MANILA (Reuters) – 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 realise 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 U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate the killings and responded to a preliminary examination by the ICC by pulling the Philippines out of the organisation.
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 U.S. 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-centred 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 towards 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 fulfil her mandate. Such speculations are unfounded and they are unproductive as well”, Panelo said.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Kim Coghill)