MANILA (UPDATE) - Vice President Leni Robredo's acceptance of President Rodrigo Duterte's challenge to co-chair an inter-agency body against illegal drugs came as a "surprise," senators said Wednesday, noting that they look forward to the success of the second-in-command in her new task.
Robredo, in a televised press conference, accepted her appointment as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD) a day after her spokesperson said that the position was "non-existent."
"We are surprised with her change of heart," Senator Sonny Angara said in a statement.
"We wish her well and hope she succeeds in helping solve the menace of drugs which destroys lives and communities," he said. "If she meets with success in her new role, it will be good for the country and the administration, which delegated the job to her."
Robredo's move to take on the drug war challenge is "very good news," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
"Magkakaroon ng spunk yun [ICAD] kasi vice president ang co-chair kaya dapat mas maging masipag sila," he said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson lauded Robredo for "accepting the daunting challenge."
"Experience counts but sincerity and mental honesty, not to mention the willingness to learn, should count more," said Lacson, who once served as the country's police chief.
Senator Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa - who headed the Philippine National Police's door-to-door campaign against narcotics - said he is "very happy" that Robredo will now help the government in its war on drugs.
"I'm very optimistic itong pagtanggap niya sana 'yong kaniyang nalalaman na mga solusyon ibabahagi na niya ngayon dito sa ating war on drugs para magwagi tayo," the former police chief told ANC.
(We are optimistic that she will be able to lend her ideas on how we can win the war on drugs.)
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who is also Robredo's partymate and ally, said he is "confident" that the Vice President will succeed in her new role.
"Being the leader of the opposition, Vice President Robredo will continue to fiscalize. But in instances such as this, when she is called upon to do her share, she will not shirk from this challenge," Drilon said.
"She will not endorse any policy, which would involve extra-judicial killings," he said. "She wants to review the anti-drug war and maybe start with getting the data."
Robredo's other allies in the chamber expressed confidence that the vice president would succeed provided that the administration would provide adequate resources and leeway.
"Provide her with all powers and resources. Give her full liberty to implement the public health approach with rights-based law enforcement. Trust me, she‘ll do a much better job: walang mamamatay na inosente at walang maaalagaang druglord," Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.
"Now the ball is in the administration's court... the President and his underlings need to fall in line and give the VP all the help that she needs to succeed," Sen. Leila de Lima said.
Despite uncertainties about the Duterte administration's real intent, the Liberal Party supports Robredo's decision, said party president Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
"Pinag-usapan sa partido ang offer. Tinimbang ang mga pros at cons. At kahit alam ni VP Leni na maaaring patibong ito, tinanggap niya ang hamon," he said.
(Even though she knows this could be a trap, she took on the challenge.)
"Bagamat hindi natin matiyak ang motibo at sinseridad ng Malacañang sa pag-alok sa nasabing pwesto, wala tayong duda sa sinseridad ng ating Bise Presidente sa kanyang layunin na hanapan ng tunay na solusyon ang problema sa iligal na droga sa bansa," he said.
Robredo earlier said that she was ready to offer alternative solutions to curb the Philippines' drug problems.
"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 said.
(If this is the change needed 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.)
"Tinatanong nila ako kung handa ba ako para sa trabahong ito. Ang tanong ko: handa ba kayo para sa akin?" she said.
(They ask me if I'm ready for this job. My question is: are you ready for me.)