‘Tokhang’ may be scrapped

November 12, 2019

Palace amenable to scuttling controversial anti-drug strategy if Robredo has better alternative

MALACAÑANG is open to scrapping “Oplan: Tokhang,” a controversial strategy in President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, if Vice President Leni Robredo has a more effective way of cracking down on narcotics, the Palace said on Monday.

President Duterte will also give Robredo “everything” to help her fight illegal drugs, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, adding that the Vice President has “free rein” as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs.

Earlier, Robredo, who had accepted the President’s offer of a lead role in the crackdown on illegal drugs, said she wanted to get rid of tokhang, the police door-to-door campaign to flush out users that has cost the lives of more than 6,000 mostly poor people.

She said she wanted to replace tokhang with another, more effective campaign that would not lead to the killing of drug suspects.

“If that will be effective insofar as the drug war is concerned, she has been given the authority,” Panelo told a regular press briefing in the Palace on Monday.

“As long as VP Leni is in charge, whatever she feels should be enforced, we will do it. It’s a yes if she wants it,” Panelo said.

That sounded like slapping down Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s criticism on Monday that Oplan: Tokhang was turning to be Oplan: All-Talk under Robredo.

Cayetano’s remark drew a rebuke from Barry Gutierrez, a spokesperson for Robredo.

“[The Vice President] has just started [at] the job that was passed on to her by the President. She hasn’t even been there for a week,” Gutierrez said in a statement. “If Speaker Cayetano would not help out, he should at least avoid badmouthing [her].”

Gutierrez said Robredo would meet with the law enforcement cluster of the interagency committee on Thursday.

“We will have a clearer idea of the direction she plans to set by then,” he said.

Robredo agreed to lead the war on drugs last week, but had yet to sit down with the President for a discussion on the scope of her new job.

The Palace said the President would call her for a meeting, but did not say when.

Panelo said the President had committed to giving Robredo everything she would need to press the fight against illegal drugs, but that didn’t mean the President would keep his hands off the campaign.

“He is the President. He will be accountable for the whole nation. If she fails, then the President also fails,” Panelo said.

If Robredo asks for it, he said, the interagency committee will be given additional funding, and law enforcers will be given body cameras for transparency in operations.

“‘Whatever she needs, I will give it to her,’” he quoted President Duterte as saying. “We will give her all that she needs. She should be given wide latitude and she should pursue her own scheme of things in pursuing the drug war initiated by this administration.”

Asked if Robredo would need to seek approval from the President before proceeding with changes in the campaign, Panelo said: “Not approval. If she wants to consult something, maybe she wants advice, I think everything will be threshed out the moment the two talk.

“If she wants to consult the President, the President is always open to consultation to every member of the Cabinet,” Panelo said.

He maintained that Robredo’s appointment is Cabinet rank, and no invitation is needed for her to attend Cabinet meetings.