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Philippines' President Duterte fires drugs tsar

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By Reuters
Philippines' President Duterte fires drugs tsar
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte 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 on Sunday fired Leni Robredo, who is vice president, from the role of “drugs tsar”, his spokesman said, accusing her of undermining the campaign.

Leni Robredo, a political rival who was elected separately from Duterte, accepted the role just over two weeks ago, against the advice of her allies, who said Duterte’s offer was a trap designed to discredit her.

Robredo had angered Duterte by criticising his police-centred approach to fighting drugs, and the thousands of people killed in his crackdown. Human rights groups say many victims were users and small-time peddlers systematically executed by police.

Police and the Duterte administration reject those accusations.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo cited Robredo’s meetings with “out of touch” Manila-based officials of the United Nations and the United States embassy, as one of the reasons for her sacking.

“The vice president resorted to unduly baiting international attention on the matter, particularly from persons or entities that know little or none at all about our situation, other than their own bias or unsubstantiated prejudgment,” Panelo said in a statement.

Panelo said Robredo had failed to discuss with the president her plans for tackling the country’s drugs problem and Duterte had been patient with her.

“In a campaign where peoples’ lives are at risk, a day is an eternity. The government cannot twiddle its thumbs and sit idly hoping for a flash of brilliance from the vice president,” he said.

Robredo’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.

Robredo struck a nerve with Duterte when said he had failed to reduce drugs usage or tackle abusive police, remarks made during an Oct. 23 interview with Reuters, and in subsequent media appearances.

Human rights groups say police are operating with impunity, with the implied support of a president who once vowed to kill 100,000 dealers, and said he would be happy to kill millions of addicts.

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 called a special news conference last week to attack Robredo, calling her a “scatterbrain” and accusing her of grandstanding and seeking to share sensitive information with outsiders. He said he would not sack her.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said Duterte was insecure and worried that Robredo would upstage him.

“Not only they were not ready for her, they were scared,” she told CNN Philippines.

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales. Editing by Jane Merriman)