A visibly miffed President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday offered to yield his law enforcement powers to Vice President Leni Robredo for six months after she criticized the government’s war on drugs in an interview last week.
Duterte issued the challenge during a speech delivered at a Malacañang Palace event yesterday.
“I will surrender my powers to [her so she could] enforce the law; I will give it to to the vice president. I will give it to her for six months,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. “Let her carry it. Let’s see what happens. I won’t interfere.”
He also slammed opposition politicians — or at least what’s left of them — saying they always complain about his government’s human rights record.
“[T]he other side, the opposition, they’re always hankering on to, they always want to ride [the issue], like Robredo. She’s always about human rights,” he lamented. He then ordered Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to inform Robredo of his decision to cede his law enforcement powers to her.
“As a matter of fact, I’m sending a letter to her through Secretary Medialdea,” Duterte added, before addressing Robredo directly. “You want it? You think you’re brighter [than me]? Go, try it.”
Later that day, Duterte told reporters in an impromptu interview, that he plans on making Robredo his “drug czar,” who would be “covering all anti-drug activities by the government.” Asked when the role will be implemented, the president told reporters, “anytime.”
Duterte’s testiness was apparently related to an interview with Robredo published by Reuters on Oct. 23 under the headline “Philippine VP says time for Duterte to halt failed drug war.” In it, Robredo said that Duterte should allow the United Nations to investigate the government’s war on drugs, and that the deadly campaign should be abandoned.
“We ask ourselves, ‘Why is this still happening?’ The president has already made very serious threats to drug syndicates, to drug lords… and yet it’s still very prevalent, so obviously, it’s not working,” Robredo told the wire service.
Yesterday morning, in an interview with the news show “ANC Head Start,” Robredo clarified her statement, saying she was not against “the drug war as a whole.”
She maintained that the headlines used by many networks made it appear that she wanted the drug war stopped, when in fact she meant that “it was time for [the] government to step back and assess because the numbers [of deaths and drug addicts] were still rising.”
“President Rodrigo Duterte was the one who said in 2017 the numbers rose from 1.8 million drug addicts to 4 million. And in February 2019 it rose from 7 to 8 million. So I was saying that if the numbers kept rising, it was time for [the] government to step back, assess, and perhaps tweak the strategies that they have been using.”
Robredo further clarified that when she said the campaign was “not working,” she meant it had not successfully curbed the number of drug users, adding that she was asking for a re-assessment to determine “what is wrong” with the campaign. The vice president added that she acknowledges the efforts of many branches of government, specifically on the local level.
“Because, like what I said in our village, everyone is helping to ensure the village is drug-free; it’s good. The holistic approach is okay. There are a lot of private organizations who have been doing their share.”
Earlier this year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that it will continue its preliminary examination into the Philippine government’s drug war despite the country’s exit from the organization.
The Duterte government launched its bloody drug war in 2016, and thousands of drug suspects have since allegedly been summarily executed by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), who have frequently claimed the suspects have fought back — an explanation that many Filipinos have become skeptical of.
The PNP said that, as of February, 5,176 suspects have been killed in the drug war, but the Commission on Human Rights has said that as many as 27,000 have died.
When he took office in 2016, Duterte vowed to put an end to what he characterized as an illegal drug scourge plaguing the country within three to six months. A year later, he said the six-month deadline was a mistake, and maintained that he had underestimated the gravity of the drug problem.
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