Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte ’s offer of the “drug tsar” cabinet position to his vice-president after she panned his crackdown on illegal drugs has sparked a flurry of discussion on whether Leni Robredo should accept the post. Her allies and independent analysts are divided though, with Robredo’s spokesman Barry Gutierrez dismissing the talk, saying that “short of a serious offer there is really nothing to respond to”. Political analyst Ramon Casiple said there was an element of risk for Robredo in accepting the offer, in case Duterte said he was joking and took it back. “But … if she intimated ‘yes’, I think the official invitation would be there,” maintained the director of the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. “Duterte likes Leni when Leni is amenable to him. He listens when they talk. But when she starts criticising him, that starts the bickering.” The two leaders, from rival political parties, have been at odds over Duterte’s brutal drug war and soft approach to the South China Sea dispute since they were elected three years ago. In an interview with Reuters last month, Robredo said that the president’s war on drugs had disproportionately targeted the poor, rather than big criminal networks, and that it was “not working”. It prompted an outraged Duterte to declare that he would let Robredo oversee the crackdown for six months. When she shot back with “if there was no failure in the drug war, why pass it on to me?”, the president extended the offer until the end of his term in 2022. Activists say more than 7,000 people – mostly small-time drug dealers and users – have died during raids and that the purge has created a culture of police impunity. In comments on October 28, Duterte said: “Let her handle it and let’s see what happens. You’re brighter? You try it.” As Duterte’s drugs war rages on, nation’s children pay the price His spokesman Salvador Panelo showed reporters a text message he had sent to Robredo and then made a show of calling her in front of them to follow-up on the offer, later telling journalists that there was no response. Three days later, Duterte reiterated his offer but added an obscenity, saying he wasn’t sure if Robredo was politicking and that voters in the 2022 presidential election should not vote for her, “[because if they do] poor you”. It was the first time Duterte had publicly hurled an expletive at Robredo, 54, who heads the opposition Liberal Party and is among more than 30 critics of the president being investigated on charges of sedition for attempting to oust him. The president and vice-president are elected separately in the Philippines and Duterte had preferred then-Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jnr for the latter role. But following a bitter electoral campaign in which Robredo emerged victorious, Duterte made her head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council as a gesture of healing and reconciliation after he took office on June 30, 2016. She resigned from cabinet barely six months later, however, after a top presidential aide told her over the weekend she had been banned from its meetings. Gutierrez said that the “clearest indicator” that Duterte was serious about his new offer would be if he called Robredo, as he had done for the housing post. He said she had not received any letter, message or phone call from the presidential palace since she stepped down and had changed her phone number last year after her contact details were broadcast on social media without her consent. As for the insults, “she’s dealing with it in the same way you would deal with a child throwing a tantrum. You don’t get angry. You just take it for what it is and move on.” ‘He really scares the criminals’: spokesman on Duterte Halloween mask For political scientist Alex Magno, Duterte’s offer has placed Robredo in a corner. He likened it to the “zugzwang” manoeuvre in a chess game “where one player is compelled to move even if every possible option will weaken her position”. Magno said Robredo had “babbled recklessly” in the interview with Reuters. The vice-president later explained that she did not ask for the drug war to be stopped, but for it to be “tweaked”. Duterte’s administration has reacted angrily to an international effort to investigate systemic killings by the Philippine police in the drug crackdown, with a recently leaked presidential memo revealing that government departments and state-run firms have been ordered to turn down loans or aid from the 18 countries on the United Nations Human Rights Council that backed a resolution on an investigation. Robredo’s party mate Leila De Lima, a former justice secretary and senator who once investigated Duterte over extrajudicial killings during his time as mayor of Davao – and is currently detained on drug charges – compared what was happening to a scene from the children’s cartoon, Tom and Jerry. Duterte’s offer was like one of the “silly traps that Tom lays down for Jerry as he hides around the corner, hoping that Jerry would be dumb enough to jump on such an obvious ploy that any three-year-old can figure out,” she said. However, Yoly Villanueva-Ong, an advocacy communications specialist and former ad agency owner who helped in Robredo’s 2016 electoral campaign, said that while the offer was “not a serious one” Robredo would do well to “turn his offer around and explore the job parameters”. Villanueva-Ong suggested the vice-president could ask Duterte to put down in writing “whether the drug tsar has the power to invite international experts to investigate the exact state of the drug war” and get a share of the president’s huge intelligence fund. Casiple said Robredo could have, before doing the Reuters interview, requested a briefing on the drug war from the police and the military. As the vice-president, the official designated by the constitution as the president-in-waiting, she has the right to be briefed on the most important matters of the state, he said. “If they decline, she can make that an issue,” he said, adding that Robredo was “just pulling her punches … and not comfortable with being the head of the opposition”. Yet for Villanueva-Ong, Robredo is “authentic”. “She has the grit and grim determination of Cory [Aquino, the Philippines’ 11th president], but as a human rights lawyer and advocate with a background in economics, she’s better prepared for national office than Cory was in the beginning,” she said.