Philippines’ Duterte picks top drug war critic as his ‘drugs tsar’

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed a new drugs tsar. (File/AFP)
Updated 05 November 2019

Philippines’ Duterte picks top drug war critic as his ‘drugs tsar’

  • Duterte’s decision to appoint his political rival follows critical remarks
  • Duterte has openly insulted Robredo, who leads a party with diminished power and influence

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed his main political rival, Leni Robredo, his “drugs tsar,” after the opposition leader expressed alarm about the high death toll in his anti-narcotics campaign and said it needed a fresh approach.
The appointment follows critical remarks by Robredo during an interview with Reuters, and in subsequent media appearances, which angered the volatile Duterte and led to a torrent of social media fury at Robredo, who is his vice president but has no role in his administration.
Duterte’s spokesman announced Robredo’s appointment on Tuesday as co-chair of an inter-agency panel on drugs, which he said was genuine and not a cynical political play to discredit her, as her camp believed. The president has ordered all agencies to give her their full support.
“If she has been criticizing the drug war as ineffective, then there must be ideas on her mind to make it effective,” Panelo said on television.
Robredo, 54, was elected separately to Duterte and is among a growing number of critics who say his approach has boosted his tough image but had little impact on the drugs trade or addiction rates.
She did not immediately confirm if she would take the job. Her spokesman has said she would not be a scapegoat for the shortcomings of Duterte’s war on drugs.
He remains hugely popular because of his defiance of the international outcry caused by his signature crackdown, which human rights groups say involves systematic executions and police cover-ups. Police reject that and say the nearly 7,000 people they killed were armed drug suspects who resisted arrest.
Duterte is furious that the UN Human Rights Council wants to investigate the killings, adding to an ongoing preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court (ICC), of which Duterte has canceled the Philippines’ membership.

Obliged to accept
Allies of the president urged Robredo to take the post while the Dangerous Drugs Board and police said they welcomed her experience, ideas and new perspective.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said that politics aside, Robredo was not in a position to decline.
“There’s the obligation, not just a personal decision. If you were elected and the president sought for help, you will,” he said.
Duterte has openly insulted Robredo, who leads a party with diminished power and influence.
She advocates tackling drugs from a health, social and community perspective, including prevention and treatment rather than a largely police-centered approach.
Activists say police are operating with impunity, with the implied support of a president who once vowed to kill 100,000 dealers, and he would be happy to slaughter millions of addicts. He has since said he uses hyperbole to stress a point and denies inciting murder.
Estimates of the number killed during the drugs war vary significantly, but thousands of users and alleged dealers have wound up dead outside of official police operations, many in mysterious circumstances.
Robredo on Oct. 23 told Reuters that international help, including from the United Nations and ICC, should be sought if the government refused to change tack and stop abusive police. On Duterte’s approach, she said: “Obviously, it’s not working.”
Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana of the Commission on Human Rights was hopeful Robredo could stop the killings.
“Are we going to look at addicts as victims?” she said. “The approach would not be to kill them but to rehabilitate them.”


White House rejects participation in ‘baseless’ impeachment probe against Trump

Updated 32 min 48 sec ago

White House rejects participation in ‘baseless’ impeachment probe against Trump

  • The House Judiciary Committee is to meet starting Monday to review the evidence from investigators and decide whether to charge Trump with abuse of power, bribery and obstruction
WASHINGTON: The White House blasted the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump as “completely baseless” Friday, signaling it would not seek to defend the president in Democratic-led hearings to draw up formal charges against him.
But Republicans demanded that Joe Biden’s son Hunter, the lawmaker leading the impeachment probe Adam Schiff, and the whistleblower at the origin of the inquiry all testify next week before the House Judiciary Committee.
“As you know, your impeachment inquiry is completely baseless and has violated basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness,” White House chief lawyer Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to the committee chair, Jerry Nadler.
“House Democrats have wasted enough of America’s time with this charade. You should end this inquiry now and not waste even more time with additional hearings,” he wrote.
Cipollone issued the letter minutes before a deadline to declare whether the White House would deploy representatives to defend Trump against accusations he abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to find dirt on former vice president Biden, his potential challenger in the 2020 election.
Nadler’s committee is to meet starting Monday to review the evidence from investigators and decide whether to charge Trump with abuse of power, bribery and obstruction.
Those charges could become articles of impeachment sent to the full House to vote on within weeks.
If they pass the Democratic-led House as expected, it would make Trump only the third president in US history to be impeached.
That would set up a trial next month in the Republican-controlled Senate, seen as likely to acquit him.
Trump is accused of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into Biden and his son, and also into a widely-dismissed theory that Ukraine helped Democrats in the 2016 election.
The US leader is accused of demanding Zelensky announce the investigations in exchange for the release of military aid and a high-profile summit — which Democrats say constitutes bribery.
Democrats also say Trump’s actions amount to soliciting foreign interference in American elections — which is barred by US laws.
Trump denies any wrongdoing but has refused to cooperate with the inquiry, citing his privilege as president to prevent top aides from testifying.
Cipollone told Nadler in the letter that adopting articles of impeachment “would be a reckless abuse of power” and constitute “the most unjust, highly partisan, and unconstitutional attempt at impeachment in our nation’s history.”

Blocking 'key evidence'
He repeated Trump’s tweet of Thursday: “If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our country can get back to business.”
In a statement Nadler accused Trump of continuing to block “key evidence” from Congress.
“We gave President Trump a fair opportunity to question witnesses and present his own to address the overwhelming evidence before us,” Nadler said.
“If the President has no good response to the allegations, then he would not want to appear before the committee. Having declined this opportunity, he cannot claim that the process is unfair.”
Meanwhile the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins, announced a list of witnesses his camp wishes to subpoena “to provide context and transparency about the underlying facts at issue.”
Besides Schiff, the list includes Hunter Biden and his business partner Devon Archer, who both sat on the board of a Ukraine energy company Burisma, which Trump allegedly pressured Zelensky to investigate.
Also included were the whistleblower, believed to be a CIA analyst who reported his concerns about Trump’s demands of Zelensky; possible government contacts of the whistleblower; White House national security official Alexander Vindman, whose earlier testimony strongly supported the allegations against Trump.
With the exception of Vindman, there was little likelihood Nadler would accept the witness list.