MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo entered the hall where the active and retired military and police generals who have driven the government's war on drugs was waiting to get her as its new boss, at least when it comes to anti-illegal drug operations.
"This afternoon will only be a listening exercise for me. The reason I requested this meeting with you is gusto ko malaman king saan ako magsisimula (I want to know where to start)," Robredo said Friday afternoon 8 in November when she opened her first meeting as co-chair of the government's illegal drug intergovernmental committee (ICAD) in the reception hall of her Quezon City office.
It was two days since she accepted the position that President Rodrigo Duterte assigned her on October 31 as a She had been critical of his flagship campaign that killed about 20,000 people according to rights groups, and he would like to see her try to fight drugs – if it could be made bloodless when she insisted.
Before Friday's meeting with the bosses began and representatives of over 40 agencies and sub-agencies comprising ICAD, Robredo met privately with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency G Energy Director Aaron Aquino, who previously predicted she would fail if she took on the job. After she did, he changed her tone and welcomed her decision.
Aquino co-chairs ICAD; he and Robredo will run the committee equally. For this reason – that she will not have full control – Robredo's allies in the Liberal Party had urged her to reject the job offer.
She and Aquino walked side by side, all smiles, as they crossed the driveway from Robredo's office to the hall where the committee heads were waiting to receive them.
After a short prayer, Robredo addressed the meeting and thanked them generously for all the work they have done so far for the war on drugs. But she had some things to say.
"Number one, I think drug addiction is a serious problem facing our country. Number two, I am all for a strong national policy against illegal drugs and I am all for a vigorous campaign against drugs," she began.
"Pero has said that, I also feel that we should do things right. Everything we do should be within the rule of law," she added.
Drugs are not just a criminal problem, so it goes beyond criminal justice, continued Robredo. Addiction is a medical and sociological problem – a health issue.
"Ang kalaban natin dito, hindi 'yung mga kababayan natin. Ang kalaban natin dito, drug," she said. (The enemy we have here is not Our enemies here are drugs.)
Robredo destroyed Duterte's statement from February last year that the number of drug-addicted Filipinos has increased to 7 to 8 million. "That number is astonishing," she said, asking if it was time to "raise" the current program against illegal drugs and see if efforts have been wasted.
"Due to the many meaningless murders that followed the operation TokHang, parang naka-reaching siya ng some level of notorite t na (it seems like it reached a certain level of notoriety that) … it's a war on the poor, "she said in the presence of the men who have run the program, among them: Home Secretary Eduardo Año, acting Philippine National Police Chief Archie Gamboa, the head of dangerous drug supervision Catalino Cuy and of course PDEA's Aquino.
She congratulated and thanked law enforcement for their "success." On Friday, authorities returned dried cannabis of P1.4 million in Quezon City, Shabu in Peb in Cebu and 6 kg of shabu at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Aspects of the antibody program that have been liver results should be continued and expanded, but perhaps it is time for a program where no one dies meaninglessly, Robredo added.
Various persuasions and political alliances represented in the hall illustrated the odds that stacked against Robredo as she took over many programs that drove Duterte to power.
She knows that, she said, but "I would also like to think that people expect us to go beyond the differences and that we should work together," she added. – Rappler.com