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Robredo’s Boldest Move to Lead Anti-Drug Campaign

When Vice President Leni Robredo was quoted by Reuters criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte’s “failed” anti-drug war, she probably was not expecting such piqued reaction from the president. Duterte’s outburst made Robredo to backtrack from “stopping the drug war” to reassessing it.

Regardless, Duterte’s verbal challenge was already out there for Robredo to lead the anti-drug campaign with full support from the president. For many who are used to Duterte’s insolence viewed his Robredo dare as another trick. Robredo herself initially brushed-off the idea as insincere but after Duterte signed off on her appointment to lead the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD) with a cabinet rank, she had to think hard on the repercussion of the offer.

Many of her ardent supporters in Congress, including her spokesman, called it a publicity stunt tailored to set up the veep for a fall and that her ICAD appointment has no teeth to help her bite such a big challenge. After a few days of thinking it through, Robredo accepted and offered this justification: “…if I can save one innocent life, my principles and heart are telling me I should give it a try.”

Robredo made the right call and a bold one. Had she listened to her supporters, this could have been a monumental blunder and a missed opportunity. Had she turned it down, her political career would have taken a bad turn and at that point, she might as well kiss the presidency goodbye because it would have exposed her lack of boldness that great leaders are expected to have. Her refusal would have been the butt of jokes in political circles. Worse, nobody would take her future criticisms of the Duterte administration as worth a dime.

Thus her acceptance caught many by surprise but not Siling Labuyo who was expecting it because this was a defining moment that could easily change her political fortunes. Considering the current political reality in the Philippines today, Robredo’s climb to the presidency would have been very difficult given Duterte’s supermajority in Congress and in the Supreme Court. By Robredo’s calculation, it’s now or never and she was right to frontally face it regardless of the outcome of her anti-drug campaign.

Her acceptance signified seriousness to show that she can lead the country and not just giving lip service with her criticisms. The strongman Duterte even admitted to the abject difficulty of dealing with a powerful enemy behind the widespread illegal drugs problem in the country. This will not be a walk in the park situation for Robredo. Sen. Christopher Go’s dare for Robredo to share their nightmares is real. She could now be in the crosshairs too.

This is a welcome development, however, and hopefully, this positive start would open other opportunities for the administration and the opposition to constructively work together for the Filipino people. It will be a daunting challenge both for Robredo and Duterte. For Robredo, she will have to earn the respect of law enforcement people who she has been criticizing in the past for their roles in the illegal drug-related extra judicial killings that many suspect is countenanced by the president himself.

With her new cabinet role, Robredo will also have to show to the Duterte administration that she is a team player and will act responsibly as one of the president’s alter ego. As a cabinet member, she will now be attending meetings with the president and would be privy to the inner circle discussions not only about her area but other aspect of governance. In that sense, she will need to gain Duterte’s trust once more.

To do that she should ask for an audience with the president and talk about substantive issues relating to her new job with a reassurance to the president that she will observe decorum as a member of the official family. Meaning, take some ownership and be part of the solution.

She could pointedly ask the president for his marching orders and if anything seems out of the legal sphere, to ask to have it put in writing. She should go to that meeting with an open mind that this is really a sincere offer from the president for help. Perhaps the president is truly sick but still short of incapacitation that could trigger a Constitutional response from his cabinet. By now Robredo should realize that the president means well but lacks the wherewithal to truly function in a democratic fashion. She could even be a mentor.

This time around though, I hope she would not be onion-skinned and when trouble comes her way that she should stick around no matter what happens (unless fired). Last time she had a cabinet portfolio, she resigned after getting a text from the little president for her to no longer attend cabinet meetings. She took that to mean that she was being fired. This time, wait for the official notice if you are being fired and for what reason.

Having said that, Robredo must now realize the gargantuan task she is about to embark on. With the powers that comes with her appointment, she has now an opportunity to know more about what the government really does with its anti-illegal drug campaign. But it is a double edge sword because now she will be a party to it. She should prepare herself for a paradigm shift regarding the casualties of this war.

Before she rejoined the cabinet, Robredo’s perspective has been in favor of the victims of extra judicial killings. Now, she will own the reality that there are millions of Filipino’s hooked on illegal drugs and that because of such drug addiction that many families are victimized as well. The tragedy of a drug addict includes those who are victimized because of such addition including those they kill to satisfy their additions.

She will also learn to empathize with law enforcement’s frustrations with a corrupt judiciary and narco-politicians whose tentacles are everywhere that guarantees freedom to roam freely or be called “honorable.”

Most of all, what does she do when party mates or political allies are implicated in the drug trade including the possibility of narco-money infecting the Liberal Party’s campaign chest? She should know that this illegal drug trade has been flourishing for years since the first Aquino became president. As a matter of fact, the ninja cops matter that cost General Albayalde’s career to abruptly end happened in 2013 during the time of Aquino and his erstwhile PNP Chief Alan Purisima.

As for President Duterte, this was really a stupid move and a huge blunder. There is a saying in Tagalog na “ang pikon, talo.” Duterte’s pique has thrown a lifeline to Robredo. Clearly one of those unguarded senior moments when your mind is at the lowest alertness. The most probable calculation was that Robredo will decline. Well, he screwed himself royally with this offer because Robredo might just open the Pandora’s Box that sings todays and yesterday’s hits.

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