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Philippines’ Duterte blasts ‘scatterbrain’ VP, says she cannot be trusted

MANILA (Reuters/The Philippine Star) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hit out at his vice president on Tuesday, calling her a “scatterbrain” who was discussing his war on drugs with outsiders and could put the country in danger if given sensitive information.

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A photo taken on March 24, 2017, shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo during the Philippine National Police Academy graduation ceremony in Cavite city, south of Manila.  REUTERS

Duterte scolded Leni Robredo, an opposition leader whom he said and could not be trusted, and said she was “treading on dangerous ground” in her new role as co-head of his anti-drugs task force.

Robredo, for her part, said Duterte should revoke her appointment.

The president called a rare news conference on Tuesday to explain why he would not go through with his plan to give a cabinet position to Robredo, a political rival whom he has a testy relationship.

“I cannot appoint her as a cabinet member if that is the way her mouth behaves, there can never be a position for her,” he said.

“The way she behaved right after I appointed her is not inspiring.”

Duterte gave former human rights lawyer Robredo the job of drugs tsar this month in response to her critical remarks about his campaign.

Robredo hit the ground running and ignored warnings that it was a trap to embarrass her. She has met most stakeholders in the campaign, including health and community groups, law enforcement and anti-narcotics agencies.

She also met officials from the U.S. Embassy and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and has singled out China as a major source of drugs in the Philippines.

Duterte accused her of overreaching in a role in which he said she should give direction and guidance, rather than getting involved in law enforcement.

On Tuesday Robredo said she did not need a cabinet position.

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 defense.

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 said Robredo had presidential ambitions and should not have access to classified materials. He said he would not fire her, but state agencies should provide her with information only on a “need-to-know” basis.

“She was grandstanding, talking right and left,” Duterte added. “You will just place the Republic of the Philippines in jeopardy.”

Duterte, who spoke for close to 90 minutes, also said people should stop asking about his health, adding there were very few 74-year-old Filipinos who did not suffer from ailments.

‘Just tell me to leave’

Robredo said she won’t hesitate to quit her post as chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs or ICAD if President Duterte himself will ask her to leave supposedly for losing his trust.

“He should tell me directly. I’m easy to talk to. If he doesn’t want me here (ICAD) in the first place, why did he appoint me? If he thinks he committed a mistake in appointing me and wants to revoke it, he should just say so,” the vice president told reporters after a meeting with officials of the Dangerous Drugs Board in Quezon City, Metro Manila.

“But as long as work is expected of me, I’ll do it,” she added.

The vice president said she wrote a letter to Duterte on Tuesday, asking him to clarify the scope of her mandate as ICAD co-chair.

“I told him we should not be the one to determine (my mandate) because he’s the appointing officer. He should be the one telling us what is the mandate given to me and what are the limits. I don’t have any plan to overshadow anyone,” Robredo said.

She said she was confused by Duterte’s latest pronouncements, particularly on his rants about her supposed invitation to a foreign human rights advocate to come to the country as well as her meetings with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and with the U.S. embassy. She also denied reaching out to International Criminal Court prosecutors.

“That’s fake news…. I hope the President does not believe in fake news, because it’s easy to check this,” the vice president said.

“I don’t know of any U.N. prosecutor, I didn’t write to anyone, I didn’t invite anyone,” Robredo said.

Duterte threatened to slap human rights advocate Phelim Kine in front of Robredo should he come to the country.

Kine, former Human Rights Watch Asia head, in a tweet to Robredo on Nov. 11 recommended the arrest of Duterte and his supporters for instigating “mass murder.”