"This is a test of character, more than capability or intelligence, on the part of the VP, and for the sake of our country, we should welcome her intentions and resolve."

When the news came out that President Rodrigo Duterte, likely in a moment of pique, offered to make Vice President Leni Robredo the head of the government’s drug war, I put on my analyst’s hat and thought of how the VP should react.

Pique on the part of the President was understandable because the VP had earlier chided him for a “failed” drug war, following the revelations about the Pampanga “ninja cops” and the early resignation of PNP chief O.D. Albayalde.

“The President has already made very serious threats to drug syndicates, to drug lords…and yet it’s still prevalent, so obviously, it’s not working,” VP Leni said.

The President a few days later, and before embarking on his trip to Bangkok for the Asean summit, challenged VP Robredo.  In his mind, the President must have thought “Ah, ganoon? Gusto mo, ikaw na lang!”

In my mind, I thought the VP should have publicly accepted the challenge. That would have placed the ball back on the court of Malacañang, for the President to prove his sincerity.

But no, her spokesmen and political allies immediately and publicly charged, in so many words, that she should not accept, because it was “a trap” and a mere political ploy.

Then, days after her allies “rejected” for her, VP Leni comes out saying she would accept.  The timing, to my mind, was off.

Malacañang adroitly defined the terms of her “assignment” by way of the her appointment as “co-chairman” of a newly formed Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, signed before the presidential trip, but released upon President Duterte’s return. 

An early and immediate acceptance of the presidential dare, call it challenge, whether serious or political ploy, could have been followed by the VP with a demand for “terms of reference,” conditions that would make her effective in the role of “czarina” of the government forces fighting the drug war.

And Malacañang would have had to give in, or at the very least given the position ample powers and proper authority, lest it is accused of insincerity in making the offer.  

Whether it took the vice president days to agonize over her decision to accept, or whether she was being pulled hither or dither by different cabals within her inner circle, we would not know. We would not speculate about it, either.

The point is, she allowed the president time to rethink his dare, who forthwith drew his own terms of reference, making her co-chairman of the effort overseeing the war on drugs.  Noises have been made by the palace spokesman to assure her of full support, and calling on the police and PDEA to fully cooperate with her, but nobody in government seriously buys that line.

But the previous paragraphs are from a Machiavellian hat.  The fact is, the vice president has joined the war against drugs, and her pronouncements of a “gentler” war are to be appreciated by every Filipino.  We have to wish her the best.

 If she uses the new position as mere political soapbox, as some detractors say, notably even the Speaker of the House, Alan Peter Cayetano, or if she shows she is there to learn more about the intricacies of “war” and eventually shows that she is made of sterner stuff—that remains to be seen.

This is a test of character, more than capability or intelligence, on the part of Vice President Leni Robredo, and for the sake of our country, we should welcome her intentions and resolve.

The past few days have seen the demise of two well-known businessmen—the legendary John Gokongwei and the sportsman son of Kapitan Lucio Tan, Bong, who a week before succumbing to aneurysm was promoted to become CEO of PAL Holdings Corp.

 Bong is a good friend, and just last Wednesday, Nov. 6, I had dinner with him and a few friends.  Last September, we were together in eerily quiet Hong Kong for a Moon Festival dinner given by a barrister-friend to celebrate the end of the “ghost month.”

He was complaining of a bum stomach the day before our last dinner, and said he may skip the sumptuous dinner, but brought two bottles of excellent wine, a Chassagne-Montrachet 2014 and a Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010 by Chateau Canon.  I noticed that he was not his usual happy-go-lucky self, whether it was because of the previous day’s slight illness or whether he was beginning to realize the gravity of the responsibilities he would sooner or later inherit from his dad, Kapitan Lucio and mother Carmen.

I was already in Taipei when news came of his collapse in a basketball game, yet later in the day, it was reported that he was in stable condition.  The day after, the sad news came about his inability to survive a delicate medical procedure.

My profound condolences to the family as I bid goodbye to a good friend.

I never knew Mr. John personally, but one of my early breaks in private business came from his Universal Robina Corp. during the martial law years.

His purchasing manager was a hard-bargaining buyer (barat in Pilipino), but eager to help a start-up owned by a trio of young men.  We innovated processes to cut down on costs, but came up with a very good signage system for their Blend 45 instant coffee.

Low profit per unit, but URC ordered hundreds of signages.  The break also opened doors for more business deals.

His business empire was built through years of hard work, and I need not repeat the legend of Mr. John Gokongwei in this article.  Suffice it to say that his was one very admirable business success story and more importantly, a character story which must be emulated by more young men and women who often think only of the “easy” ways of life.

Hail and farewell, Mr. John.

Topics: Lito Banayo , Czarina , Vice President Leni Robredo , drug war , illegal drugs
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