I was on a bus riding back home when I read the breaking news on my phone: Duterte appoints Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chair of gov't committee vs illegal drugs. I almost choked on my coffee.
This is a ludicrous move from the Palace and only meant to shame the Vice President and critics of the failing "war on drugs."
Back in 2016, the then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte campaigned on an anti-crime and anti-drugs platform. For the first time in recent memory, a candidate running for a national post politicized such an issue to rouse the electorate's emotions and secure their votes. This is a bold move in a country where campaigns traditionally centered on corruption, economics, and poverty.
The previous mayor of Davao City even went on to say that he would put an end to crime in "3-6 months" and annihilate everyone associated with the drug trade. Never mind that countless health and crime experts around the world, including the former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, who waged his own brutal anti-drug campaign, says that the "war on drugs" does not work. Instead of heeding Gaviria, the President called Gaviria an "idiot." He also threatened to cut off ties with the United States and the European Union, which are leading the charge abroad against his follies. (READ: Why Iceland led UN resolution on PH drug war killings)
Now that it is apparent to all rational Filipinos that the President has failed on his promise, and with the 2022 elections on the horizon, the administration is scrambling to find a scapegoat. The President needs his successor to be his protector from countless cases being prepared as early as today, here and abroad. If the failures of his leadership smear his Chosen One, we might see a resurgent opposition and balimbing (fence-sitters) wanting to latch on to such an opportune moment.
And who better to be the fall guy than the Vice President? As the de facto leader and voice of the opposition, Leni Robredo has always been the thorn on the President's side. Duterte effectively controls both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. Only the formidable lady from Naga stands in the way of his desire for mercurial control of the government.
What's the end goal?
Robredo has been a vocal critic of the drug war, and she is becoming more and more outspoken nowadays. By sending a letter of appointment to her, the President's allies seemed to have hoped either of two things to happen. First, that she accepts and then fails as there are only 3 years left in her term, and, second, that she declines and is then besmirched as a noisy hypocrite.
And never mind the panggagatong (taunting) made by the President's allies in the Senate. I, together with many Filipinos, believe that they are nothing but clowns and lapdogs who have turned the Senate hall into a circus ring.
The fight against drugs cannot be won by the mere firing of bullets and spilling of blood. To address this issue, we need to have a holistic approach that ranges from poverty alleviation, adequate education, job creation, effective healthcare, the lifting of social stigma, and a whole lot more. Some countries such as Portugal even went as far as decriminalizing drug use to suck drug gangs dry while protecting the vulnerable. (READ: Best practices: How other countries dealt with drug problems)
No matter how many drug dealers and addicts we eliminate, their cold-hearted deaths will not stop this plague, nor will they stand as a good deterrent. A drug dependent, who would genuinely want to quit, cannot resist the need for another shot of shabu because the withdrawal symptoms are too much to bear.
Meanwhile, a drug dealer would have to go into the dark alleys again because he cannot find a job that can feed his family. And even if he is lucky enough to find a job, he might be forever stuck in a contractual job (a labor problem the President once promised to end), devoid of full benefits, and paid less than the minimum wage. As former president Joseph Estrada once said, "An empty stomach knows no laws." (READ: Duterte's drug war pushes victims' families deeper into poverty)
It's not a war
The Vice President would have been wise to decline the appointment of the President.
It should not be a "war" on drugs in the first place. As I have highlighted, containing this scourge requires an end-to-end approach and a change in our society's mindset. And if Duterte was sincere in allowing Robredo to take charge, why only make her a co-chair with control of only a handful of government agencies?
But since she has decided to take on the challenge, the main source of her failure, should she fail, would certainly be the lack of time and all the sabotaging by people around her. There is no question about her competence, integrity, and conscientiousness. I admire her courage and tenacity, but she should be extra vigilant as she is now in the perfect spot to be receiving all the blame.
Unlike the Chief Executive, she must set the right expectations and be tenable in addressing this health, not criminal nor moral, issue. (READ: Robredo clarifies: 'I don't want end to drug war, only a tweak')
We have seen many failures in this administration. The economy is slowing, budget surpluses are becoming deficits, islands are being lost to us in the West Philippine Sea, corrupt officials are leaving prisons, and the country is slowly becoming a pariah state on the international stage.
If Rodrigo Duterte is truly sincere about ending the drug menace and helping the poor, he should step down now and hand the reins of government to Leni Robredo. Otherwise, any person with sound mental faculties will see this as nothing but politicking on the President's part to hide another of his failures.
If Duterte leaves the Palace, let us hope that 3 years would still be ample time for Robredo to reverse the course of our nation. The gods must be smiling on us if ever that day happens. – Rappler.com
Rob Julian M. Maghinang is a proud Iskolar ng Bayan from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Manila. His opinions are his alone and do not represent any of the organizations he is affiliated with.