By Karen Lema
MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo said on Monday she determined to lead a campaign against President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs and did not believe his assurances there was no plot to oust her.
Police say that just over 2,000 people have been killed in anti-drug operations since Duterte took office in July, and a further 3,060 killings are “under investigation”. Critics say many of the deaths have been extra-judicial killings.
“There are so many of us against the policies of the president. I hope I will be able to portray the role of unifying all the discordant voices,” Robredo told Reuters in an interview at her office in Manila’s Quezon City.
Robredo was elected vice president in May in a separate contest and was not Duterte’s running mate. She resigned as housing secretary on Dec. 5, citing a plot to remove her from the vice presidency after she was barred from attending regular cabinet meetings.
Robredo, a one-term congresswoman before she was elected to the number two post, warned that Duterte’s war on drugs was having a “chilling effect” on the public and his open backing for police officers allegedly involved in the drug trade made the situation “scary”.
“Where do these poor victims go to? We are giving them a very limited area where they can air their complaints. There is a feeling of helplessness and there is a growing sense of belief that the government is behind all these,” she said.
Duterte denies the police are conducting extrajudicial killings. He has repeatedly told the police to “kill” suspected drug dealers if they resist arrest or if they feel their lives are in danger.
“The rule of law is no longer an assurance that our rights will be protected,” Robredo said.
Duterte has dismissed Robredo’s claims and assured her last week that she would finish her six-year term.
“You know all the signals are discordant at this point because we do not know whom to believe. Even the statements of the president are confusing,” Robredo said.
The 52-year-old social activist and human rights lawyer won by a narrow margin over former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator overthrown in a 1986 revolt. He has filed a complaint that her election was rigged.
Robredo has been especially critical of last month’s burial of Marcos’ father at a “heroes’ cemetery”, saying it was an insult to the memory of those who suffered under the martial law Marcos imposed in 1972, in what was one of the darkest chapters of Philippine history.
Duterte supported the burial of Marcos, who was widely accused of brutality and plunder and enriching his cronies and family, which remains influential in politics.
Robredo has been openly critical of Duterte’s war on drugs and his plans to reimpose the death penalty. However, she said her opposition to his policies went beyond political parties and was only meant to “make the president listen”.
“It is not as if we are against the war on drugs. We do agree with the president that it has reached a level that the government must really do something about it, but doing it this way will only make the problem more complex,” she said.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Tom Heneghan)