Leni and the war against drugs

Jose M. Montelibano

No one was more shocked than I when I learned that President Rodrigo R. Duterte offered Vice-President Leni Robredo the opportunity to lead the war against drugs. I may have reservations about how the war has been waged in the last three years but I had accepted from the very beginning that, indeed, there is a war.

It is not a threat of war, not like the kind of war that many imagine may happen between the Philippines and China if we both take rigid postures about control of the Western Philippine Sea. War against China may be disastrous, I admit, and we will lose a horrible number of Filipino lives. But the war against drugs is a clear and present danger. It has been so for some time but we just never imagined how bad it was.

I have written articles in the past about the state of illegal drugs in the country and the damage it was causing to both physical lives and our collective well-being. I had constantly pointed to the many decades of experience of Mexico and Columbia and how their societies had been so brutally affected by the drug scourge. What we have gone through so far is nothing, and I mean nothing, compared to what they had experienced – and still continue to. Between the two countries, more than a million lives must have been lost by now. And more to come.

By his own admission, President Duterte has not solved the drug problem of our country. It is entirely conceivable that he may never be able to in the years he has left. Because if the problem is solvable within a few years, it would have been solved already. And if we expect Leni Robredo to solve it in the next two and a half years, forget it as well. Neither of them can, not even the two of them.

But, and this is hopeful but, with the President and Vice-President joined together in an honest-to-goodness campaign or war against illegal drugs, a new and effective beginning can be found. They can build together what others in the years to come can use as a firm foundation for the continuing struggle against drugs. That is enough. That is more than enough compared to what is presently happening when our top two officials are fighting themselves and letting the drug scourge be the first beneficiary.

Many say, and these include comments coming from people I know, not just read about, that President Duterte is leading Leni Robredo into a trap, that he is setting her up to fail. And because of this point of view, they all said that Leni should not accept the offer. Indeed, in the beginning, she did not for the same common reasons. I was so disappointed by the initial reaction that I completely gave up on her as someone that the Filipino people and nation can trust to be protecting them, to be fighting their battles with them if not for them.

I could not for the life of me imagine how someone who has claimed to be for the people, especially for the marginalized, could allow politics to stand between her and the serious threats against millions of hapless Filipinos. The political dynamics between her and her president are precisely that – political. If she cannot find a way to navigate through murky political waters, Leni might as well resign and hope for a replacement with more resolve to try anything rather than give up.

Of course, it might be a trap. Of course, the president can be setting her up to fail. But so what? The welfare of the people who are directly and indirectly, yet materially affected, by the illegal drug trade and scourge in the Philippines must mean much more than President Duterte. Even he says so. Even the President says he is willing to die for the people. And whatever our two top officials have against each other, I do not believe that anything justifies their not trying their best to save the people against illegal drugs.

Maybe because I am not a politician, and because I am not involved in their political bickering, I am more focused on what other possibilities can be considered and applied in the war against drugs. Yes, President Duterte had promised to solve the drug problem in six months or by the end of December 2016. He tried so hard that he took harsh options that resulted in deaths deemed unnecessary by the Robredo camp and others. At least he tried.

Now, Leni can try. Her ways may be different but she must try. She must never go to sleep peacefully if she does not give her level best to address and resolve the problem. I am no politician but I can see that Leni, too, can lay a trap for Duterte. If she tries hard enough, if she is innovative and bold enough, the people will see her fighting the dragon and she can win their hearts if not their support. President Duterte cannot sabotage her without sacrificing the safety and protection of the people. I do not believe that he does not care. I believe he will give this experiment with Leni his all if she does it, too.

There are those who say Leni cannot do it because she has no experience with the problem of drugs. Well, it should be a consolation for her to note with irony how all the experts have not solved the problem either. The efforts of the administration in the past three years are there for Leni to review, to absorb, to take into account when an expanded plan is launched. She needs experience less than she needs her integrity and courage. Against the massiveness of the drug trade and the scourge of its tentacles, no plan, no war, will work unless there is an overdose of integrity and courage to push a renewed war. Plus the full support of President Duterte.

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