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Philippines' Duterte blasts 'scatterbrain' VP, says she cannot be trusted

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By Reuters
Philippines' Duterte blasts 'scatterbrain' VP, says she cannot be trusted
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a plenary session at a regional summit in Bangkok, Thailand November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha   -   Copyright  ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA(Reuters)

By Martin Petty

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hit out at his vice president on Tuesday, calling her a “scatterbrain” who was discussing his war on drugs with outsiders and could put the country in danger if given sensitive information.

Duterte scolded Leni Robredo, an opposition leader whom he said and could not be trusted, and said she was “treading on dangerous ground” in her new role as co-head of his anti-drugs task force.

He called a rare news conference on Tuesday to explain why he would not go through with his plan to give a cabinet position to Robredo, a political rival whom he has a testy relationship.

“I cannot appoint her as a cabinet member if that is the way her mouth behaves, there can never be a position for her,” he said.

“The way she behaved right after I appointed her is not inspiring.”

Duterte gave former human rights lawyer Robredo the job of drugs tsar this month in response to her critical remarks about his campaign.

Robredo hit the ground running and ignored warnings that it was a trap to embarrass her. She has met most stakeholders in the campaign, including health and community groups, law enforcement and anti-narcotics agencies.

She also met officials from the U.S. Embassy and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and has singled out China as a major source of drugs in the Philippines.

Duterte accused her of overreaching in a role in which he said she should give direction and guidance, rather than getting involved in law enforcement.

Robredo’s spokesman was not available for comment. Earlier on Tuesday Robredo said she did not need a cabinet position.

The war on drugs, Duterte’s centrepiece policy, has caused international alarm over what United Nations experts have called a “staggering” number of illegal killings by police, who say they shot thousands of drug suspects only in self defence.

The United Nations Human Rights Council in July approved a resolution to investigate the Philippines, and the International Criminal Court is conducting a preliminary examination of allegations of crimes against humanity.

Duterte said Robredo had presidential ambitions and should not have access to classified materials. He said he would not fire her, but state agencies should provide her with information only on a “need-to-know” basis.

“She was grandstanding, talking right and left,” Duterte added. “You will just place the Republic of the Philippines in jeopardy.”

Duterte, who spoke for close to 90 minutes, also said people should stop asking about his health, adding there were very few 74-year-old Filipinos who did not suffer from ailments.

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema, Editing by Angus MacSwan)