job. I am throwing it back at them. 'Are you ready for me?' Mr. President, you only have two and a half years in office. We can both work on this, it's not too late.]

Robredo said in her acceptance letter that she is taking on the job "to lead the government's effort against illegal drugs."

The executive order that established the ICAD does not provide for a co-chairman, which Robredo's camp has questioned. Malacañang, however, insisted that Robredo's appointment to the new position is effectively an amendment to the order.

Malacañang also assured that Robredo's appointment is not a trap, despite fears of Robredo and the opposition.

"Her success will be our success and her failure will be our failure. I don't think we would want that," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

Members of the ICAD, including the Philippine National Police, the Justice department and the Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO), have also expressed support for Robredo as drug czar.

“We look forward to the fresh perspective that VP Robredo will bring in addressing the illegal drug problem in the Philippines much faster, instead of just criticizing without concrete actions,” PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar said.

But questions on Robredo's position are still hanging and Panelo has so far refused to answer them directly, only saying that the new post will allow the Vice President to decide whether or not to stop anti-drug police operations and that she would be provided data on the drug war.

Panelo said Robredo may want other powers for her post and she would have to discuss the scope of the task with Duterte.

This would mark her return to the Cabinet after two years, following her resignation as Housing Secretary as she was barred from attending meetings.

Panelo said if she wants to, Robredo can join them in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday night.