VP COOL TO INT’L PROBEA10 OF DRUG WAR—FOR NOW

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - STORY BY PA­TRI­CIA DENISE M. CHIU

Vice Pres­i­dent Ro­bredo says she wants all agen­cies lined up be­hind her to solve the prob­lems re­lated to the anti­nar­cotics cam­paign and will open the coun­try to in­ter­na­tional scru­tiny only if hu­man rights vi­o­la­tors are not pun­ished.

De­spite her strong crit­i­cism of Pres­i­dent Duterte’s war on drugs that she said had tar­geted only the poor, Vice Pres­i­dent Leni Ro­bredo on Fri­day said the coun­try must by it­self try to solve prob­lems in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s anti­nar­cotics cam­paign, in­clud­ing al­le­ga­tions of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, be­fore invit­ing in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tors to look into it.

As the nom­i­nal leader of the op­po­si­tion, her state­ment could blunt ef­forts by crit­ics of Mr. Duterte, in­clud­ing some lead­ers of the Catholic Church and for­eign ex­perts, to open the coun­try’s doors to in­ter­na­tional probers, par­tic­u­larly from the var­i­ous UN hu­man rights bod­ies as the num­ber of drug sus­pects be­ing killed rises in the thou­sands.

Civil so­ci­ety’s role

Speak­ing at a press con­fer­ence af­ter her first meet­ing with mem­bers of the In­ter-agency Com­mit­tee on Anti-il­le­gal Drugs (Icad) to which she was ap­pointed by the Pres­i­dent as cochair, Ro­bredo said she felt that the coun­try’s an­tidrug prob­lems “should first be solved in­ter­nally.”

But she quickly added: “If I be­lieve that the govern­ment is not do­ing any­thing to pun­ish who­ever needs to be pun­ished, then I won’t have any prob­lems with invit­ing them over.”

“I’ve al­ways said that if there’s noth­ing to hide, then what are we fear­ful for?” she said.

Ro­bredo said she re­it­er­ated to mem­bers of Icad her strong op­po­si­tion to “sense­less killings” in the drug war but also made rec­om­men­da­tions like the in­clu­sion of “ad­vo­cates.”

“[I want] civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions to be given a plat­form to par­tic­i­pate,” Ro­bredo said, adding that she was happy that there was no op­po­si­tion to her sug­ges­tion.

On Thurs­day, she said that she would sug­gest to the com­mit­tee that pri­vate sec­tor groups be in­vited to look into the an­tidrug cam­paign.

In July, the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil (UNHRC) voted to adopt a res­o­lu­tion ini­ti­ated by Ice­land call­ing for a “com­pre­hen­sive” in­ter­na­tional re­port on hu­man rights in the Philip­pines, and ask­ing the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion to co­op­er­ate with UN in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

The Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion sharply crit­i­cized the move and said it would not al­low UNHRC probers into the coun­try.

Philip­pine Drug En­force­ment Agency (PDEA) head Aaron Aquino, a former po­lice gen­eral who is the other chair of Icad, in­vited Ro­bredo to join one of their an­tidrug op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing the plan­ning stage, so she would “get a feel” of what law en­forcers deal with and point out any lapses or de­fects that she may ob­serve.

“I would also be there with you,” Aquino told Ro­bredo at the press con­fer­ence.

“Thank you very much, sir,” she replied. “I would like that very much.”

Gov’t stats

Her first meet­ing with Icad was meant to get her up to speed with the anti­nar­cotics drive, but Ro­bredo said one thing she im­me­di­ately no­ticed was that govern­ment sta­tis­tics did not jibe with each other.

“All we have are es­ti­mates. Ac­cord­ing to the Dan­ger­ous Drugs Board (DDB), there are 1.8 mil­lion drug de­pen­dents. But to­day the agen­cies ex­plained that the ter­rain has changed and that the sit­u­a­tion has changed,” Ro­bredo said.

The DDB es­ti­mates 1.8 mil­lion drug de­pen­dents in the coun­try, but the govern­ment’s “work­ing num­ber” cur­rently was around 4 mil­lion drug de­pen­dent in­di­vid­u­als, Ro­bredo ex­plained.

“We need more data so it is not all es­ti­mates,” Ro­bredo said. “There was a need to re­assess, based on num­bers given to us, it ap­pears that the num­bers are not clear ei­ther.”

She said drug ad­dic­tion was a real prob­lem, not­ing Mr. Duterte’s own frus­tra­tions about what he says are up to 8 mil­lion drug-de­pen­dent Filipinos. The Pres­i­dent has not dis­closed the source of his num­bers.

‘Sign of open­ness’

Ro­bredo said she in­ter­preted Mr. Duterte’s of­fer for her to serve as the govern­ment’s “drug czar” as a sign of his open­ness to new ideas.

“I want to look at it as a sig­nal that the Pres­i­dent is open to lis­ten to fresh per­spec­tives about the en­tire cam­paign,” she said. “I also want to look at it as agree­ment that it is time to ob­jec­tively as­sess what we have been do­ing.”

Pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son Sal­vador Panelo said Ro­bredo should not be pre­judged and given a chance to per­form her new role in the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“She will be just like walk­ing on a high wire, she ei­ther makes it or breaks it. But we wish her well; we will give her all the sup­port that she needs,” Panelo said in a re­cent ra­dio in­ter­view.

Al­bay Rep. Ed­cel Lag­man, an op­po­si­tion mem­ber, said if the ad­min­is­tra­tion truly wanted the Vice Pres­i­dent to suc­ceed, she should be given ad­e­quate funds.

He sug­gested get­ting funds from the 2020 ap­pro­pri­a­tions for the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice or from the pro­posed P4.5-bil­lion in­tel­li­gence and con­fi­den­tial funds for the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent, “which pur­port­edly in­clude covert op­er­a­tions on the vi­o­lent drug war.”

[I want] civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions to be given a plat­form to par­tic­i­pate

Leni Ro­bredo Vice Pres­i­dent

All the help she needs

De­tained Sen. Leila de Lima said af­ter Ro­bredo ac­cepted Mr. Duterte’s ap­point­ment, “the pos­si­bil­ity that the strat­egy of this flawed drug war would shift.”

“Now, the ball is in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s court,” she added. “As (Ro­bredo) ac­cepted the role of­fered to her, the Pres­i­dent and his un­der­lings need to fall in line and give [her] all the help that she needs to suc­ceed.”

She asked whether PDEA, the PNP, De­part­ment of Jus­tice and even Congress would give her all the in­for­ma­tion she needed, pros­e­cute cases against the “true drug lords” and give her bud­get sup­port.

“If the an­swer to any of these is ‘no,’ then Duterte’s fail­ure in the cam­paign against il­le­gal drugs is all but sealed,” De Lima said.

—LYN RILLON

FIRST MEET­ING Vice Pres­i­dent Leni Ro­bredo on Fri­day pre­sides over her first meet­ing with mem­bers of the In­ter-agency Com­mit­tee on Anti-il­le­gal Drugs, which she cochairs af­ter her ap­point­ment to the po­si­tion by Pres­i­dent Duterte.

—LYN RILLON

GET­TING HER UP TO SPEED Philip­pine Drug En­force­ment Agency chief Aaron Aquino and Vice Pres­i­dent Leni Ro­bredo pre­side over the In­ter­a­gency Com­mit­tee on Anti-il­le­gal Drugs meet­ing she called on Fri­day.

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