Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has removed major political rival and fierce critic of his drug war campaign, Leni Robredo, from his administration’s top anti-drug post, mere weeks after he put her in the position.
The move was announced by presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo who cited lack of trust between Duterte and Robredo, who also serves as the nation’s vice president. He accused Robredo of overstepping her authority by seeking classified information and meeting with foreign officials that “know little or [nothing] at all about our situation, other than their own bias or unsubstantiated prejudgment.”
The VP reportedly sought to discuss the Philippines drug war, initiated by Duterte, with Manila-based UN and US officials. Panelo said Robredo had failed to present a sound strategy for tackling drug problems, adding that the president’s patience eventually ran out.
“In a campaign where people’s lives are at risk, a day is eternity. The government cannot twiddle its thumbs and sit idly hoping for a flash of brilliance from the vice president”
“Essentially, what the vice president has done is to embarrass our country,” Panelo added. Panelo called Robredo’s short stint in the office a wasted opportunity for the opposition and the government to consolidate their efforts, noting that Robredo should have asked for a meeting with Duterte so he could clarify the scope of her duties instead of her jumping the gun.
Earlier, Duterte took aim at Robredo for failing to fulfill her new role and called her “scatterbrain” but stopped short of sacking her.
So far, the president, who is currently at a two-day summit between South Korea and ASEAN, has not commented on the development. Robredo’s spokesman, meanwhile, told CNN that she learnt about her dismissal from the media and has yet to receive a formal notice from the government.
Duterte surprisingly appointed his vice president as a co-chair of an inter-agency panel on drugs early November and ordered all other agencies to give her their full support. At that time, he said that the fiercest critic of his drug war must have some ideas on how to “make it effective.”
Duterte has carried out a harsh crackdown on drug dealers and substance abusers known as Manila’s ‘War on Drugs,’ a cornerstone of his domestic policy. The campaign has been heavily criticized in the West, drawing the ire from human rights advocates and international organizations across the world, including the UN, amid allegations that state security forces have been complicit in thousands of extrajudicial killings and other abuses.
Yet, the Philippines president stood defiant in his defense of harsh measures, refusing to cooperate with a UN human rights tribunal and arguing that if he ever goes on trial over his actions it would be in his home country. That is unlikely to happen in the near future though, as he remains highly popular among the public with an approval rating of more than 80%.
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