VP Leni Robredo on drug killings: ‘Is this what we want?’
By Cristina DC Pastor
Vice President Leni Robredo finds herself in a tight spot. Her office has the smallest budget in the Philippine government, it cannot execute a project, and she believes she has no real power “except to wait for something to happen to the president.”
Six years, she tells herself, is a long time to do nothing but wait.
She decided that as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, she will make herself useful beyond her mandated administrative and ceremonial duties. She will “reinvent” the Office of the Vice President (OVP). She may not be a Cabinet secretary, but she can be an advocate. Her office has identified 20 “poorest of the poor” provinces where nutrition and feeding programs will be delivered, along with public education, universal health care, and rural development projects. Her office will connect private organizations to beneficiaries.
“Our office will act as the clearinghouse, as the secretariat,” she told reporters during the August 6 National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) conference in Pennsylvania where she was a guest speaker. Poverty, she stressed to reporters, is an issue she wants to confront.
But these days, Robredo is expected to do so much more precisely because she is the vice president. Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad are deeply distressed by President Rodrigo Duterte war on drugs, which has led to the summary execution of suspected drug dealers. They look to her for moral as well as legal guidance. (Robredo is a lawyer; she passed the bar in 1997). They listen to her every word, watch her body language, they are waiting to see how far her cautious collaboration with the president will go.
Retired Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba has a term for it: a “Jekyll and Hyde situation.”
“There’s this woman who is for peace, who is gentle and there is this official and what does he do? He’s ordering the killings,” he told reporters. “Prosecute not execute” should be the code of conduct, he added.
Robredo has made known her opposition to the state-sponsored killings, but explained her dilemma.
“I am just one voice even although I am vice president,” she said. “A few voices have spoken up already but our voices are not enough.”
“I think the public outcry is not there yet,” she continued.
She wished the media would keep up the pressure, “creating a mindset” that will make the public realize the rule of law should prevail.
Robredo talked about two people she knew who lost their lives to these “senseless killings.” One is an elderly barangay captain, the other is Ateneo Math teacher Emmanuel Jose Pavia.
“The barangay captain was in his late 60s or early 70s. He was a very simple, very humble man. He had no enemies. He was gunned down by motorcycle riding men,” she said.
Pavia was a batchmate of her second daughter. “I was at his wake.”
“Parang there is already a pervading culture of impunity,” she continued in a voice that sounded softly reflective, almost brooding. She is seeing this pall of foreboding not just in the Philippines but in the rest of the world. “Parang there is this global phenomenon, this culture of hatred going around.”
She would like Filipinos to ponder the situation and consider its consequences, “Tanungin natin sarili natin. Ito ba gusto natin?…Parang hindi naman tayo ganito.” (Let’s ask ourselves, is this really what we want? It’s like we are never like this as a people)