MANILA (UPDATE)—Vice President Leni Robredo on Tuesday accepted her appointment as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD), defying advice from some allies who said the post was a trap to ensure her failure.
President Rodrigo Duterte, in a letter dated Oct. 31, designated Robredo to co-chair ICAD, which is headed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
"Ang pinakamahalagang konsiderasyon para sa akin ay simple lang: Kung ito ang pagkakataon para matigil ang patayan ng mga inosente at mapanagot ang kailangan managot, papasanin ko ito kaya tinatanggap ko ang trabahong ibinibigay sa akin ng Pangulo," Robredo told reporters.
(The most important consideration for me is simple: if this is the change to stop the slay of innocent people and hold those responsible accountable, I will shoulder this. I am accepting the job being given to me by the President.)
Robredo's allies Sen. Leila De Lima and former senator Antonio Trillanes earlier dubbed the ICAD post as a "silly trap" and "political distraction," respectively.
The Vice President, 54, said she would go after drug bigwigs, policemen who allegedly resold seized narcotics, and officials who smuggled tons of shabu into the country.
"Tinatanong nila ako kung handa ba ako para sa trabahong ito. Ang tanong ko: handa ba kayo para sa akin?" the Vice President said.
(They ask me if I'm ready for this job. My question is: are you ready for me.)
She also told Duterte: "Mr. President, dalawa't kalahating taon na lang ang naiiwan sa iyong administrasyon. Hindi pa naman huli ang lahat, puwede pa rin nating pagtulungan ito."
(Only 2 and a half years are left in your administration. It's not too late, we can still work together on this.)
LADDER TO PRESIDENCY?
Robredo's acceptance of the post was free of political motivation, her spokesman Barry Gutierrez said in response to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo's remark that she could use it as a "ladder to the presidency."
"Kung meron mang any political intention yung ibang tao, wala sa kanya yun," Gutierrez said.
(If others have any political intention, she doesn't.)
"In fact sa tingin ko binitawan ni VP Leni yun dito, isinantabi niya yung mga agam-agam na lahat ito ay politically motivated."
(In fact, I think she relinquished it, she set aside doubts that all of this is politically motivated.)
Robredo had submitted her acceptance of the post to Malacañang before she made the public announcement, Gutierrez added.
PDEA chief Aaron Aquino earlier said he would support Robredo “100 percent,” while the Philippine National Police said it would extend its "utmost courtesy, cooperation and full assistance" to her.
Last month, Robredo called on Duterte to allow the United Nations to investigate his war on drugs which she said was “obviously, not working,” prompting Malacanang's challenge for her to lead the drug war.
She later clarified that she meant to urge administration leaders to "step back and assess" the narcotics crackdown and consider a health-based approach.
Human rights groups say Duterte's crackdown had led to systematic executions and police cover-ups. Police reject that and say the nearly 7,000 people they have killed were armed drug suspects who resisted arrest.
Duterte remains hugely popular among Filipinos, with an approval rating of more than 80 percent. Robredo has no role in the President's Cabinet.
The Vice President was not really in a position to decline the ICAD post, said political analyst Ramon Casiple.
"There's the obligation, not just a personal decision. If you were elected and the president sought for help, you will (respond)," he said.
Human Rights Commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana was hopeful Robredo could stop the killings.
"Are we going to look at addicts as victims?" she said. "The approach would not be to kill them but to rehabilitate them."
Chel Diokno said the Vice President's new appointment "is an opportunity to correct" the drug war.
"Under Vice President Leni Robredo's leadership, we hope the killings will stop, and the government will finally take a better approach to the problem of illegal drugs," Diokno, a Robredo ally, said in a statement.
- With a report from Reuters