Robredo ‘wasted’ opportunity to improve drug war: Palace

MANILA — Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo “wasted the opportunity” to work with the Duterte administration in improving the crackdown on illegal drugs, Malacañang said on Sunday night.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo confirmed that President Rodrigo Duterte fired Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) due to several reasons including the latter’s “dare” to Duterte to just tell her if he wants her out.

“She blew it,” Panelo said in a press conference in Busan, South Korea.

“It’s VP Leni herself asking the President to fire her. Don’t forget that. If you were the appointing power, how would you receive that dare and taunt?” he added.

He also said Duterte’s decision to fire Robredo came after Liberal Party President and Senator Francis Pangilinan asked Duterte to fire the Vice President as drug czar if he did not completely trust her.

However, he said it was Robredo’s missteps such as meeting with foreign entities, seeking classified information, and failing to present new solutions to stop the illegal drug trade were the main reasons that led to her sacking.

Panelo explained that the drug czar post was an offer to make the campaign against illegal drugs better — a chance where both the administration and the political opposition could have worked together.

“Unfortunately, she wasted such opportunity and used the same as a platform to attack the methods undertaken by this Administration,” Panelo said.

Asked to described how Duterte mentioned his plan to fire Robredo, Panelo said: “Basta sinabi ni Presidente (The President just said), ‘I’m firing her.’ Sabi ko (I asked) ‘When?’ Sabi niya (He said) ‘Now.’”

On November 20, Robredo advised the President to tell her directly if he wanted her out of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.

“He (Duterte) should just tell me directly. If he does not want me here in the first place, why did he appoint me?” Robredo said.

Robredo was appointed by Duterte as ICAD co-chair on October 31, following her claims that the current administration’s anti-illegal drug campaign is a “failure”.

She was supposed to help her ICAD co-chair, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino, in eliminating the country’s drug menace until June 30, 2022.

Duterte initially wanted Robredo to hold a Cabinet rank as ICAD co-chair, but changed his mind for fear that the Vice President might reveal classified information about the government’s anti-narcotics campaign.

International attention

Despite giving having ample authority and powers to put an end to the drug menace in the country, Panelo said Robredo resorted to baiting “international attention” from persons or entities that have already prejudged the anti-illegal drug campaign.

“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,” Panelo said in a statement.

“Instead, she opted to have audience with the United Nations and the United States embassy officials who remain out-of-touch from the realities of the local drug problem on the ground,” he added.

Moreover, Panelo said Robredo’s request for access to confidential information on the drug war could not be given the benefit of the doubt as being “free from malice or manipulation” due to her tendency to politicize the issue.

“Essentially, what the Vice President has done is to embarrass our country, apart from detrimentally undermining the government’s efforts to preserve the general welfare,” Panelo said.

Failed to reach out

Following Robredo’s concern that her function as ICAD co-chair was not properly indicated in the Executive Order, Panelo said she should have reached out to the President to seek clarification.

“The functions of the ICAD, as performed by its four clusters, are already spelled out in Executive Order No. 15. So is the role of its head of ensuring that the objectives of the ICAD are accomplished,” Panelo said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

Instead of speaking to the appointing authority, Panelo said Robredo chose to speak right in front of the cameras asking the President on her supposed mandate.

“If you need more powers, seek audience with the President. Don’t let the President invite you. It should be you. See the President and ask him if you have some more powers in mind to be added to yours,” Panelo said.

Before Duterte bared that he did not completely trust Robredo, Panelo said that the Chief Executive had planned to invite Robredo to Malacañang to discuss the official functions as drug czar.

Too late

Panelo said that more than two weeks have passed since Robredo accepted her designation as ICAD-chairperson, but yet to present any new program or project to improve the anti-illegal drug campaign.

“The President has been more than patient enough, giving the Vice President adequate opportunity to discuss possible courses of action with him,” Panelo said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

He said the government could not just “sit idly hoping for a flash of brilliance from the Vice President”.

“My suggestion from the very start is since you have criticized the administration’s drive against illegal drugs as a failure or ineffective then you must have some ideas in mind. But you never presented that–we have not heard of that either privately or publicly,” Panelo said.

If Robredo’s goal was to prevent more deaths linked to the drug war, did she succeed?

Panelo said that since she was appointed drug czar on October 31, nothing has changed and there were no reports of deaths prevented with Robredo at the helm of the ICAD.

“It’s the same. Walang pagbabago (Nothing changed),” Panelo said.

Meanwhile, Panelo said there would be no need to release an executive order or letter formally terminating Robredo’s appointment as drug czar.

“When you fire somebody, you don’t need an executive order. You just fire. Everyone (serves) at the pleasure of the President,” Panelo said in a press briefing.  Azer Parrocha / PNA –