WHEN Vice-President Leni Robredo and her three daughters dine in Malacañang with President Rodrigo Duterte, one possible dinner topic is the anti-drug campaign. Not the users and traffickers killed, arrested or surrendered, nor the value of narcotics seized and labs dismantled.
Rather, President Duterte may let the VP read the thick dossier he has been brandishing at speeches, saying: “This is the illegal drugs industry of the Philippines.”
The folder contains names and positions of hundreds of alleged narco-politicians and other officials, including judges, who are believed to be in cahoots with syndicates.
The VP may recognize a good number of bad eggs in the list, including partymates, election supporters, and even respectable personages in the country. There may also be dozens of barangay leaders and police officers.
The dinner host may then ask: “You tell me, Madame Vice President, how are we supposed to stop the syndicates using normal due process, when they have all these people in their pocket?”
“We are both lawyers,” the former Davao prosecutor may add. “You and I know how long it takes to prosecute one case, even if the judge is honest. And if the police, the prosecutor, or the magistrate is crooked, then the pushers are back on the street, plus the murderers, rapists, robbers, and kidnappers.”
Or the President might just say: “If you have a sure-fire way to stop the drug lords and all these government scalawags helping them, I’ll step down now, and you take over.”
To which the VP would surely demur that she does not aspire for the presidency.
Duterte might then reply: “Fine, but what about the people behind you, including those in this folder? And if they get me out, what will they do to you? Will they let you continue the war on drugs, crime, corruption, smuggling and tax evasion?”
What if Robredo takes over?
That’s really the question for Robredo and the good-hearted ones among her backers. With drug syndicates, narco-politicians, even laglag-bala and other sleazy schemers wanting Duterte out, not to mention the Liberal Party unhappy with LP stalwart Senator Leila de Lima being jailed, will Robredo really rule if Duterte goes?
Will the global narco-cartels, whose tentacles reach from America to Asia and Europe, let Robredo pursue a crushing anti-drug campaign, or will she revert to the old ways that allowed syndicates to flourish and turn Manila into a leading international trafficking hub?
After all, it was under the LP’s leader, then President Benigno Aquino 3rd, that crime tripled from 324,083 incidents in 2010 to more than a million a year since 2013, as reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Helping that explosion of lawlessness was a similar trebling of smuggling as measured by International Monetary Fund trade data. The total amount of imports undervalued or undeclared leapt from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion in 2014.
In that unprecedented flood of contraband, more than 2,000 cargo containers disappeared in 2011 alone, with no investigation ordered by Aquino. Imagine how many guns and narcotics can sneak in on just one 40-foot box? That’s almost surely how entire drug labs got in, along with billions of pesos worth of narcotics and firearms.
Can Robredo assure the nation that the powerful forces behind all that crime, corruption and contraband, including the narco-politicians on Duterte’s drug list, would not climb back up the political ladder?
Can she maintain the greater feeling of safety that 82 percent of Filipinos now have, based on Pulse Asia’s recent survey? Or will murders and rapes go back above 9,000 a year, robberies to 60,000, thefts to 170,000, and physical injuries to 225,000, as reported by government statisticians in 2014?
As for the economy, can Robredo replicate Duterte’s drive to get the government machinery revving up spending and implementation to levels unheard-of under Aquino? Or will she echo the latter’s pride in leaving office last June with P1 trillion in budgeted funds unspent, stalling massive infrastructure and social services?
Matching Duterte’s ‘winning hand’
Turning overseas, can Robredo match what the Washington Post reported this week in its article, “Duterte plays a winning hand with foreign policy, but will his luck run out?”
The top US paper reported: “Since his electoral triumph last summer, the man famous for cursing foreign leaders and calling for mass killing seems to be raking in the cash for Manila. A tidy $24 billion in deals with China. Fresh billions from Japan. Not to mention the tens of millions in military and development aid the United States sends each year — despite his call for a ‘separation.’
“Courting the President of the Philippines are new friends such as China, which last week sent a vice premier to Duterte’s home town, and Russia, which recently dispatched two warships to Manila on a goodwill visit. …
“Old partners such as the United States and Japan might bristle at Duterte’s rhetoric and rights record, but they are willing to speak softly because they need his help countering Chinese claims to most of the South China Sea.”
Would Robredo stay that independent course in foreign policy, reaping tens of billions of dollars in aid, investment, trade and tourism, plus military cooperation instead of conflict?
Or would she revert to her mentor Aquino’s rabidly anti-China, pro-American stance, and turn the Philippines into the US military platform in Asia under his Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement?
This week, without any UN video, President Duterte rose to the top of early online polling for the cover subject of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people issue < http://time.com/4707432/2017-time-100-poll-results/ >.
That may show not just the global coverage he drew with his strong language and foreign policy turnaround, but also the way his bold stance in the face of Western pressure resonates with developing nations also wanting to assert their views and ways against American and European finger-wagging and meddling.
Yet certain groups want to replace Duterte with Robredo. Maybe they’re popping what they push.