Interview

Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque by Karen Davila (ANC – Headstart)


DAVILA: [Recording starts]… or the President may not have said in public last night.

SEC. ROQUE: Well it was basically a report to the people not just by the President, but by the relevant Cabinet officials ‘no. Secretary Mon Lopez reported on the businesses that were allowed under MECQ and under GCQ. Secretary Bautista mentioned that the distribution of SAP have already reached 97%. Secretary Galvez as the Chief Implementer summarized all the achievements already of the IATF including the issue of testing.

And of course, Secretary Año was there to report that he had filed criminal cases already against barangay captains, that the others are undergoing case buildup ‘no. And he has also mentioned that he has given show cause orders to at least 84 mayors for not completing the distribution—80% of the distribution of SAP on the mandated deadline.

DAVILA: Okay. All right, let’s go to them one by one. Secretary Lopez said that minimum health standards are needed for businesses to open, a health declaration is needed for those going to work and suspected cases lang ang required mag-PCR test. Let’s get to the issue of testing. Who is going to pay for mass testing, expanded testing? How would you want to call it?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I’m the author of Universal Healthcare Law ‘no, and it is provided in the law that diagnostic testing is covered by PhilHealth ‘no. Except that there is a colatilla according to the guidelines of the DOH that to be reimbursable by PhilHealth, you have to satisfy the DOH guidelines – which means you must be symptomatic or you are an OFW ‘no, because all OFWs returning to the country are subjected to PCR ‘no.

So if you just want to have a PCR test just for your peace of mind and you don’t have symptoms or you’ve not had any contact with anyone who had COVID, then it may not be reimbursable by PhilHealth then you would have to pay for it ‘no. So that’s the intricacy, number one, it’s because of the cost of PCR and number two, because we still have limited PCR testing capacity ‘no. We’re still working to achieve 30,000 by May 31 and right now we’re somewhere around 11,000 and 12,000 a day.

DAVILA: Okay. Now during your press conference the other day, I’m gonna read something from your quote which you can clarify. You said, “In terms of mass testing,” – it’s a question from Joseph Morong – “In terms of mass testing na ginagawa ng Wuhan na 11 million, wala pa pong ganiyang programa at iniiwan natin sa pribadong sektor.” So you are saying the government does not have a mass testing policy?

SEC. ROQUE: No. I’m saying we do not have the same kind of testing that Wuhan is doing which is testing every single one of its citizen. Now Wuhan can do that because they’re one city. But Karen I’d like to clarify there still no country in this planet that is testing every single one of their citizen. We’re all doing it on the basis of targeted testing, it is based on the same science behind predicting who will win the presidency or the 12th slot in the senate ‘no. You need to have a representative sample chosen at random so that you can, more or less, find out the total percentage of affliction in the population. And in this manner you can plan ‘no, you can plan on how many critical care beds you will have to prepare and how much money you need to spend to contain the infection.

DAVILA: So what you meant was we have no mass testing policy like Wuhan where every single citizen is tested.

SEC. ROQUE: Yes.

DAVILA: What kind of mass testing policy will the Philippines—or does the Philippines have?

SEC. ROQUE: We’ve always had what is known as expanded targeted testing ‘no. It’s expanded because in epicenters, we go more than 1 to 2 percent. The international benchmark is really 1 to 2 percent ‘no because it is a good statistical sample. But in epicenters like Metro Manila, we’re aiming to test up to 10% of the population.

Now, iyong konsepto ng mass testing na lahat tini-test, ginagawa natin iyan doon sa mga barangays katulad ng alam nating mataas ang infection rate. And that’s being done, if not by government, by our partners in the private sector. Kasi ganoon iyong ginagawa, iyong modus ng Project ARK na they go to the highly infected areas of Manila; for instance ‘no, in Tondo and Sampaloc and that’s why they really test as many as they could using antibody testing.

DAVILA: Okay. And Secretary I’m curious, given that your quote uses the word ‘mass testing’, you believed that you were really misquoted by the press?

SEC. ROQUE: Well it was clear because it was in relation to Wuhan. It was really in relation to Wuhan and the term ‘mass testing’ was used also by the person asking the question ‘no. But the proper term that we really used is ‘targeted testing’ from the very beginning ‘no. And from the very beginning, we acknowledged that we have been rather slow in the beginning because in February, we only had 2 laboratories ‘no. But we’re up to 32 laboratories now and we will achieve 80 or 90 soon, because that’s the number of labs that we need in order to achieve 30,000 tests per day.

DAVILA: Okay. Now Secretary, CNN stands by their reporter Triciah Terada and NUJP is saying that you owe an apology to the CNN reporter for scolding her during a live broadcast for what you claimed was an inaccurate report. They say that she wasn’t able to give her side, another is you’ve scolded her for something that she didn’t write herself. I’m curious Secretary, have you thought of this and was that necessary to scold a journalist during a live broadcast considering that they were essentially getting it from your own quote?

SEC. ROQUE: Well I think it is very clear, it was a wrong quote. It was a misquote because the context that the mass testing had to do with the Wuhan-type testing, was omitted. Now let me see, let me make it clear ‘no – CNN has since corrected the story, so there was really a mistake. Iyong sa akin naman if there’s a mistake, if you acknowledges a mistake, I don’t even demand an apology, just correct it because we’re all in the business of the truth – that to me is enough.

Now—well whatever it is that I owe Trish, I’ve talked to Trish and whatever it is that I should do, I’ve done it. Okay? But the point is Trish is the CNN reporter in Malacañang. Whoever wrote the article, and there was no byline, that’s the problem ‘no, why is it that some news agencies do not have bylines for the stories para we know who wrote it ‘no?

In this case there was really an error that they have corrected, but we also need to know who that person was, because I think as a professional ‘no – the journalist, who made the error should be identified ‘no because it will affect the reputation ‘no. It turns out that it was not Trish who wrote the article, and I think personally, I have sent a message to Trish but I also feel that as the Malacañang reporter, she should have corrected the story of her news outfit particularly because it’s her beat.

Alam mo sa ABS-CBN marami na akong naging ganiyang instance but I didn’t have to do anything because the reporter of ABS-CBN would call the attention of ABS-CBN online. And I can think of 3 instances already when it happened ‘no because that’s also part of their responsibility as Malacañang beat reporters.

DAVILA: Okay. Now moving on forward and the only reason I’d like to move forward is you’ve already said that you’ve spoken to the CNN reporter – you’ve spoken to Trish so clearly you are not going to respond to NUJP’s demand that you owe her an apology – because I think NUJP means public apology.

SEC. ROQUE: I don’t owe anything to NUJP. I have done work for NUJP, they probably owe me, but I don’t owe them [laughs].

DAVILA: Moving forward now, to other issues. The President surprisingly said that NCRPO Chief General Debold Sinas stays. After all of that—

SEC. ROQUE: Yes.

DAVILA: Okay. And the exact quote, I’m reading, “Itong kaso ni Sinas, ako iyong ayaw na malipat. He is a good officer. He is an honest one.” What is the effect of not replacing Sinas in terms of the credibility of the PNP, when it comes to arresting violators who are ordinary citizens?

SEC. ROQUE: Mahirap kasi magkomento ‘no, kasi it came from the President’s mouth already. Parang as a spokesperson, I should not add, I should not subtract anything from what the President says. My policy is when the President has said something expressly on a matter, I leave it at that. So I leave the public to judge.

DAVILA: Okay. An update on OFWs: General Galvez last night said that we are expecting an additional 42,000 OFWs arriving in June – tama ito, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE: Yes, yes, that’s what he reported last night.

DAVILA: Yes, but as of now, I think in Metro Manila, we’ve already tested 30,000 and there are no results of those tests yet—

SEC. ROQUE: No.

DAVILA: Go ahead, Secretary.

SEC. ROQUE: Also yesterday, on the same meeting, I was told by Secretary Galvez that there are now at least 13,000 results with certificates, meaning that the 13,000 individuals would soon be allowed to leave the quarantine facilities. So that’s a major development ‘no because it’s almost half of the total number of OFWs waiting.

And we’ve come up with the mechanism that I will be informed on a daily basis – how many results have come in and how many have been released from quarantine, because I promised in my last press briefing that I will take a personal hand in ensuring that OFWs don’t have to stay longer than needed ‘no in this quarantine areas so that they can go home.

So on my regular press briefings, I will also provide some now, data on how many tests have come out and how many OFWs have been released. And I think it’s important that by being provided these figures, they will … the OWWA, particularly, will be on the guard to make sure that the results are followed up and that the OFWs are released at the soonest time possible.

DAVILA: Okay. So is the goal, when the 42,000 OFWs arrived in June, you are hoping that the 30,000 are already out of the quarantine areas?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I’m hoping that the 40,000 will soon be out of quarantine. I don’t think it’s possible in the near future because when we had twenty or so thousands of them, it took also a long time. But, we now have more laboratories too ‘no, so we’re hoping that they will not just send the samples to one single laboratory and will farm them out to those with excess capacity.

DAVILA: Okay. When it comes to the social amelioration package, I know it was also talked about last night but the last time I interviewed you, Christian Monsod sent me an interesting question. And remember you had said that the President wants to essentially support 23 million families in total because at present, it’s 18 million. And he did say if it’s 23 million, put it to times four or times five, you’re talking about the whole population in the Philippines, correct?

SEC. ROQUE: No, the President wanted to give additional ‘ayuda’ to five more million people ‘no so a total of 23 million. So that’s not the entire population of the Philippines. The entire population is—

DAVILA: Do you mean 23 million people and not families?

SEC. ROQUE: Families – it is families.

SEC. ROQUE: But then if it’s 23 million families, you maybe, times four per family that would be roughly around a hundred ten million people which is the population of the Philippines.

SEC. ROQUE: That’s a good point, and that’s why the Finance Department and the economic cluster said it’s really impossible. And that’s why now, the latest position is, the five additional million families will be included in the second tranche, which means that in the second tranche, we would still have 18 million more or less families because there would be around 12 million that will be given a second tranche, those living in the ECQ areas, and then another five million, new beneficiaries.

DAVILA: Because it’s the numbers actually, Secretary, that’s interesting. We did the math now and yet with the list of the DSWD, Sec., cities are saying marami pang mahihirap na hindi nabigyan.

SEC. ROQUE: Iyon po iyong intensiyon ng Presidente.

DAVILA: The math doesn’t go ‘0’.

SEC. ROQUE: Iyon iyong hindi rin natin maintindihan talaga ano. Pero ang … you know, the truth of the matter is, the economic team is always worried because the President is always inclined to give – that’s the truth. And that’s why I think he intended to give to as many as 23 million families ‘no, if he could, which is basically to all the Filipinos ‘no.

But the economic team always has to rein him in and tame him, reminding him that we have a budget given by Congress; and that although we could ask for a supplemental budget, you need to have additional source of revenues before you can have a supplemental budget. But I think it’s been made clear to the President that in this instance, we can’t afford because even after DBM has made an assessment of how much funds could be realigned, we only have about a hundred or so billion to spare. And Secretary Dominguez, I know, has said it expressly that what will happen if we have a second wave; it’s all the money we have got left ‘no without additional sources of revenues because of course tax receipts are so much lower compared to pre-COVID ‘no.

And I think that’s why the President has acquiesce and is now not insisting on giving 23 million two tranches of SAP and is now satisfied that of … for the second tranche, the five million additional identified beneficiaries will be included in the additional 12 million that will receive a second tranche of the SAP.

DAVILA: Okay. Last question, in terms of tax collections, the President said it again last night. He said that he considered selling a few government properties, pero sinabi nga daw ‘lugi ang gobyerno if we sell now.’ Just how serious is he when he mentions the selling of government properties, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE: Well—okay, I’ll answer that question: He was very serious. When I talked to him at the time when he said ‘I want to give SAP to all the additional five million families’, he mentioned one property.

DAVILA: What property is this? Can you share?

SEC. ROQUE: I’d rather not mention. I’d rather not mention ‘no but—and that’s why I knew he was dead serious about it. So I called the prospective buyer and I asked ‘how much is the estimated value of the asset?’ The person said about 20 billion ‘no. And I said, “Oh my goodness, that’s not even enough,” because we need 50 billion more pesos if we were to give first and second tranches to the five million additional beneficiaries.” So maybe the President also realized that even if we were to sell that particular asset, it would not be enough to pay for the two tranches of 23 million families.

DAVILA: Another question: Was the President surprised or what was it discussed, I’m curious, regarding the sudden shift or the turnaround in the Lower House regarding the ABS-CBN provisional franchise issue?

SEC. ROQUE:  He has left it completely to Congress. So he had no reaction to it, it’s really up to Congress.

DAVILA:  On that note, Secretary Harry Roque, thank you so much for your time this morning as always. Thank you, sir.

SEC. ROQUE: Thank you very much and good morning.

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SOURCE: PCOO-NIB (News and Information Bureau-Data Processing Center)