MANILA — Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa said on Monday he would sustain President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial war on drugs if elected to the country's top post in the 2022 elections.
Dela Rosa said his support for President's policies is "the main consideration" of the Duterte-backed PDP-Laban faction for picking him as its standard-bearer.
"It is inscribed in my heart, lahat ng programa ng Pangulong Duterte (all programs of President)," Dela Rosa said in a virtual press conference.
"I'm willing to live and die with that program," he said of Duterte's anti-narcotics campaign that has been criticized for supposedly disregarding human rights.
"Of course, tuloy 'yan," added Dela Rosa, a former national police chief who led the deadly campaign before winning a Senate seat in 2019.
The International Criminal Court is looking into alleged crimes against humanity in the program that left thousands dead.
Oplan Tokhang, in which police knock on the doors of drug suspects and ask them to surrender, had "very noble" intentions, said Dela Rosa.
"Karamihan sa mga tao dito ay ini-equate n'yo ang Tokhang to EJK (extrajudicial killing)... Mali po 'yong iniisp n'yo. Tokhang is different from EJK," he said.
(Most people here equate Tokhang to EJK. What you are thinking is wrong.)
But if elected as president, Dela Rosa said the drug war will adjust "to the changing times." He said one thing he would change is requiring body-worn cameras in all operations "to avoid abuses and to provide protection to our operating personnels from harassment."
Political analysts had expected Duterte to anoint a successor who could insulate him from potential legal action at home or by the ICC, once he is out of power.
Dela Rosa said he and Duterte consider their "friendship as solid."
"That’s unfair for me kung sabihin mong magiging puppet government ako. Unfair naman ‘yan... Irespeto din naman ako ni Presidente kung manalo ako, hindi rin siya makikialam. I am sure of that," said the senator.
(That’s unfair for me if you say I'll be a puppet government. That's unfair. The President will respect me if I wn, he will not interfere.)
Asked about the possibility of legal cases against Duterte, Dela Rosa said, "Alangan pabayaan ko lang rin siya. Ano ako, walang utang na loob? Siya ang gumawa sa akin."
(I cannot abandon him. What am I, someone who does not honor debt of gratitude? He made me.)
"Pagdating ko, nasa taas na ako, kakalimutan ko lang siya sa kaniyang mga problema? Hindi naman ganiyan ang Pilipino. Ang Pilipino’y marunong tumanaw ng utang na loob," he added.
(If I reach the top and forget his problems, that is not how Filipinos are. Filipino know how to honor debt of gratitude.)
Duterte and dela Rosa's relationship started in Davao City when the former was still mayor there and the latter was chief of the local police.