MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines’ vice president vowed to carry on a fight against President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody anti-narcotics campaign, a day after he removed her from the chair of an inter-agency panel tasked with overseeing his war on drugs.
Leni Robredo, a former human rights lawyer who was elected separately from the president, was named as head of the panel just over two weeks ago. Her allies had warned her that Duterte was setting a political trap by giving her the job.
She quickly angered Duterte by criticizing what she called “senseless killings” due to the thousands of mostly urban poor killed in what police said were drugs busts that turned into shootouts.
“When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?,” Robredo told a news conference, livestreamed on her Facebook page.
The vice president said she would share with the public what she had discovered about the way Duterte’s signature policy was being run.
“If they think I will stop here, then they don’t know me, I am just starting”, Robredo said. “They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs”.
Duterte’s lawyer and spokesman, Salvador Panelo said on Monday Robredo was fired from the panel because of her “incompetence” and “failure to introduce new measures” to effectively combat the drug menace.
But Robredo’s allies said her removal only confirmed what they knew all along, and that she had been set up to fail.
“Would the president allow the vice president to succeed in his centrepiece program of an anti-drugs war while he himself dismally failed,” opposition congressman Edcel Lagman said in an interview with ANC news channel.
Duterte accused Robredo of embarrassing the country by trying to draw undue international attention to his war on drugs and overreaching by seeking classified information.
Robredo, shortly after her appointment, met with officials from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the U.S. Embassy to discuss the drug problem, which she has said must be tackled from a health and social perspective.
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.
The government accuses both bodies of bias and interference.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)