A trap, a honey-trap but still a trap. And she would be “the scapegoat” when President Rodrigo Duterte’s candidate would face the 2022 election.
That has been the repeated warning.
Liberal Party. Other opposition groups. Critics of various stripes and voices. They all rang alarm bells, saying: Don’t be naïve, don’t be a sucker, Vice President Leni Robredo.
Even Robredo’s clutch of advisers expressed doubts.
Last Monday, a day before Malacañang announced on Nov. 4 her appointment as co-chairperson of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (Icad), the VP’s spokesman rejected the offer.
Yet Leni eventually accepted, sauntering into what could be a trap, seemingly prepared to be a scapegoat.
Peg for acceptance
She found a noble-sounding purpose on which to peg her acceptance: If she could save one innocent person from being killed in the campaign against illegal drugs, it would be worth it.
That produced a stirring sound bite but she could be just sounding gutsy. Yet she might truly believe she could do something more meaningful and bigger than her present social work, making herself relevant while pondering on the state of the President’s health.
Administration supporters helped in greasing the groove of the Robredo decision. They call it her “golden moment,” the “ladder to the presidency.” Unwittingly, they could be helping her profit from the appointment, whether she’d be President or not.
Which must have prompted Leni to take the path forbidden by her advisers: The opportunity of doing real work during her term and removing the “spare tire” label that has stuck to her office since June 30, 2016.
But what if it would be a dud because, as feared by her advisers, she could be denied the power to make changes in the drug campaign, sabotaged or even shabbily removed from the Cabinet again? The promised full control might not be given.
Could still get out
Look though: She has not yet assumed office. She still has to take and sign her oath as drug czar or czarina (as one news outlet put it). She still had to talk with the President and see what she could do with what authority. Duterte’s appointment didn’t have the specifics. And the inter-agency committee created by an earlier order didn’t cover a situation where there are two co-chairpersons.
Talk about her specific powers has been mostly speculative. Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo hedged on persistent questions about Robredo’s powers by saying she and the President still had to talk.
She could still get out. She merely has a foot at the door.
Or, if the job conditions and guarantees would satisfy her, she could start her work. She could specify her own expectations and goals. She wouldn’t have to do another Duterte by promising to lick the problem in three to six months or up to the end of her term.
She could be more prudent by specifying what success or failure would mean. Even now, both the Duterte and Robredo camps quarrel on the meaning of failure. Although the President on a number of occasions owned up failure, his communicators disagree and insist on success, a position contradicted by the offer for Robredo to help.
Would she be only helping?
Apparently, she would be be just helping as she is a co-chairperson, not the top honcho. PDEA chief Aaron Aquino, who famously predicted Leni would fail, suggested that she could spend her energy on “rehabilitation and reintegration,” which is the last among the four clusters of the inter-agency group’s functions. Enforcement and justice lead the list.
Trap for both
Limited powers could also could limit her responsibility. The blame wouldn’t be entirely hers.
Is it a trap then for Robredo? Could be. But it would be a a trap that might snag the administration as well. Instead of making Leni the scapegoat and marginalizing her as a threat to Sara Duterte-Carpio in the next presidential election, it could give Robredo the chance to shine, re-claiming the stage and limelight taken away from her when she was stripped of her Cabinet post.
Here and now, she could still walk away if the fears of her advisers would turn out to be true. Or she could bravely go in, but with modest goals and expectations defined and clarified to dispel illusions about what she could accomplish.