Stripped of authority, Robredo doomed to fail as anti-drug czar – Lacson

‘What’s wrong with the Vice President having access to information?’ asks the senator and former police chief, who says Robredo is actually on the right track in handling the anti-drug campaign

JC Gotinga

Published: 3:14 PM November 21, 2019

Updated: 9:47 AM November 22, 2019

ALL OR NOTHING. Senator Panfilo Lacson says Vice President Leni Robredo should either be given full powers as anti-drug co-chair, or just opt out of it. Photo taken November 21, 2019, by Angie de Silva/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – With only her title as anti-illegal drug czar and not much else in authority or access to information, Vice President Leni Robredo is doomed to fail even if she’s been doing well so far, said Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday, November 21.

Noting how President Rodrigo Duterte refused to give Robredo access to a list of high-value targets and other “confidential information” on the illegal drug trade because he “does not trust her," Lacson said the VP's position as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD) has become “untenable.”

"'Pag tinanggalan ka ng authority at naiwan sa iyo ang responsibility (When you’ve been stripped of authority and yet left with the responsibility), that is a guaranteed formula for failure,” Lacson told reporters in a briefing at the Senate in Pasay City.

“Kasi mayroon kang gustong gawin, wala kang authority pero ang nakaatang na responsibilidad sa balikat mo, napakabigat,” he added. (Because you want to accomplish something, you’ve got no authority but the responsibility on your shoulders is huge.)

In expressing distrust in Robredo, Duterte was only a step away from firing her, Lacson went on.

Job unclear

Duterte appointed Robredo as ICAD co-chair on October 31 as a dare to prove that the campaign against illegal drugs could be done bloodlessly as she had been insisting. Robredo had lamented the killing of more than 20,000 people in the government’s war on drugs – the higher death toll cited by rights groups as the government puts it at just over 6,000.

Robredo accepted the appointment on November 6, defying even the advice of her allies in the Liberal Party, who warned that the offer could be a trap to set her up for failure. Robredo said having a shot at ending the “senseless killings” in the drug war was enough for her to ignore Duterte's motivation in appointing her. 

Early on, Robredo said she would seek clarification from Duterte as to what her job really entailed, because the memorandum of her appointment defined neither her responsibilities nor her powers as ICAD co-chair, a position she shares with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino.

On November 18, Malacañang backtracked from an earlier statement that Robredo’s ICAD appointment made her a member of the Cabinet, after Duterte said he would fire her if she used her position to help investigations of the drug war.

And then on Tuesday, November 19, Malacañang also rescinded Robredo’s access to drug war documents and intelligence. That night, Duterte himself said Robredo would not be given a Cabinet post because he did not trust her. He said he had a problem with her talking to foreign groups like the United Nations.

Entitled to information

“What’s wrong with the Vice President having...Even if hindi siya na-appoint as co-chair of ICAD, being the second highest official of the land, I think she’s entitled [to the information] kasi ang security clearance niya naman siguro, mataas,” Lacson said on Thursday, adding that even senators were allowed access to “secret” information.

(Even if she had not been appointed co-chair of ICAD, being the second highest official of the land, I think she’s entitled [to the information] because she surely has high security clearance.)

Robredo had consulted with Lacson, a former Philippine National Police chief, several days after she accepted her appointment. He advised her to focus on cutting the supply of illegal drugs, and to broaden cooperation with foreign anti-drug counterparts. 

He also gave Robredo information on how to tackle big-time drug dealers and importers, Lacson said.

Excluding himself, Lacson said the VP "went in the right direction" by starting off with consultations with the likes of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, and even the heads of the agencies that comprise the ICAD itself.

What must have ticked Duterte off, Lacson said, was “misinformation,” when former Human Rights Watch chief Phelim Kine tweeted his recommendation to Robredo to “arrest Duterte and his henchmen” at around the same time Robredo was conferring with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Duterte must have assumed, wrongly, that Robredo had something to do with Kine’s statement, and the matter just needs clearing up, the senator pointed out.

A valid question

But if Duterte was not willing to trust Robredo, then why did he appoint her as ICAD co-chair in the first place?

“That is a valid question,” Lacson said, adding that it was clear in the beginning that what Duterte offered Robredo was to take his place at the top of the drug war. That was the premise of the challenge – whether Robredo could do any better if she was given Duterte’s powers as far as illegal drugs were concerned.

Lacson said Robredo should not concern herself with challenges to lead actual sting operations.

"Her job description is to formulate policies, give policy direction,” Lacson added.

But without access to deep information on the illegal drug trade in the country, otherwise available to Duterte, Aquino, and other top implementors of the drug war, Robredo would practically be incapacitated.

"So papaano ka magiging efficient or effective in formulating policies kung kulang-kulang 'yung information mo?” Lacson asked. (So how can you be efficient or effective in formulating policies if your information is incomplete?)

"It’s better if VP Leni will be out of ICAD, or give her full authority, too,” he said, but added that Robredo’s decision to quit only if Duterte “tells her to her face” must be respected.

In the meantime, as the two highest officials of the land are locked in such a tug-of-war, Lacson said, “‘Pag ganyan, sino ang magbubunyi? Eh ‘di mga drug lord.” (If that’s the case, then who gets to celebrate? Of course, the drug lords.) – Rappler.com