Whatever got into President Rodrigo Duterte’s head when he appointed Vice President Leni Robredo co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drug (ICAD) is anybody’s guess. First of all, Duterte knows that Leni is against the killing of drug pushers and users. So why did Duterte put her in charge of enforcing the government’s anti-narcotics policy without “senseless killings” that has so far eliminated some 30,000 drug pushers and users? Has he gone loco? Or did he appoint her to keep her mouth shut from criticizing Duterte’s extra-judicial killings of those involved in drugs? And why did Leni accept the position when she knows that she has to play ball with her new partner, Duterte himself, in the anti-drug war?
So how does Leni start in her new job as the anti-drug czar, or should I say czarina? This makes me wonder. Does Leni have the cojones to do a cunning and ruthless czarina’s job? This also reminds me of the Russian Czarina Catherine the Great who ruled the Russian Empire for 34 years. Her husband of six months, Emperor Peter III, died in 1762. He was deposed in a palace coup orchestrated by Catherine, who relied on a loyal retinue of generals. She’s known as an “enlightened despot.”
Czarina Leni, whose late husband Secretary of Interior and Local Government Jesse Robredo died in a plane crash in 2012 ran for vice president in 2016 and won by a slim margin. Being single and inexperienced in the war on drugs, Leni has to work with the male-dominated inner circle of Duterte, but she took the job anyway, perhaps thinking that it’s a piece of cake running an operation that is infested with corrupt police officers coddled by corrupt politicians, drug smugglers, and drug lords. But it would be naïve to think that she doesn’t know the dangerous waters she’s treading. She knows it. Yet… she took the challenge of the most dangerous and thankless job in the government.
Heck, Leni could have declined the job offer. She’s sitting pretty as vice-president doing nothing and safely tucked in a palatial office with all the help of a staff that virtually does nothing. She can go on a speaking tour around the country preparing for the upcoming presidential election. She could charm the people with her smiling demeanor that would make Bongbong Marcos look like a boy playing marbles, counting them for votes. He still couldn’t believe he lost to Leni. But Leni is taking it easy. Just let Bongbong figure out how to collect more marbles and beat Leni in the vote recount, which could go on until the next president is elected.
And if Leni survives the hazards of the anti-drug war, she could win handily in the 2022 presidential election. But how is she going to win the anti-drug war? So far, no drug czar has succeeded before. Perhaps a different approach has to be taken in fighting the drug war, which brings to mind the late president Ramon Magsaysay. When he took over as Defense Secretary under then president Elpidio Quirino, the Hukbalahaps or Huks were amassing in Bulacan, ready to enter Manila. But Magsaysay knew that to beat the Huks, he had to play their game.
The Huks waged war against the government using the slogan, “Land for the Landless.” They were fighting to get land from the government. So, what Magsaysay did was use the Huks’ slogan and promised to give land, a plow, and a carabao in exchange for their weapons. Hundreds of Huk rebels surrendered their arms and were resettled to Mindanao, ready to go into farming. Magsaysay’s campaign worked and it broke the back of the Huk movement. Within two years, the Huk rebellion was defeated, not with guns but with land.
Czarina Leni could use Magsaysay’s playbook and fight drugs with something that would give meaning to their problems, which is inadequate social programs, and to give the drug users an opportunity to live a meaningful and productive life. Give them jobs.
But there are an estimated four million drug users today. To resettle this huge number of people would take a miracle. Duterte admitted that he can’t do it. The problem with Duterte is that he failed to stop drug smuggling, the root of the problem. Drug lords were not prosecuted. They conduct their business unhampered by the police. Entry of illegal drugs into the country goes unabetted. If Czarina Leni stops drug smuggling, then the anti-drug program is half won. But with the intervention of corrupt politicians, drug smuggling is thriving.
Czarina Leni has to be forceful in making decisions. She’d be stepping on a lot of toes and attempts will be made to remove her from her job. But she shouldn’t waver no matter who gets hurt. And if she’s removed from her job because of palace intrigues, so be it. Let Duterte remove her. It’s not going to hurt her for standing up to her principles.
At the end of the day, winning the hearts of people through social justice is a lot easier than fighting them with guns. I wish vice president Leni Robredo the best.
When Magsaysay ran for president in 1953, a year after he defeated the Huks, he won by more than 65% of the vote. Leni has two years to make a difference. If she has the will then she can do it.