President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday fired Vice President Leni Robredo from her post as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), less than three weeks after he first offered her the job out of annoyance at her criticisms of his deadly drug war.
In a statement released by presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, the firing was in response to Robredo’s “dare and taunt” to Duterte “to just tell her that he wants her out.” Panelo also accused Robredo of squandering the opportunity given to her by the president and using her position at the ICAD “as a platform to attack the methods undertaken by this Administration.”
“If VP Robredo is really serious in addressing the cause of the drug problem, she should have gone down to the grassroots — talking to the victims, to their families, and to the communities,” Panelo said.
Instead, he said, Robredo met with U.S. embassy officials — with whom she had discussed possible avenues of cooperation — and members of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crimes last week, people whom Panelo alleged were “out-of-touch from the realities of the local drug problem on the ground.”
Panelo went on to claim that Duterte had given Robredo ample power to carry out her responsibilities, but she “resorted to unduly baiting international attention on the matter.”
Robredo’s firing came after she asked for a list of “high-value targets,” or prominent drug suspects, whom the government intends to arrest. However, the officer-in-charge of the Philippine National Police, Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa, had refused to share the list.
Gamboa’s decision was supported by the president, and Panelo also defending the move, claiming — without offering evidence for his conclusion — that Robredo’s request “can not be given the benefit of the doubt as being free from malice or manipulation,” and that she had “embarrass[ed] our country.”
In a press conference last night, Panelo also alleged that Robredo had been unprepared for the role, falsely claiming she had presented no concrete measures upon ascending to the position.
“My suggestion from the very start since you have criticized the administration’s drive against illegal drugs has been one, a failure, or ineffective, then you must have an idea or some measures or tasks in your mind. But you never presented anything for the last three or four weeks; we have not heard of that [plan] whether publicly or privately,” he said.
Panelo appeared to be forgetting Robredo’s very concrete step of calling for an end to the police’s controversial Oplan Tokhang, the so-called “knock and plead” program blamed for the extrajudicial killings of thousands of drug suspects. Though the palace had made a show of being on board with the directive, it does not appear to have allowed it to go through.
And after more than three years in power, the Duterte administration does not appear to have fared much better in its own efforts to end the country’s drug problems.
Duterte was swept to power in 2016 on the back of promises to eradicate the illegal drug problem in the Philippines within three to six months after assuming the presidency. By March of this year, however, the problem remains unsolved, even after thousands of deaths, and Duterte has even admitted that the problem had gotten worse, and that the police were on the brink of giving up.
Meanwhile, opposition politicians said that Robredo’s firing did not come as a surprise, with the VP’s allies having warned her when the offer was made that it was merely a political trap.
Responding to the news, Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement, “This is not surprising. From the very start, we already know the intentions of this government. But when Vice President Leni Robredo accepted their challenge to lead the campaign against illegal drugs, the government was caught in its own trap.”
Not shocking, not surprising, not unexpected. Boring, actually. The more exciting question is, between PRRD and VP Robredo, guess who’s laughing now?
— PING LACSON (@iampinglacson) November 24, 2019
Moderate government critic Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, suggested that despite her firing, it was actually Robredo who’d emerged victorious from the apparent test of wills.
“Not shocking, not surprising, not unexpected. Boring, actually,” he said. “The more exciting question is, between PRRD and VP Robredo, guess who’s laughing now?”