Vice President Leni Robredo wants the administration to reassess its anti-drug campaign even as the Palace said Friday she should be given space as she fulfills her responsibilities as head of the effort.
READ: Leni changes tack on drug war
Robredo earlier vowed to pursue the campaign against narcotics with “vigor, intensity, and strength” within the bounds of the rule of law and standard procedures, amid allegations of police abuses during the conduct of anti-drug operations.
As Robredo joins raid and police operations, she will be exposed to the “realities on the ground,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
It’s a move also suggested by Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Aaron Aquino, Robredo’s co-chairman on the government body.
“After that, she will plan how to succeed in her job. Give her space,” Panelo added.
The National Capital Region Police Office said Robredo may join police operations in Metro Manila if she wishes to do so.
Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas, acting director of the NCRPO, said arrangements could be made to include the Vice President during buy-bust operations if she wants to see the police in action.
“We don’t hide anything anyway. Anytime the Vice President says she wants to join, no problem,” he said in a press briefing.
Robredo on Wednesday accepted her appointment and vowed to run after big-time drug lords and rogue policemen involved in the drug trade.
On Friday, she said she would reassess how the war on drugs has been waged, and said she saw illegal drugs not only as a criminal justice problem, but also a health and sociological problem.
“It’s time to think about a new campaign which is more effective, but no one is dying senselessly,” she said ahead of her first meeting with the Interagency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs, which includes top law enforcement officials.
“I believe that in all police operations, anything can happen, but we oppose deliberate and planned killings of innocent people” added Robredo.
President Rodrigo Duterte rose to power in 2016 on a pledge to eliminate the nation’s drug problem by killing thousands of drug dealers and users.
READ: Rody dares Leni to take on drug czar role for 6 months
Since then narcotics agents claim to have gunned down just over 5,500 suspects who fought back, though watchdogs claim the true number is at least four times higher.
The campaign has drawn fierce international criticism, especially from rights groups that allege the crackdown could amount to crimes against humanity. International Criminal Court prosecutors have launched a preliminary probe and the UN’s top rights body has voted to conduct an in-depth review.
Robredo told a press conference after the meeting that she plans to dig into the details of the crackdown, and believes any misconduct should be confronted by the Philippines.
“I would rather that we take care of whatever we have to take care of,” she said. “There are a lot of things that happened that should not have happened.”
President Duterte bristles at any criticism of his drug war, with public opinion polls saying he as the overwhelming backing of Filipinos.
Robredo said she saw her appointment “as a signal that the President is open to listen to a fresh perspective about the entire campaign.”
“Drugs are the enemy here. We are not at war with our countrymen,” she added.
Amnesty International took a supportive view of Robredo’s new post, calling it proof “global pressure is having an effect, and that the public mood in the Philippines is turning against the flawed approach of the so-called war on drugs.”
Duterte has previously vowed to continue the drug war until the end of his term in mid-2022, often deriding Robredo’s capability to potentially lead the country, which she would have to do if the President dies or cannot function.
But in a turnaround labelled by critics as a trap, Duterte said in a speech last week that the drug situation has “worsened” with the police on the “brink of surrendering.”
“It’s beyond my competence, but maybe she will do better,” Duterte told reporters last week, referring to Robredo.
On Friday, Robredo presided over her first meeting with the ICAD, along with Aquino, and asked law enforcement agencies to stop “senseless killings.”
She urged the members of ICAD to realize that the war against the illegal drugs could succeed even without killing any suspects or innocent civilians.
“Maybe, it could be high time that we think of shifting to another effective campaign that would not cost the lives of people senselessly,” she said.
Robredo said she wanted to erase the concept that the meaning of “tokhang” would be a war against the poor only.
The vice president was seated at the center of the table with Aquino to her right and Dangerous Drugs Board Chairman Catalino Cuy to her left. The first meeting was held at the Quezon City Reception Hall in New Manila.
Robredo said she is looking forward to a fruitful collaboration with the other ICAD members.
A spokesman for Robredo, meanwhile, said a UN investigation into the war on drugs was “somewhat outside” the vice president’s new job.
“That’s an area that falls somewhat outside of the ICAD’s mandate and therefore she will have to deal with other agencies, DFA in particular, the President as the principal architect of foreign policy,” her spokesman, Barry Gutierrez told the ANC news channel.
“But definitely she will take a strong position in so far as making a recommendation on the level of transparency we should be adopting,” he added.
In related developments:
• Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said Robredo’s appointment as anti-drug czar was a good opporunity for all parties concerned to set aside political differences to achieve a common goal.
• An opposition lawmaker, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, said Robredo’s appointment would be useless unless ICAD is given enough funds. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel Cruz.
READ: Rody appoints, Leni declinesREAD: Rody needles Leni on drug czar, VP retorts: Won’t be ‘scapegoat’READ: Robredo clarifies drug war yarn, opts for ‘review’
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