VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Panelo negates Duterte, now says Robredo had ‘access to everything’ in ICAD

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo contradicted President Rodrigo Duterte’s prior pronouncement that Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo was on a “need to know” basis when she was Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) co-chair.


In a Nov. 28 press briefing, Panelo was asked what the Palace’s position was on Robredo’s statement that she will come out with a report on her findings during her 19-day stint as ICAD co-chair.

He said:

“…Whatever iyong sinasabi niyang na-discover, open nga eh, may access nga siya sa lahat ng ICAD so walang sikreto doon… kaya nga siya in-appoint precisely para makita niya iyong loob, kaya nga may access siya sa lahat eh. In fact…si Aaron Aquino, Director, was offering to brief her on some classified information which she refused?”

(Whatever she has discovered, it’s been open, she had access to everything in ICAD so there are no secrets there… that’s why she was appointed precisely so she can see inside, that’s why she had access to everything. In fact… [PDEA Director General] Aaron Aquino was offering to brief her on some classified information which she refused?)

Source: Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Secretary Salvador Panelo, Nov. 28, 2019


On Nov. 19, five days before Robredo was fired, President Duterte said he does not trust his appointed anti-drug czar because he “does not know her.” He also emphasized she was on a “need to know basis” when it came to information connected to the government’s war on drugs.

This, after Robredo met with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and United States Embassy officials, and requested for information on high value targets, or prominent drug personalities, from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

“DZRH: Clarification lang po, Mr. President. So your instruction to ICAD inter-agency is not to give the Vice President a classified information?

PRESIDENT DUTERTE: Need to know lang siya (only). What is the — need to know to complete her… If she asks something, then you give her — you give her half of it. The other half, if it’s a classified information, there is no need for her to know.

DZRH: And why keep her if you don’t trust her?

PRESIDENT DUTERTE: I am not keeping her. She is there. I appointed her. She is working. As a matter of fact, she’s been issuing statements everyday. Sinabi ko lang, I am just saying the parameters…I never said I’m firing [her]. I said I decided not to appoint her as a Cabinet member because I think I will jeopardize the whole situation including records, classified, which are secrets. Tawag nila diyan (they call it) state secrets.

Source: Media Interview of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Nov. 19, 2019

A day before Robredo’s termination, Duterte again repeated that no trust “can be nurtured” between the two leaders because they belonged to opposing political parties.

PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino initially had reservations in granting Robredo’s request for information on high value targets (HVT), questioning her reasons. He backtracked later, saying the agency “is willing to present the list to her in a closed door meeting only with the presence of personnel with security clearance.”

Robredo refused to be briefed after this, saying she wanted to wait for the president’s clarification on the scope of her work as co-chair.

One of the specific functions of ICAD, according to Executive Order 15, is to “ensure the effective conduct of anti-illegal drug operations and arrest high value drug personalities down to street peddlers and users.”

More, as a member of the country’s National Security Council (NSC), Vice President Robredo is entitled to classified information. The vice president of the country is part of the NSC’s executive committee, which reviews “national issues and concerns” and formulates “positions and solutions for consideration of the NSC.” The NSC gives advice to the president.

Here are three other major issues that hounded the vice president’s less than three-week stint as co-chair of the anti-drug task force, listed through some of the conflicting reasons given for her termination.

On Robredo’s role as ICAD co-chair

“The functions of the ICAD, as performed by its four clusters, are already spelled out in Executive Order No. 15. So is the role of its head of ensuring that the objectives of the ICAD are accomplished. If VP Robredo wanted clarification in the scope and limits of her new task, she could have sought audience with the President, which she failed to do.”

Source: Office of the Presidential Spokesperson official Facebook page, On PRRD terminating the services of the VP as ICAD Co-Chair, Nov. 24, 2019

EO 15, which created ICAD, designates only the director general of the PDEA as chairperson who will have “overall responsibility to ensure the objectives of the ICAD and the cluster herein created are accomplished.”

It did not mention anything about a co-chairperson position, more so spell out its duties.

The memorandum signed by the president on Oct. 31 also did not specify Robredo’s duties and responsibilities as ICAD co-chair. It only said the “(PDEA), Philippine National Police, Dangerous Drug Boards, and all other law enforcement agencies are hereby directed to extend their full assistance and cooperation to the Vice President to ensure the success of the Government’s efforts in the war against illegal drugs.”

Robredo was also not given a Cabinet position, contrary to the president’s earlier promise.

In a media interview on Oct. 31, Duterte said he would have to make Robredo a Cabinet member if he would appoint her as co-chair of ICAD, alongside chairperson Aquino. However, this was not reflected in the memorandum appointing Robredo. In an interview with GMA News weeks after, Duterte said he did not appoint Robredo as a Cabinet member because she might disclose classified information to various groups critical of the drug war.

His spokesman similarly made contradicting statements.

Their statements came amid Robredo’s requests to the PDEA to give her a copy of the list of HVTs and her meetings with foreign officials.

On her meeting with UN, US

“(Robredo) should have gone down to the grassroots — talking to the victims, to their families, and to the communities. Instead, she opted to have audience with the United Nations and the United States embassy officials who remain out-of-touch from the realities of the local drug problem on the ground.”

Source: Office of the Presidential Spokesperson official Facebook page, On PRRD terminating the services of the VP as ICAD Co-Chair, Nov. 24, 2019

Three days after accepting the post, Robredo said she would meet with UNODC and US Embassy officials, including representatives from the American government’s anti-illegal drug law enforcement agencies, to discuss “best practices” against illegal drug use.

These meetings, held Nov. 11 and Nov. 13, respectively, generated varied reactions from lawmakers and executive officials. Panelo approved of her plan at that time. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Panelo backtracks on stance about Robredo meeting with US, UN officials)

Duterte, on the other hand, initially threatened to fire Robredo if she “shares” classified information to the foreign entities. He backtracked three days later claiming he “never said [he’s] firing her.”

In an interview with ABS-CBN on Nov. 24, Duterte apologized for “believing false news” that Robredo invited former Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy director for Asia Phelim Kine to come to the Philippines.

The president, furious over Kine’s tweet recommending that he be arrested, thus threatened to “slap” the human rights advocate in front of Robredo if she brings him to the Philippines:

“‘Yang prosecutor and the tweet. Nakita ko ‘yung tweet eh. “I am… I am packed and ready to go and arrest Duterte.” ‘Yan ang imbitahin mo? Ganun ang salita sa akin. P****** i**, Leni, sa harap mo sampalin ko ‘yan. Dalhin mo dito.

(I saw the prosecutor and the tweet. “I am… I am packed and ready to go and arrest Duterte.” You’ll invite him that talks to me that way? Leni, I’ll slap him in front of you. Bring him here).”

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Media Interview of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Nov. 19, 2019, watch from 19:00 to 19:37

Duterte mistook the former HRW official as a “prosecutor” investigating the drug war in the country. In 2018, the president said he will not allow members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to come to the country, after the court announced it was conducting a preliminary examination into cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs.

In her 19-day stint, Robredo convened all agencies under ICAD and Dangerous Drugs Board to discuss the policy and process in illegal drug campaign, the Department of Health for rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, and local government units in Quezon City and Naga City to ask about the progress of their campaign initiatives.

Robredo also met with Community-Based Drug Rehabilitation Alliance (COBRA) to talk about how to improve community-based approach, visited rehabilitation centers in Bataan and Quezon City, and held a dialogue with residents of Market 3 in Navotas City.

On Robredo not having any new programs to implement

“More than two weeks have passed since the Vice President accepted her designation as ICAD-Chairperson. But she has not presented any new program that she envisioned to implement”

Source: Office of the Presidential Spokesperson official Facebook page, On PRRD terminating the services of the VP as ICAD Co-Chair, Nov. 24, 2019

On the day she accepted the president’s offer, Robredo already laid down her plans on how she would lead the government’s efforts against illegal drugs.

In her first press briefing as ICAD co-chairperson, Robredo said:

Itigil ang pagpatay ng mga inosente, panagutin ang mga abusadong opisyal tulad ng mga ninja cops at mga nagpalusot ng tone-toneladang shabu, bigyan ng boses at hustisya ang mga pamilya ng mga pininsala na walang kasalanan, habulin ang malalaking drug lords na talagang sumisira sa ating lipunan, hindi lang ang maliliit na nagtutulak sa kanto-kanto

(Stop killing the innocent, hold abusive officials such as ninja cops and those who let tons of shabu slip in the country accountable, give voice and justice to the families of [drug war] victims, go after big time drug lords who destroy the society, not just small time drug pushers).”

Source: VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, Vice President Leni Robredo addresses the media…, Nov. 6, 2019, watch from 1:33 to 2:04


Office of the Presidential Spokesperson official Facebook page, On PRRD terminating the services of the VP as ICAD Co-Chair, Nov. 24, 2019

GMA News Online, Duterte designates Robredo as co-chair of inter-agency body vs. illegal drugs, Nov. 5, 2019, Duterte names Robredo co-chair of inter-agency anti-drugs body, Nov. 5, 2019

BusinessWorld, VP Robredo named co-chair of drug committee, Nov. 6, 2019

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Press Conference of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Oct. 31, 2019, Robredo not a Cabinet member, says Duterte, Nov. 19, 2019, Duterte: Leni Robredo not appointed to Cabinet position as drug czar, Nov. 19, 2019

The Manila Times, Duterte can’t trust ‘scatterbrain’ Robredo with gov’t information, Nov. 20, 2019, PDEA chief asks Leni Robredo: ‘Why need a list of high-value drug targets?’, Nov. 15, 2019

GMA News Online, PNP OIC Gamboa on giving Robredo high-value target list: I’ll adhere to what PDEA says, Nov. 18, 2019

UNTV, PNP agrees with PDEA not to give Robredo list of high-value drug targets, Nov. 18, 2019

Official Gazette, Executive Order No. 34

CNN Philippines, Robredo to meet with US, UN officials to tackle drug war issues, Nov. 9, 2019

News 5, FOR CONSULTATION? | Robredo to meet with UN officials on Monday, Nov. 9, 2019, Robredo, U.N. office tackle ‘best practices’ on health-based approach vs drugs, Nov. 11, 2019

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, Pahayag ni Pangalawang Pangulo Leni Robredo tungkol sa kaniyang pulong…, Nov. 13, 2019

GMA News, Balitanghali Weekend Express: November 16, 2019

RTVMalacanang, Media Interview – Malacanan Palace 11/19/2019

ABS-CBN News, Duterte nag-sorry kay Robredo kaugnay ng ‘fakes news’ sa UN prosecutor, Nov. 24, 2019

Phelim Kine official Twitter account, Dear VP @lenirobredo – my bags are packed…, Nov. 11, 2019

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, [2019.11.08] Meeting with Members of ICAD

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, [2019.11.20] Meeting with Dangerous Drugs Board

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, [2019.11.18] Dialogue and Meeting with DOH Officials

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, [2019.12.22] Meeting with QCDAAC and BADAC

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, [2019.11.15] Meeting with Naga City CADAC and DDB

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, [2019.11.11] Meeting with COBRA

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, [2019.11.21] 3rd Anniversary of Bahay Pangarap in Dinalupihan

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, [2019.11.22] Visit to QC Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Center

Vice President Leni Robredo official Facebook page, Market 3, Navotas City residents, Nov. 20, 2019

VP Leni Robredo official Facebook page, Vice President Leni Robredo addresses the media…, Nov. 6, 2019


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims,
flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence.
Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)