The unbearable cluelessness of Leni Robredo

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SASS ROGANDO SASOT

SO Vice President Leni Robredo did it again. She provided us another spectacle of her cluelessness on Sunday, September 10, in “BISErbisyong LENI,” her weekly radio show on RMN-DZXL 558 Khz.

When her co-host Ely Saludar brought up President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement regarding groups sabotaging the drug war, Robredo reacted immediately. With a smirk on her face, she asked: “Who is going to sabotage [the war on drugs]? Who has the capacity to kill?”

Was her staff too lazy to inform her about what Duterte actually meant by that? A day before her radio show Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella expounded on what Duterte said.

The administration’s all-out war against the narcotics trade “adversely affected” the operations of drug syndicates and the interests of narco-politicians, Abella explained. Thus, “it should not come as a surprise that these malignant elements would conspire to sabotage the President’s campaign to rid the Philippines of illegal drugs.”

Yet the questions Robredo posed indicate that this is implausible.

Perhaps she thinks that these groups will not fight back and would let the government win by default. Does she think that drug cartels will not do anything to save their business pegged at $6.4 to $8.4 billion annually, as reported by the 2010 US International Narcotics Strategy Report? Is she really ignorant about how powerful organized criminal groups operate or just deliberately clueless in order to support a particular narrative meant to undermine Duterte?

“Extra-legal justice and turf war are…endemic to the drug trade,” political scientist Benjamin Lessing wrote in When Business Gets Bloody: State Policy and Drug Violence. Turf wars are armed conflicts among drug syndicates for control over particular areas, while extra-legal justice refers to the violence wielded by cartels to discipline their members, punish users who do not pay, or silence anyone inimical to their business.

Sociologist Paul J. Goldstein classified these two types of violence as “systemic violence,” which is violence inherent to how the drug trade operates. Systemic violence is part of Goldstein’s tripartite typology of drug violence. The other two are “pharmacological violence,” which people do while under the influence of narcotics; and “economic compulsive model,” which refers to the violence users commit in order to support their addiction.

These three are typically associated with the term “drug-related violence.” In the Philippines, mainstream media has managed to equate drug-related violence exclusively with what the government has done in order to destroy the apparatus of the drug trade.

Consequently, pharmacological violence becomes unworthy of an outrage that could provoke people to go to the streets. And systemic violence of drug syndicates becomes so invisible that the Vice President had to ask inane questions about who could sabotage the war on drugs and who had the capacity to kill.

Systemic violence of drug syndicates do happen in the Philippines. Some of them are:

January 9, 2014—“A gang war over the control of the illegal drug trade in Barangay 118 in Caloocan City.” One of the gangs even killed the police informant who gave a tip that led to the arrest of one of the gang leaders (Philippine Star, “Drug turf war behind New Year’s Eve shooting”).

July 6, 2014—There were unresolved “dozens of shooting incidents involving drug personalities [which]were attributed to an ongoing turf war and double cross” in Dumaguete City (Negros Chronicle, “Drug suspects’ gun used in turf war kills?”).

January 25, 2015—A turf war between drug gangs present in the boundary of Makati and Pasay was eyed by investigators as the reason behind a shooting incident in Makati City (Philippine Star, “Probers eye drug turf war in Makati shooting”).

April 18, 2015—Rappler reported about 28 drug-related killings that happened in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental which were attributed to rivalry among drug syndicates (“Drug war grips Mindanao City, 28 killed in 2 years”).

If Robredo’s staff had provided her with a dossier explaining the capacity for killing of drug syndicates, they could have prevented her from asking those vapid questions in her radio show.

But one might reasonably ask: How could we consider drug-related killings now as a form of sabotage by drug syndicates? That is the subject of my next column.

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