Philippines: President Duterte’s fierce rival becomes new drug czar

Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo (left) and Philippine President Rodrigo DuterteImage copyright

Image caption

Leni Robredo (left) and Rodrigo Duterte are fierce political rivals

An outspoken critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war has accepted his offer to help steer the campaign.

Vice-President Leni Robredo will now co-chair the government committee tackling the problem.

“I want to… stop the killing of innocents and bring to account abusive officials,” she said on Wednesday.

Critics say thousands of alleged drug suspects have died in controversial police operations since 2016.

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President Duterte launched the anti-narcotics campaign to deal with a rampant drug problem in the country.

Media captionDuterte drug war: Manila’s brutal nightshift

Human rights groups allege many of the killings in the operations amount to summary executions.

The UN and the International Criminal Court are both currently examining the allegations.

But President Duterte’s drug war has the overwhelming support of Filipinos.

What did Leni Robredo say?

At a news conference on Wednesday, Mrs Robredo said she wanted to “fix the campaign against illegal drugs”.

“If I can save even one innocent life, my principles and heart tell me to try,” she said.

Mrs Robredo was last week challenged by the president to take on a “drug czar” role after she said his drugs policy “obviously wasn’t working”.

She is seen as the main political rival of Mr Duterte, who won the presidential election in 2016.

Mrs Robredo was elected vice-president in a separate race the same year.

Critics describe Mrs Robredo’s appointment as a “trap” by the president who wants to tarnish his political rival.

Will the appointment have any impact?

Amnesty International, which likened the Duterte war on drugs to “crimes against humanity”, welcomed the appointment of Mrs Robredo.

“It shows that global pressure is having an effect, and that the public mood in the Philippines is turning against the flawed approach of the so-called ‘war on drugs,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s regional director for East and South-East Asia.

“The crucial question is whether this appointment can lead to meaningful change. We have to ask whether she’ll have power to hold police officers and other officials to account, let alone the unknown gunmen suspected of many more killings.”