Philippines’ Duterte to VP Robredo: keep state secrets or lose your ‘drugs tsar’ post

Vice president Leni Robredo, a political rival of the popular president Rodrigo Duterte, accepted a lead role in his brutal war on drugs. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2019

Philippines’ Duterte to VP Robredo: keep state secrets or lose your ‘drugs tsar’ post

  • ‘Revealing State secrets to foreign individuals and entities as well as welcoming those who have trampled the country’s sovereignty would be damaging to the welfare of the Filipino people’

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to remove the vice president from her “drugs tsar” post if she shared state secrets with foreign individuals and entities.
The warning, which the president made in a television interview, came a few days after he offered Leni Robredo a lead role in his brutal war on drugs, which she later accepted to reassess a campaign she said was fraught with senseless killings.
Robredo, a political rival of the popular Duterte, told Reuters on Oct. 23 that international help, including from the United Nations and International Criminal Court (ICC), should be sought if the government refused to change tack and stop abusive police.
“Revealing State secrets to foreign individuals and entities as well as welcoming those who have trampled the country’s sovereignty would be damaging to the welfare of the Filipino people,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement on Sunday.
“She may not realize it but she could be treading on dangerous ground. It could be an overreach of the granted authority, hence the reminder,” Panelo said.
Duterte has reacted with fury to a resolution by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the killings and responded to a preliminary examination by the ICC by pulling the Philippines out of the organization.
Human rights experts at home and abroad are incensed by thousands of deaths in what police say were sting operations that resulted in shootouts.
Activists dispute those accounts and accuse police of executing suspects based on weak intelligence. Police reject that.
In an interview with GMA News aired on Saturday, Duterte said he would fire Robredo as co-chair of an inter-agency on drugs if she shared classified information because certain matters should be kept with the government.
Robredo met with the officials from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), community-based advocacy groups and US Embassy last week to discuss the drug problem, which she has said must be tackled from a health and social perspective, including prevention and treatment rather than a largely police-centered approach.
Robredo, who was elected separately to Duterte, has long been a critic of his flagship campaign, arguing that thousands of urban poor have been killed, with no sign of progress toward dismantling major drugs networks. She had no immediate comment on Duterte’s remarks.
Robredo, 54, accepted the offer to co-lead the drugs crackdown that has prompted activists to call for international intervention, even though she suspected her rival’s administration would try to thwart her progress.
But Panelo dismissed those concerns as baseless and said the president’s latest remarks were meant to remind Robredo of the “imperatives as well as the limits” of her role.
“Other pessimists contend...the president had begun clipping her wings so as not to fulfill her mandate. Such speculations are unfounded and they are unproductive as well,” Panelo said.


Probe reveals Pakistani crime boss spied for Iran in 2014

Updated 17 min ago

Probe reveals Pakistani crime boss spied for Iran in 2014

  • A military court convicted Baloch for espionage and sentenced him to 12 year

KARACHI:  A Pakistani ganglord suspected of being behind a criminal empire of extortion, kidnapping and drug trafficking, has confessed to spying for Iranian intelligence agencies in 2014, according to a report released by Pakistan’s provincial government in Sindh this week.

The report said Uzair Jan Baloch was also convicted of spying this April by a military court and sentenced to 12 years in prison, according to a June 13 letter written by the senior superintendent of Karachi Central Jail.

A copy of the letter was seen by  Arab News, though the Pakistani military could not be reached to confirm if Baloch had been convicted by an army tribunal.

Baloch, for years considered close to politicians within Sindh’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is currently accused in at least 59 criminal cases, according to police records. 

He is allegedly being held at a makeshift jail at the Karachi office of the paramilitary “Rangers” force. The PPP denies any links with the gang leader.

In 2016, Baloch was interrogated by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising police, Rangers, and a number of civilian and military intelligence agencies. Officials said he admitted spying for Iran and being involved in 59 acts of murder, kidnapping, extortion and attacks on law enforcement.

FASTFACT

Longtime fugitive Uzair Jan Baloch was arrested by Interpol in Dubai in 2014.

According to the report, Baloch told the investigation that he obtained a fake Iranian birth certificate in the late 1980s and an Iranian identity card and passport in 2006.

The report details how he met a man named Haji Nasir in the Iranian city of Chabahar in 2014. Nasir offered to arrange a meeting between Baloch and Iranian intelligence officers.

“On the consent of the accused a meeting with Iranian intelligence officers was arranged by Haji Nasir in which the accused was asked to provide certain information about (Pakistan) armed forces officials,” the JIT report, which is publicly available, said.

It added: “The accused is found involved in espionage activities by providing secret information and sketches regarding army installations and officials to foreign agents, which is a violation of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.”

For years, Baloch thrived in Sindh’s teeming capital of Karachi, a key figurehead in the city’s notorious gang wars.

However, in 2006 he fled to Iran to escape an operation against street gangs in Lyari, one of Karachi’s most dangerous neighborhoods at the time.

He returned to Pakistan for a number of years, during which he even took part in a local government election, but he once again escaped to Iran in 2013 when Pakistan’s powerful paramilitary Rangers launched an armed operation to bring down Karachi’s soaring crime rates.

Baloch is believed to have also lived in Oman briefly before being arrested by Interpol in Dubai in December 2014.

In January 2016, Rangers announced that they had taken Baloch into custody in Karachi. The arrest surprised many who thought he was already in jail after being detained in Dubai.

The JIT report said after Baloch confessed to spying for Iran, he was handed over to the Pakistani military to be tried.

In a Twitter post in 2017, the head of the Pakistani military’s media wing said Baloch had been taken into custody under the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act. However, the army has not revealed any details of his subsequent trial before a military court.

But a letter by the senior superintendent of the Karachi Central Jail in response to an anti-terrorism court said he was sentenced to 12 years in jail in April this year after being convicted for spying.

The letter, dated June 13, said: “Uzair Ali was convicted by the Lt. Col. Commanding Officer of the 1st Self-Propelled Medium Regiment Artillery on April 4 2020, in Pakistan Army Act section 59 (civil offenses), read with section 3 (penalties for spying) of the Official Secret Act and sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for 12 years.”

Pakistani military courts hold secretive trials but verdicts are often publicly announced by the army’s media wing, known as the ISPR.

Arab News asked the ISPR about Baloch’s conviction but did not receive a response.

Sindh Home Secretary Usman Chachar also did not respond to requests for comment, and a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign office did not reply to text messages asking whether Pakistan had taken up the issue of Baloch’s confessed espionage with Iran.

Muhammad Ahmedi, the consul general of Iran in Karachi, did not respond to email and WhatsApp queries regarding the JIT report.

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