President Rodrigo Duterte is inclined to extend his offer for Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo to be his drug czar until the end of his term in 2022.
In a chance interview in Davao City on Thursday night, Duterte said he would give Robredo a Cabinet position so that “she will have the authority” to take over all drug-related agencies and bureaus.
“If I would take her in as the drug czar, I will have to first make her a Cabinet member. Then, I will give her the marching orders and the specific functions. All in connection with drugs, kanya (it’s hers),” Duterte said.
“Tapos (Then), all drug cases and all things, matters in connection with drugs iyo na ‘yan hanggang katapusan ng term ko (will be yours until the end of my term),” he added.
The President, however, claimed he does not need to put his offer to Robredo in writing, something that the vice president would like to happen first before she would make further comment on it.
He also said he would no longer need to seek permission from Congress to get Robredo back in his Cabinet.
“Hindi na kailangan (It’s not necessary). I will swear her — I will swear as a Cabinet member. First, balik siya (she should return) so that she will have the authority,” Duterte said.
“Ang Cabinet members are alter ego lang ng Presidente ‘yan (of the President). So kung may gawain ang Cabinet member (if the Cabinet takes action), it is as if it is mine. So to make it legal, just a little fiat,” he added.
Duterte said Robredo was too “talkative” when it came to the drug war and “must have the answer” as she regularly criticizes it.
“Anong mabuting gawin natin? ‘Yan ang tanong ko sa kanya ngayon, eh madaldal ka sa akin (What can we do better? That’s what I ask her now since she’s more talkative than I am),” the President said.
“Sabihin mo sa kanya tanggapin niya. Sisikat siya diyan. Hindi ko nakayanan, baka kaya niya (Tell her to accept it. She’ll be famous. If I can’t do it, maybe she can),” he added.
On Monday, Duterte said he would surrender his law enforcement power to Robredo, particularly to lead the administration’s war on drugs for six months after the vice president claimed his anti-narcotics campaign was “obviously, not working” and called for a United Nations investigation on the matter.
Lawyer Barry Gutierrez, Robredo’s spokesman, said also on Friday that the vice president was always willing to help President Duterte solve the narcotics problem in the country, but she would not be made a “scapegoat” for the lapses of the campaign in the past.
“What she will not stand for is being made a scapegoat for all the shortcomings of the ‘drug war’ for the past three and a half years,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez said that should the administration be called to account for their failure to eradicate drugs in the Philippines in six months as initially promised, Robredo should not be blamed for it.
“VP Leni has always been willing to help. From the beginning until now. If the President is really asking for help in addressing the ‘drug war,’ let’s put it through a formal discussion — not through text, not by parading before the media,” Gutierrez said.
Without naming names, Gutierrez hinted at Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo who previously insisted before the media that he texted Robredo about Duterte’s request to become the drug czar for six months but had gotten no response.
Panelo reiterated that he only meant to “give a heads up” to give Robredo some time to think things through because the President was serious about the offer.
Robredo earlier denied receiving any text message from Panelo and raised doubts on the sincerity of the offer.
“Kung seryoso, bakit ite-text ‘diba? (If they’re serious, why would they say it through text?” Robredo said.
Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Robredo’s partymate with the Liberal Party (LP), on Friday also described as a “trap” President Duterte’s plan to designate Robredo as anti-drug czar.
“What is the truth? It is quite clear that they will merely use this as a trap because the death of thousands of Filipinos in the past three years was proof that their drug war is a failure),” said Pangilinan.
Meanwhile, Sen, Leila de Lima said Duterte “has again resorted to attacking Vice President Robredo because he cannot admit that he miserably failed the millions of Filipino people who believed in his fake promise to rid the country of illegal drugs in six months.”
“Duterte must first relinquish his post entirely to VP Robredo, who will then be Acting President throughout the over-acting phase of Duterte’s spoiled brat persona, and not only take over law enforcement functions,” she earlier said.
But in a statement on Friday, Panelo denied that Duterte was only offering Robredo the position to see her fail because she would lack support from anti-drug bureaus and agencies.
“The President renews his offer to the vice president to become the anti-illegal drugs czar, with all offices, bureaus, agencies or government instrumentalities involved in the enforcement of the law on prohibited drugs placed under her command and supervision with a cabinet secretary portfolio, to ensure her effectiveness in combating the drug menace,” he said.
These would include the Philippine National Police, Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.
Panelo said the President decided to give Robredo a Cabinet position to dispel all doubts on his sincerity after he initially asked her to be drug czar for only six months.
“We want VP Leni to succeed, her success being ultimately a triumph of the Filipino people against the dreaded and destructive evil that is destroying the basic fabric of our society,” Panelo said.
WITH BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO AND GLEE JALEA