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Robredo’s Firing Exposes a Rotten Political System

It is barely a month since VP Leni Robredo was appointed drug czar and we’re already back to square one. President Rodrigo Duterte fired his erstwhile political nemesis three weeks after appointing her as co-chair of the anti-drug body. Duterte cited “missteps” by the VP as reason for the termination. Sal Panelo, Duterte’s spokesman was more upfront, citing among others, Robredo’s and opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan’s dare for the president to just go ahead and fire his drug czar instead of whining about missteps.

Well, both sides were to blame and this brouhaha is really symptomatic of the current political discourse in the country. There is a lack of trust. Duterte most likely realized his dumb move to appoint the VP out of pique. There is a Filipino saying, “Talo ang pikon.” His miscalculation was that Robredo will decline the appointment.

But Robredo accepted the offer and right away she hit the ground running. She convened a highly publicized meeting with U.S. representatives and when that was over, she turned her sights on China and wanted to do the same. She averred that most of the drugs are coming in from China, ergo the solution is probably with them.

She also admitted through the press about the seriousness of the drug problem in Bicol with Naga included. She then asked for a list of high value targets. Law enforcement balked and questioned aloud Robredo’s need for this list.

Well, that was part of the problem. The other was the constant attacks from opposition leaders about Robredo’s lack of cabinet portfolio, and questioned aloud why Robredo could not have access to the list of high value targets. The last straw was Sen. Franklin Drilon shining a light on the SEA Games’ caldera while the athletic meet was just getting underway.

When Robredo was appointed drug czar, it was a golden opportunity for her and the opposition to finally start working with Duterte for the good of the nation, and vice versa. The illegal drugs problem gripping the country is serious and working in tandem is an opportunity for trust building. It is admirable that Robredo was so eager to get into the thick of things but her overzealousness made people uneasy. And who would not be?

For months, Robredo has been harping about Duterte’s high handed approach to the illegal drugs issue. She made it her crusade for the international community to start condemning the extra judicial killing in the country attendant to this drug war. Duterte’s unorthodox style keeps ruffling so many feathers in the civil society that explains why many of Robredo’s supporters were against her accepting the drug czar offer.

So, for her to start convening meetings involving foreign agencies WITHOUT Duterte’s blessings was a serious breach of protocol. Robredo means well but her lack of experience in executive government showed in these instances. She was still in the trust building phase but her designation as drug czar most likely got to her head and got ahead of herself.

Experience would have alerted her on the red flags the moment law enforcement leaders started to question her need for the list of high value targets. Opposition leaders, including her, probably interpreted that as stonewalling and right away started questioning their motives for “hiding” the list. “What are you afraid of?” she quipped. “What are they hiding?” Well, they are not necessarily hiding anything. The fact that there might be opposition names in there is a reason for caution. In the military, these are tightly guarded information that are only share with “eyes only” privileges. Just because she had the designation does not mean easy access to everything.

Instead of buckling to work without the glare of the press, Robredo decided to be transparent instead by divulging information of operational nature. What was her purpose of the meeting with foreign leaders? Was it purely for information exchange? But what information exchanged? Did she know that law enforcement are already doing that? It’s called government to government cooperation. Or was it a photo op to give the impression that she is better or more knowledgeable than Duterte? Which was a wrong strategy.

Did she know that that meeting alone already embarrassed her boss in Malacañang? And that making a press statement that China is next since the drug shipments are mostly from there was another slap on Duterte’s face. You mean President Duterte did not know that? Of course he did know but by not meeting with Chinese government leaders or agencies, Robredo was implying that Duterte was either incompetent or was hiding something.

When she validated to the press pool that the Bicol Region and Naga City were indeed hotbeds of illegal drugs (which she angrily denounced before when Duterte said it), did she know that law enforcement could have interpreted her announcement as a coded message for drug lords in Bicol? Or especially in Naga where the late Jesse Robredo’s brother was previously implicated in the illegal drugs trade, did she even think that was a possible wave-off of those who might be on the list?

That was probably her way of trying to fit in, by affirming PDEA’s earlier findings about drug trade in Bicol and Naga as a transshipment point with in the province. Or was she asking for the list of high value targets as a favor to drug lords or provincial officials who might be supporting her? All her actions might have been done innocently but she should understood that her credibility among law enforcement whom she criticized often when she criticize the Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, needs patching up. Thus the need to build that trust. Her constantly appearing for media interviews are not taken well by law enforcement. Their success often depends on stealth and tightly guarded information. Robredo has not clearly earned such trust.

But perhaps what really got Duterte’s goat was the constant criticism from Senators Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, or Leila de Lima. If this was a trust building exercise, the opposition should have declared a ceasefire and allowed Robredo the room she needed to navigate the minefield after she accepted the job. Their constant criticism was not helping Robredo and was adding to her pressure to deliver. Duterte clearly can only see an opposition strategy emerging to get him in trouble.

A good six months would have been enough time frame to initially evaluate how Robredo was doing and provide an honest to goodness appraisal how the campaign is progressing and what can be improved. Her announced meeting with Senator Panfilo Lacson was an afterthought after she got chastised by the president because of the meeting with foreign leaders. It’s not that Duterte was faultless, no he was very much part of the problem but for Robredo, she should have used her first few weeks to meet with the president and key personnel to present her alternate or innovative ideas instead of jumping the gun and getting ahead of herself.

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