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From drug czar to drug ‘char’: Robredo contemplates on brief ICAD stint

/ 10:13 PM December 27, 2019
Leni Robredo

Vice President Leni Robredo. INQUIRER.net file photo / Noy Morcoso

MANILA, Philippines – After 18 days of a jampacked schedule and back-to-back meetings for Vice President Leni Robredo, how can people sum up her performance as the co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD)?

Well, Robredo has jokes for everybody.

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“From drug czar to drug char,” she said in a promotional video released by the Office of the Vice President (OVP) on Friday evening.

For starters, the word “char” is a Filipino gay lingo term — taken from an older gay lingo “charing” — both meant to disclaim that what a person just said is merely a joke, and something not meant to be taken seriously.

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Like, when you try to tell a person that he or she looked better months ago, but say “char” at the end as a last-ditch attempt to salvage the friendship.

It may be a joke from Robredo, but the last two months showed that no amount of “char” can mend ties between the Vice President and President Rodrigo Duterte, the person who appointed the former to the ICAD post.

Where it started

The hints from Duterte about a possible spot for Robredo in the anti-drug campaign came in one of his speeches.  In an October 28 event in Malacañang, the President showed his frustration with Robredo’s supposed interview with a foreign media outlet, where she supposedly called for the drug war’s stoppage.

“The opposition, they always hanker on to sasakyan nilang… Kagaya ni Robredo. Sige lang siya human rights-human rights. As a matter of fact, I am sending a letter to her through Secretary Medialdea,” Duterte said.

(The opposition, they always hanker on to riding on issues. Like Robredo, she is very persistent about human rights. As a matter of fact, I am sending a letter to her through Secretary Medialdea)

I will surrender my powers to enforce the law, ibigay ko sa Vice President. Ibigay ko sa kanya mga six months. Siya ang magdala. Tignan natin kung ano ang mangyari. Hindi ako makialam. Sige gusto mo? Mas bright ka? Sige. Ikaw. Subukan mo. Madali kasi mag… I’ve been 21 mayors, hindi mo na ako maloko ng ganoon,” he added.

(I will surrender my powers to enforce the law, I’ll hand it over to the Vice President. I’ll give it to her for six months. Let her take over. And let’s see. I won’t interfere. You want that? Are you smart enough? Okay. You try it. I’ve been a mayor for so long and nobody can fool me that easily.)

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In an ambush interview after that event, Duterte clarified that he was not surrendering anything to Robredo.  It was also the first time that the idea of a “drug czar” was floated.

Robredo — who was in a dinner with some Manila-based reporters when Duterte made the dare — refused to comment as she claimed it may not be serious.  However, she assured that when a formal document comes, she will respond properly.

To accept or not

On November 5, Malacañang released a letter signed by Duterte saying that Robredo was designated as drug czar until the end of his term “unless sooner revoked.”  OVP spokesperson Barry Gutierrez confirmed that they have received the document, but Robredo deferred deciding on the issue on November 6.

But even before Robredo gave her nod, some of her supporters and allies already expressed concern over the offer, with former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and Liberal Party (LP) member and Albay 5th District Rep. Edcel Lagman saying it could be a trap set for her to fail.

LP Vice President and former deputy speaker Erin Tañada even released a statement prior to Robredo’s announcement that she will not accept the ICAD post.

Of course people know what happened: Robredo took on the challenge and met with various administration officials and proposed to eradicate Oplan Tokhang, the Philippine National Police (PNP) prime anti-drug program.

She explained that Tokhang — derived from the word “toktok” (to knock) and Visayan word “hangyo” (to plead) — has gained a level of notoriety where it is being equated to senseless killings.

In a later speech, Robredo insisted that she was firm in accepting the drug czar post, never thinking twice about it — with the chance to save lives was the primary consideration.

What now?

Robredo was fired last November 24, with Duterte citing the former’s discussion with foreign agencies allegedly rebuked by the government.  The Vice President slammed this as fake news, as she claims to have discussed drug war matters to agencies already involved in the issue — the United States embassy and the United Nations.

With the word war between the two leaders, both figure heads of the ruling party and the opposition, there is little hope that Robredo would again work for the administration.  After all, this is the second Cabinet stint for Robredo, previously spending time as the housing czar of the administration.

But past from the “czars,” the “chars,” and all the drug war issues, Robredo and Duterte’s teams appear to be headed for a showdown in the 2022 presidential election, although Robredo refuses to talk about the issue.

She also insists that the 2022 elections was not a factor in deciding to accept the drug war post, despite presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo saying that it is a step ladder to the presidency.

“Siguro kung inisip ko ‘yung 2022, hindi ko ‘to tatanggapin kasi too much of a risk. Pero ‘yong sa akin kasi, nadedehado masyado ‘yong ating mga kababayan ‘pag kaming naka-upo tinitignan na ‘yong 2022,” she told reporters in an ambush interview after a program in a mountaintop community in Tanay, Rizal.

(Maybe if I was thinking about 2022, I would not have accepted the post because it is too much of a risk. For me, people are being shortchanged if elected government officials like us are already looking forward to 2022.)

But she also said that she is keeping her options open.  During the campaign period for the 2019 midterm elections, people speculated on a possible face-off between Robredo and Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio as both were leading their respective senatorial slates.

“Lahat naman posible. Lahat posible dahil iyon nga, iyong history pinakita na — ako, hindi ko naman pinlano kahit ano, eh (Everything is possible. History has proven it. I didn’t plan anything),” Robredo said, referring to her election as vice president in 2016.

“Tingin ko kasi iyong presidency, ano iyon, destiny. Kahit anong paghahanda mo, kung hindi iyon para sa iyo, hindi talaga para sa iyo (I think the presidency is destiny. No matter how hard you prepare for it, if it isn’t meant for you, it won’t happen),” she added. “Masyado pang matagal iyong presidential elections (The presidential election is still a long way off).”

Edited by JPV
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TAGS: Drug war, ICAD, Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, Office of the Vice President, Oplan Tokhang, OVP, Philippine news updates, President Rodrigo Duterte, Vice President Leni Robredo, War Against Illegal Drugs
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