Robredo’s loses ‘pulpit,’ not campaign to fix Duterte drug war

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 25 2019 03:46 PM

Vice President Leni Robredo meets with officials of the Dangerous Drugs Board in Quezon City. Robredo was removed as head of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs on Nov. 24, 2019 after just 2 weeks on the job. Jay Ganzon, OVP/file

MANILA -- Vice President Leni Robredo’s brief stint at the forefront of the government’s drug war provided her with a pulpit from which she spoke both about what worked — and what didn’t — in a campaign that has killed thousands of people.

But her unceremonious removal as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) did not mean the end of changes she sought to introduce, a community organizer told ABS-CBN News on Monday.

“The pulpit was taken away, but the silver lining here is that we found a serious ally,” said lawyer Sikini Labastilla, spokesman of the Community-based Drug Rehabilitation Alliance.

In the last 3 weeks, Robredo sought to mobilize grassroots support from the likes of Labastilla’s group, insisting that the drug menace should also be seen as a public health issue and not a mere problem of law enforcement.

One solution on the table was to require local governments to set aside 1 percent of their budgets for comprehensive programs to keep people away from illegal drugs.

Labastilla said this would mean amending the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which only enjoins them to “appropriate a substantial portion.”

The earmark will cover “preventive or educational programs and the rehabilitation or treatment of drug dependents,” according to the law.

At present, local governments often “race to the bottom” for such allocations because the law does not say how “substantial” the amount should be, he said.

ZUMBA NOT ENOUGH

“Pakuntian para masabi na may ginagawa... Meron ka lang masabi na graduate, graduate, Zumba, Zumba, ok na yun,” said Labastilla, who heads the Caloocan’s City Anti-Drug Abuse Council (CADAC).

(They spend the least just to say that they did something, that somebody graduated or did Zumba)

Such councils form a crucial part of efforts such as community-based rehabilitation, an approach Robredo sought to replicate nationwide based on the best practices of CADAC’s such as the one in Caloocan.

But it’s not necessarily wise for local governments to automatically spend 1 percent of their budget on in-patient rehabilitation facilities, said Labastilla, noting only 5 percent of drug users required such treatment.

The allocation may instead be used to set up CADACs and hire psychiatrists, psychologists, and other experts that will run the community-based rehabilitation program, he said.

“We were ready to propose so many revisions... certain provisions of the law that they can activate, certain powers that they did not even see because they were so busy addressing the supply problem,” he said.

Labastilla played down the possibility that the drug war might return to its bloody ways, now that the vice president was out of the picture.

Citing his conversations with policemen, he said the period of “shock and awe” was over and many law enforcers had grown tired of the killings.

DEFIANT

A defiant Robredo on Monday said she was “just getting started” on her advocacy despite being fired by President Rodrigo Duterte as ICAD co-chair.

“Ano bang kinatatakutan n'yo na malaman ko. Ano bang kinatatakutan n'yo na malaman ng taumbayan?” she told reporters Monday.

(What are you so afraid of that you don't want me or the nation to find out about it?)

Dionisio Santiago, former chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, said the “odds were against” the vice president the moment the president offered the post.

But Robredo, he said, pulled off a surprise by accepting the offer.

"Akala nila hindi tatanggapin e. Tinanggap. Kaya nagkahilo-hilo sila di ba?" he told ABS-CBN News.

(They thought she wouldn't accept it. She did. They were left scrambling, weren't they?)