Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The appointment of VP Leni as ICAD co-chair has become the nation's great telenovela, with all its ups and downs, tears, fears and challenges. But for the sake of our country's youths, let's demand that our top two officials unite in this fight vs. drugs, and let's help them all we can.

President Duterte and Vice President Robredo in happier times

The appointment of Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) has taken a number of twists and turns---promising to be the great telenovela the nation has been anticipating since President Duterte issued her appointment to this crucial post earlier this month. 

 Recall that a few weeks back, the President---to the utter surprise of the nation---appointed Leni Robredo as "Drug Czar," with the accompanying promise that her post would be endowed with a Cabinet rank. The nation was elated, as mukhang nagbati na ang dalawang pinakamataas na opisyales. The next thing for us citizens to do was to pray that the appointment goes smoothly, and all would work well against this most serious menace especially among our youth. VP Leni seemed happy with her appointment.

Subsequently, however, the picture became more and more disturbed and disturbing. First, Leni was not going to be the  DRUG CZARINA (I prefer to call her in the feminine form), but merely co-chair with the chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Aaron Aquino. If that demotion affected her, she gave no indication as she went on with her reconstituted job, after conferring with the PDEA Chief. 


Then came a series of what the Palace considers Leni's "blunders," or what President Duterte's debonair spokesman, Sal Panelo, termed "miss-steps." in the drug war. Leni was quoted by the press as requesting for the list of drug-users, including high-priority ones--- the high-rollers as they are called in the lingo. 

The Palace, however, refused to grant Leni's request. But why not? If this is a real fight vs. drugs, you'd want the big-time boys reined in? Leni's request was deadma-ed. Why?  


Eventually, an explanation surfaced: Leni is with the political opposition LP,  and no one knows what she'll do with the list of drug high-rollers in the administration's possession. Thus, the list had to be withheld from her. VP Leni continued to insist on getting access to what Secretary Panelo referred to as "classified information"---but no success. 

Whoever advised this move, however, was most stupid. Because this list was verboten, it sort of confirmed in the mind of many folks---rightly or wrongly---that the high-rollers are indeed in the administration. Speculations then flew fast and thick. 


There were other "missteps"|which truly irked the Palace. Leni began consulting US Embassy officials on the drug situation as well as local and international sources. This is a must for Leni as Anti-Drug Czarina, as everyone knows that the drug war is fought on so many war-fronts all over the world with their own linkages.

Besides, some of the anti-drug battles the world over are successful, but many are not. There are lessons to be learned, and mistakes to be studied and avoided. Various nations really work hand in hand in the worldwide problem against powerful international drug syndicates.


 Leni's conference  with US Embassy officials and other foreign agencies, however, did not sit well with the Duterte administration.  Hence came the axe:  she was stripped of her post as Anti-Drug Czarina as well as her promised Cabinet rank which was never attained from the beginning. As Palace Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed to media: "Trust is earned. The missteps of the Vice President did not inspire confidence in the matter of keeping to oneself classified information."

This is a rather unfortunate position of the Palace, for what is most imperative is for the administration and its various agencies to unite vs. the huge drug menace that's already upon our society---and not place exaggerated importance on anything personal or the issue of  turf. 


Various politicos, who have been watching the tug of war between the Palace and VP Leni have their own explanations and positions on this issue. Senators Panfilo Lacson, Franklin Drilon and Leila de Lima (the latter commenting from her jail) have all come out with the verdict:  the  Duterte administration wants Drug Czarina Leni to fail. 

As Sen. Lacson was quoted in media as saying: '(Leni) will not succeed because (she was) given a big responsibility without authority. How will (Leni) reconcile what she will do?"

It is a sad development that's happening: our officials are quarreling over how to handle the drug war when it's becoming--- like a wild forest fire in summer---already so tough to control and the drug syndicates are getting bolder and more aggressive. We should all unite, beginning with our officials, against this common menace in our midst, instead of bickering with one another.    

Friday, November 8, 2019

Now that Leni has accepted Duterte's challenge to be the drug czarina, she needs all the help, regardless of political color. PH cannot afford to be another Mexico, which, according to US authorities, may be on its way to being a "failed state" because of the drug war it appears to be losing.

In an earlier blog I had opposed the idea of Vice President Leni Robredo accepting the offer of President Duterte to become the co-chair of the "Inter-Agency Commitee on Anti-Illegal Drugs" (a job wherein I call her the "drug czarina" of the Philippines). I had earlier argued that given the culture of machismo here, especially prevailing in the Philippine National Police, it may be difficult even for a lawyer like Leni to be fully accepted by her underlings.

 There are other factors, such as the very porous borders of our country, that make it so easy to smuggle drugs here from various shores. In fact it is obvious that the very first thing a drug czar has to do is to SHUT DOWN WHAT SEEMS TO BE AN INEXHAUSTIBLE SUPPLY OF DRUGS INTO OUR SHORES).  Recall earlier reports about drugs (thought to be cocaine, among the highest-grade drugs) seemingly thrown into waters near various islands of our country, that manage to float to our shores. Whatever happened to those floated contraband captured in various provinces many months back?


Many of our people have also wondered just how serious is the President in his offer of the drug management to the VP, given his macho orientation and the critical stance of her party as well as the VP herself on some issues that directly involve Mr. Duterte's administration.  Is he really and truly serious in harnessing Leni's services to save our country from the scourge of drugs?

Such doubts about the seriousness of the President's offer to the Vice President to run the administration's campaign vs. drugs and render it successful, however, became moot and academic a few days ago, when she accepted to be the Drug Czarina with Cabinet rank. Now that the VP is at its helm, it has become her responsibility to make sure that the administration's war on drugs  does not---and cannot--fail.  

Mercifully, there are outstanding cases of anti-drug campaign failures in other countries that are teaching our country and leaders the urgent need to unite and act together vs. the world-wide menace of drugs. 


A recent most tragic event in Mexico City triggered worldwide focus on that central American country that seems to be seriously losing its battle vs. drugs. In fact, an editorial of the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune dated only last November 05, 2019, that recently circulated in the internet, had raised the question of whether  Mexico under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has truly become a FAILED STATE (emphasis BOC's). 

The editorial came after a Mormon family travelling on a highway in northern Mexico ran into a most terrible attack that left nine people dead, six of them children, with seven other children injured and one minor reportedly missing. The horrible killings were believed traced to the failure of President Obrador's social program to alleviate poverty and eliminate the "root causes of cartel mayhem." 

The Chicago Tribune account also recalled the episode whereby hundreds of cartel gunmen laid siege to the city of Culiacan after Mexican security forces arrested the son of convicted cartel drug-lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera. According to the account, the siege by the cartel lord's henchmen forced President Obrador to release the son of El Chapo, even as killings occurred in other areas. 


What is obvious in the state of affairs in Mexico is that things had been left quite unchecked in its drug war, and this is something that we in the Philippines cannot afford to allow. The recent rapprochement between our top two political leaders is good in that their collective energies can be truly channeled toward fighting the drug war that is already very much upon us in this country, as Mr. Duterte has admitted. 

VP Leni Robredo, in accepting her role as drug czarina, has insisted on "a change in the metrics of the campaign against narcotics," as the Inquirer put it. This was taken to mean "counting not the dead but the lives improved." Leni was also quoted as saying that "the crackdown can be pursued with the same vigor, but within the rule of law."

This is fine and she is correct and reassuring here, as otherwise, sans the rule of law, it could become total anarchy. But as is happening in Mexico, it is also important to realize that the drug cartels recognize no borders and our shores are so porous. There are lurking in every corner of this archipelago unscrupulous elements who worship only money, never mind how they get it---even if it means smuggling drugs into our super-porous borders. We cannot be complacent---Digong's and Leni's fight vs. drugs are also very much our own and that of our children.