By Karen Lema and Martin Petty
MANILA (Reuters) – The vice president of the Philippines on Wednesday accepted President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer of a lead role in his brutal war on drugs, even though she expected her political rival’s administration would try to thwart her progress.
The appointment follows criticism by Leni Robredo in an interview with Reuters and subsequent media appearances, which angered Duterte, whose drugs crackdown has killed thousands and prompted activists to call for international intervention.
Allies had warned Robredo, who was elected separately and has an adversarial relationship with Duterte, that the offer of “drugs tsar”, or a joint chair of a panel on illegal drugs, was a trap to ensure her embarrassment and failure.
She said she was sceptical about Duterte’s motives, but would take a chance.
“I am against the killings of the innocent, I am against abuses committed by officials. He knows my criticism. He knows what I plan to fix,” Robredo told a news conference.
“If the president is thinking that I will keep quiet because I accepted the offer, he is wrong.”
Duterte’s loyalists had urged her to take the role, saying she had plenty of criticism and should put her ideas into practice.
Ronald dela Rosa, a policeman turned senator and former drugs war commander, said Robredo had a chance to impress.
“This is the time for her to shine… I will pray for her success,” he said on television.
The crackdown is popular among Filipinos, with a September opinion poll showing 82% of respondents believed it effective, although critics say it has been failed to curb addiction or drugs supply or rein-in drugs kingpins.
Activists accuse police of executions and cover-ups on a massive scale being ignored by the government. Police killed only in self-defence, the administration says.
In an Oct. 23 interview, Robredo said the death toll was too high and international help should be sought if the government kept tolerating abusive police.
On Wednesday, she said she had nothing to lose.
“If could save at least one innocent life, my principles and heart are telling me I should give this a try,” she said.
“They are asking me if I am ready for this job? My question is: Are you ready for me?”
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Robredo would be welcome in Duterte’s cabinet.
“Her acceptance shows she is smarter than her colleagues in the opposition,” he said in a text message.
(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)