MANILA—Vice President Leni Robredo walked through a muddy pathway leading to a village called Market 3, one of the poorest and drug-infested areas in the fishing city of Navotas Tuesday.
With law enforcement officials still raising questions over her capabilities, the Philippines’ new anti-drug chief turned to a community twice razed by fire, the last one caused by a drug addict who had left behind a burning candle in a shanty.
It illustrated how the drug problem can affect a community, and why it will take a village to solve it, she told residents who gathered for her visit Tuesday.
“Kailangan natin itong upuan. Paplanuhin natin. Pero lahat, magkokoopera,” she said, reminding them the problem was not the police’s or the government’s alone.
(We need to sit down and talk about this. We will plan for it. But everyone should cooperate.)
SIZING UP ROBREDO
Since being tapped to co-chair the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), Robredo has brought poor villages on board, seeking to repurpose a drug war that has killed more than 5,000 people in 3 years.
Robredo has been gathering support from the church, local governments, and civil society groups to do more for a campaign zeroing in on the drug menace, not the people.
At the heart of her strategy is community-based rehabilitation, one that treats drug addiction as a public health issue and not a purely law enforcement problem.
The approach forms a crucial part of the 5-year National Anti-Drug Plan of Action, but has been overshadowed by the sheer brutality of the government effort.
But while communities such as Market 3 cheered Robredo’s appointment to ICAD, some officials within the committee had expressed reservations.
“'Yung pagsukat sa'kin, problema nila 'yun. Hindi ko 'yun problema. Basta 'yung inaasikaso ko 'yung trabahong ibinigay sa akin,” she told reporters.
(How they're sizing me up, that's they're problem. That's not my problem. What I am minding is the job given to me.)
“Hindi ko problema kung namomroblema sila sa akin. Kaya nga tinatanong ko kung handa na sila para sa ‘kin. Kasi handang-handa ako sa trabahong ito.”
(It's not my problem if they are making me a problem. That's why I'm asking if they are ready for me. Because I am so ready for this job.)
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino, who sits as Robredo’s co-chair at ICAD, earlier rejected the idea of furnishing her with a list of high-value targets in the anti-narcotics campaign.
Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Archie Gamboa also questioned why the vice president would need such information, noting that the PDEA chief heads the committee’s law enforcement cluster.
Robredo said she had expected the pushback to a “certain extent” and admitted it would make her job “more difficult.”
She said she would still work to gain access to relevant data to get a clear picture of the drug problem.
“Hindi ako magsasayang ng oras na makipag-away. Hindi ako magsasayang ng oras para makipagpaligsahan,” she said.
(I won't waste time to quarrel. I won't waste time to compete.)
“Basta ako, 'yung magagawa ko ngayon, gagawin ko. Hindi ko na problema kung may mga ayaw silang ibigay.”
(For me, I will do what I can do now. It's no my problem if there are some things they won't give.)
ABS-CBN News learned that Local Government Undersecretary RJ Echiverri had been told to personally apologize to Robredo for raising questions over her intention for seeking a copy of the drug list.
Echiverri phoned her office but was not able to speak with her.
Robredo told reporters that Echiverri need not extend his apologies, saying she didn’t take comments against her personally.
“Gaya ng sinasabi ko parati, 'pag ako nag-accept ng trabaho sa gobyerno, wala saking ego,” she said.
(Like I always say, when I accept a job in government, there's no ego.)
“Kung wala silang tiwala, bakit nila ko dinesignate?”
(If they don't trust me, why did they designate me?)
Robredo is also grappling with the lack of clarity on how much power she actually holds as Aquino’s co-chair at ICAD.
“'Pag magkaharap kami, wala namang problema,” she said. “Kaya paminsan nagugulat ako kapag nababasa ko sa media na may problema pala.
(Once we meet, there's no problem. That's why sometimes I get surprised whenever I read in media that there's a problem.)
Malacañang has backtracked on a previous announcement and now clarified that her designation was not a Cabinet-level position — a change Robredo said didn’t matter to her.
From the start, she acknowledged questions of sincerity behind her appointment to ICAD, a move initially seen as a taunt but later formalized by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Kung mayroon mang resentment sa aking appointment as co-chair, palagay ko hindi 'yun dapat sakin i-raise kasi hindi ko naman hiningi 'yung posisyong to,” she said.
(If there is resentment over my appointment as co-chair, I think that should not be raised with me because I did not ask for this position.)