Leni as drug czar: confusing and doubtful?

November 14, 2019

Vice President Leni Robredo’s appointment as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) has raised many questions: Can her new post be legitimate? Can the ICAD itself be legitimate, too?

Is the new role given her “a trap set up to make her fail and look incompetent should she accept it, or unwilling and unable to help if she doesn’t?” Was giving her a new role a spur-of-the-moment decision of President Duterte? Is making VP Leni a drug czar an acknowledgement that the war on drugs has failed miserably? Can she really exercise all the powers a drug czar ought to have?

“No self-respecting vice president can conceivably take this as a serious offer… The supposed offer was made in a moment of pique, in reaction to the VP’s criticism of the conduct of the drug war during an interview with a foreign news agency. It was clearly meant to mock her abilities,” wrote noted columnist Randy David.

Sarcasm apparently prevailed over Mr. Duterte when the offer was made. “Sabihin mo sa kaniya tanggapin niya. Sisikat siya diyan. Hindi ko nakayanan, baka kaya niya… Pagka tinanggap ni Leni… If anything that has to do with drugs and criminality, you ask her. Siya ang ilagay ko. Tingnan natin. Hindi na ako makialam… Hindi ko nakayanan, baka kaya niya,” a seemingly exasperated Duterte said.

But amid suspicions of ulterior motives ascribed by naysayers to the offer, there’s no denying that both President Duterte and VP Robredo deserve applause if one presumes good faith guided them in their decisions.

“Even if we say that the offer was mere politicking and the government agencies will not follow me and they will do everything for me not to succeed, I’m ready to bear all of these. Because if I can save one innocent life, my principles and heart are telling me I should give it a try,” Mrs. Robredo said when she accepted the offer.

Yet if one sets aside whatever motives there could have been behind their decisions, one still has to contend with the confusion over legitimacy of the new post and the ICAD created by Executive Order 15 issued by Malacañang on March 2017.

EO 15 states in its Section 1 that the chairperson of ICAD is Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. So is VP Leni as co-chair of ICAD also “co-director general” of PDEA? And what about the rank status of the VP and her ICAD co-chair, PDEA chief Aaron Aquino? Malacañang has said VP Leni will hold a Cabinet rank as ICAD co-chair. But Aquino, the other co-chair, has a rank of Undersecretary, as stated in Section 82 of RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

And speaking of RA 9165, this is supposed to be the law that ought to be the ultimate guide and authority towards a “comprehensive, integrated, unified and balanced national drug use prevention and control strategy” that should bring about success in the drug war.

Should EO 15 be more authoritative than RA 9165 enacted by Congress?

Based on RA 9165, the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) is on top of the command hierarchy in the fight against illegal drugs, with PDEA in a supporting role as its implementing arm. The DDB, directly under the Office of the President, ought to be overall leader in the drug war as it crafts policies and strategies to be implemented through PDEA. The DDB is a high-powered organization composed of l7 members, nine of whom are part of the President’s Cabinet. PDEA is also a member.

But EO 15 gives the impression that ICAD is the overall leader in the drug war, with the DDB just one among 20 other government agencies as its members. And putting VP Leni at the helm of ICAD as drug czar, and not appointing her as chairperson of the DDB, further boosts the impression that ICAD is on top of DDB, contrary to the spirit and letter of the law, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

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