MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte admitted on Tuesday that he cannot fully trust Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo because he does not know her well since she belongs to the opposition.
The President made the statement, as he justified his decision to drop his initial plan to appoint Robredo as a Cabinet member, serving as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Drugs (ICAD).
“Ang problema kasi dito, ganito (The problem here is this), I cannot trust her not only because she is with the opposition. I do not trust her because I do not know her,” Duterte said in a press conference with Palace reporters at Malacañan Palace late Tuesday night.
Robredo will lead ICAD, along with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino, until June 30, 2022, according to the October 31 memorandum signed by Duterte.
The memorandum also directs the PDEA, the Philippine National Police, the Dangerous Drugs Board, and all other law enforcement agencies to extend their “full assistance and cooperation” to Robredo to ensure the success of the administration’s fight against illegal drugs.
Duterte was prompted to name Robredo as ICAD co-chair after the latter claimed that the government’s anti-drug campaign is “obviously not working”.
The President earlier announced that Robredo will hold a Cabinet rank, but later on, retracted his pronouncement.
Cannot appoint Robredo as Cabinet member
Earlier Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte appointed Robredo as ICAD co-chair with reservations because of the “red signs that cannot be ignored by the President.”
Panelo added that the Chief Executive has no trust in Robredo when it comes to keeping confidential records about the government’s anti-narcotics campaign.
Duterte said he had decided not to appoint Robredo as a member of his Cabinet because it would merely “jeopardize the whole situation.”
“Delikado ‘yan kasi doon siya sa kabila. Nandito ako. Nagtatapunan kami ng basura (It’s dangerous because she’s from the opposition. I’m from the other party. We’re throwing garbage at each other),” he said.
“If I make her a Cabinet member, then she would demand, ‘Cabinet member na ako (I’m a Cabinet member), you gave me this job, then I will have to dwell on the records and everything that I wanted to know or I want to know.’ So, to my mind, in my own estimation, it’s not good for the country,” Duterte added.
Robredo could not be Duterte’s ‘alter ego’
The President said he could not appoint Robredo because she would never be his “alter ego,” considering that they are not allies.
He also feared that Robredo might use the classified information about the drug war against him and his administration.
“Election is a noble thing. But politics is always dirty especially if you are [from] the other side. Huwag mo na lang akong bolahin (Do not fool me),” Duterte said.
“Kung ganoon, sabi ko (So I said), I cannot appoint her as a Cabinet member. If that is the way her mouth behaves, there can never be a position for her. Kasi kung Cabinet member sana siya (If she is a Cabinet member), you know upon the authority because she would be an alter ego of me,” he added.
No need for Robredo to know ‘classified matters’
While he has no plan of firing Robredo, Duterte said the ICAD co-chair need not know the “classified” matters with regard to the government’s anti-narcotics crackdown.
Duterte also noted that Robredo has limited powers as anti-drug czar.
“Need to know lang siya (She just needs to know) what is the… Need to know to complete her… If she asks something, then you give her. You give her half of it. The other half, if it’s classified information, there is no need for her to know,” he said.
“But as ICAD [co-chair], you can direct. Sabi ko (I said) you can give the directions, you can give the guidance. But you do not have to go there and waggle inside the law enforcement process,” the President added.
His statement came, as he revealed that he was opposed to Robredo’s initiatives to seek advice from foreign entities that repeatedly criticize his war on illegal drugs.
Just days after being appointed as ICAD co-chairperson, Robredo revealed that he would meet the officials of the United States and the United Nations to discuss ways to improve the fight against rampant narcotics trade in the Philippines.
The President said he could not accept that Robredo was merely “grandstanding.”
“Ngayon siya kung nandiyan, hindi ko man talaga siya kilala (Now, if she’s there, I don’t really know her. And the way she behaved right after I appointed her does not inspire [me]. It’s not inspiring,” he said.
“She was grandstanding. It was like a carnival after. She was talking right and left dito ganun (here and there). Presidente ka, mag-ganun ka (If you’re a president, you’ll allow that)? You will just place the Republic of the Philippines in jeopardy. Alam mo bakit (Do you know why)? It’s your penchant. Knee-jerk ka eh (You have a knee-jerk reaction),” Duterte added.
Critics not giving Duterte a chance to ‘be heard’
The President lamented that his critics do not give him the opportunity to explain his side.
He added that even Robredo has so “many qualms and complaints” about the drug war, specifically about the recorded deaths of drug personalities in the country.
He maintained that his administration has “no hand” in drug-related killings.
“The other deaths, you cannot attribute it to the drug situation,” Duterte said.
To prove his administration’s innocence, the President said he is willing to allow Robredo to invite other foreign individuals who are critical of his drug war, including former Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia deputy director Phelim Kine.
Duterte, however, cautioned that he would “slap” Kine in front of Robredo, should the former HRW official visits the Philippines to probe the war on illegal drugs.
“Please invite him and accord. And I’ll order a VIP treatment. Dalhin mo sa opisina, pupuntahan ko kayo. Sampalin ko ‘yan sa harap mo. Bastos ‘yan (Bring him to the office and I’ll go there. I’ll slap him in front of you. He’s rude),” he said.
“Kaya ako ang reaction ko, ganoon (That’s my reaction) because I am not being given the opportunity to be heard. Of course, I tried answering. Nobody is listening,” Duterte added. (PNA)