Interview

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

 

KAREN: Omidyar came out with a statement that they are donating their PDRs to the foreign managers of Rappler. And the statement said ‘now there is no hindrance for Rappler to operate.’ Is that the case?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I don’t think so. But to begin with, it’s an admission that they violated the Constitution. Why would they donate their PDRs if all along they have been maintaining that they are not in violation of the Constitution?

So this is a declaration against interest, it’s an admission that they breached our Constitution and our existing laws and I don’t think that just because they did this, they are off the hook. Because you can’t violate the Constitution and say I’m sorry, I won’t violate, let’s go back and resume normal activities.

As a personal opinion I don’t know how the Court of Appeals will view this. There’s already a decision of the SEC, declaring their existence as void. Nothing or no supervening event will affect this declaration of voidness and therefore—

KAREN: … with the donation.

SEC. ROQUE: Correct. I think they should do, is they should form a separate corporate entity without the Philippine Depositary Receipts.

KAREN: Okay.But then, you heard Rappler saying that now the SEC has to prove that politics was not behind this; the President did not pressure the SEC to shut down Rappler’s corporation?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I think that’s the extreme arrogance. In the first place, the SEC doesn’t have anything to prove. As far as being politically motivated is concerned, I think everyone knows who the chair of SEC is, everyone knows who the appointing authority of the chairman and the commissioners of the SEC is or are and its just strange that all of a sudden, Rappler wants government to defend its position.

I mean, the SEC is a regulatory body, they ensure that the Constitution is followed; and they shift the onus to the regulatory body to prove that a media company is not in breach of the Constitution. That to me is very strange.

KAREN: Okay. But then why is Malacañang—of course with you mouthing it in press conferences, it seems Malacañang is very aggressive and in fact even satisfied or happy that Rappler in a way was declared… the company declared void and Pia Ranada not allowed to cover. It almost seems like Malacañang has literally taken a side on this issue. You’ve called Rappler fake news?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, what choice do we have? They alleged the Palace was infringing iyong freedom of the press. We’ve had to answer that this is an issue of money, which according to violating the Constitution. So don’t make pecuniary interest, don’t make avarice for money a reason to claim that government in infringing on their rights.

Again, I stress: Press freedom infringement depends on whether or not they have been prevented to publish anything under the sun. And judging from the content of Rappler, that’s farthest from the truth, because they have not written even one favorable article to the administration—

KAREN: My question why did they have to write a favorable article? I mean Secretary really.

SEC. ROQUE: No. I am just saying that you know, if the issue is freedom of expression and freedom of the press, when did we censor them? We never did. And my point being—in fact 100 percent of their articles are against the administration, we accept their role as member of critical journalism.

So where is the infringement issue there? So, we just keep on emphasizing that this is about money, it’s about the fund raising scheme that ran afoul with the Constitution. And it’s not our fault that SEC has to do its job and regulate and ensure that media companies comply with the Constitution.

KAREN: Okay. Malacañang Press Corps came out with a statement at one point when Pia Ranada was banned. How’s your relationship with the Malacañang Press Corps now?

SEC. ROQUE: You know, I’ve always had good relations with Malacañang Press Corps, because I deal with them at least three times a week and in fact every day of my life, because even if we don’t have press briefings I have to respond for their request for statements. I don’t think we have a problem.

If at all—well, it should be a national advocacy of all journalists to promote freedom of expression. But I think it’s very clear to everyone that the SEC is not, you know, under the direct control or does not take order from the President when they issued the decision on Rappler.

And secondly, as fas as the banning of Pia Ranada is concerned, well everyone knows that even—you know, immediately after the SEC decision, there were league lawyers already Malacañang saying we should bar her. And it was the President who said no.

KAREN: Who said that… really? Which lawyer said we should bar—

SEC. ROQUE: You know we have a legal office in Malacañang and the problem is—

KAREN: Was it Secretary Sal Panelo?

SEC. ROQUE: No, no, no. But it was the legal of Malacañang. And the problem is when you have a statement that a—well, a media entity is in violation of the Constitution breaching our laws, what do you do? Do you continue allowing them to violate the Constitution, the laws of the land?

For instance, if you find someone just stole, in plain view, do you just allow them to go away scott-free or do you do something? So that was a dilemma of the President himself. The President has says, ‘fine, let them for the time being.’

But when the fake news came—and is really fake news. Why? Because only two media establishments—

KAREN: Which one, the Bong Go situation?

SEC. ROQUE: Yes. Only two media establishments reported on it. And what was really irritating, as far as Pia Ranada was concerned, was a day after the Senate hearing when… Bong Go was for all intents and purposes cleared, she insisted that her documentary evidence daw would prove the intervention of Bong Go. And of course it was farthest from the truth.

KAREN: Okay, all right. Moving forward from that issue. Is Rappler the only company to experience this kind of situation?

I wanted to ask you if you are familiar with the CBCP station. It seems that they do have a provisional authority to operate. But reports say they have no franchise. I am not familiar, if they are still operating right now.

SEC. ROQUE: I don’t know if they are. But you know, the matter is, no broadcast station can operate without a Congressional franchise although a lot of them do operate on the basis of provisional authorities. I’m sure the CBCP must have a provisional authority. But what can we do, that’s a decision to be made by Congress – whether or not to grant them a franchise.

It’s not something that the President controls. There are two houses of Congress and you need to go through the procedure of getting it, because the airwaves are still owned by the state.

KAREN: Okay, all right. To another topic. President Duterte came out with a statement and in a way he threatened war if any foreign country will conduct fishing or research activities in Philippine Rise without the authority of the Philippine government. Have there been countries that have done it without asking permission?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I am not aware as of now. But the President was underscoring the fact that there is absolutely no controversy as far as the Philippine Rise is concerned. This is something that was awarded to us by the UN Convention on the Commission on the Extended Continental Shelf, all parties of the world, all state parties to the UN had an opportunity to intervene in that submission. No one objected, it is under our sovereign rights—

KAREN: Did we grant permission to China?

SEC. ROQUE: Yes, we did.

KAREN: Okay, can you talk about that.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, we granted two permits to China, but we granted almost 30 permits to other foreigners to conduct research and in fact, the most number—

KAREN: Under Duterte’s term?

SEC. ROQUE: No. This was from the time that we acquired sovereign rights over the Philippine Rise. There were 30 plus.

KAREN: So technically, there have been more than 30 plus permits.

SEC. ROQUE: Yes. And most of it, granted to American companies. So it’s not a big deal that we awarded to China, because we awarded almost 28 other licenses prior to granting China. And China only had two applications and we granted both.

So the point being now, the President is underscoring that—well, because there’s no controversy as far as Philippine Rise is concerned, allow us to have exclusive rights to gather, explore, exploit natural resources, conduct scientific research in the Philippine Rise.

Because by the time he barred foreigners from conducting scientific research, all scientific research had already concluded anyway. So he wants a fresh start, let’s reserve for Filipinos for the time being and deal with the more controversial which is Philippine Sea and the Scarborough in the manner that he has. Let’s try to move forward without really being bogged down by issues of sovereignty.

KAREN: Okay. Secretary, for the record, are you saying that the President only wants Philippine companies for now to research on Philippine Rise?

SEC. ROQUE: For now, yes.

KAREN: Yes. Okay are there already companies that have applied, Filipino companies?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, they don’t really have to apply, because Filipino’s can do it. It’s more of like, licensing, it’s not really—

KAREN: Where would they get the license for that, for example, for exploration?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I would suppose it’s really DENR and because—I think it’s DENR, because it is part of our natural resources.

KAREN: So Malacanang doesn’t need to be informed?

SEC. ROQUE: And also, DA because DA also has… as far as fisheries is concerned, that’s their jurisdiction.

KAREN: Okay. Why hasn’t the President made a stronger comment against China naming the underwater features in Philippine Rise?

SEC. ROQUE: Because we have already said we are not accepting the Chinese names. What more that want to do? We are naming them, we are giving them Filipino names, we have given notice that we are honoring the Chinese names and that’s it.

KAREN: Okay. Are we going to file a formal protest under the agency that actually grants these names?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I understand that it’s been discussed in the bilateral mechanism that we have with China in discussing all matters pertaining to the seas and it will continue to be discussed.

DAVILA: All right. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon told a Senate hearing that China’s survey of the Benham Rise in 2004 – the same study that led to its naming of five underwater features in the area – had no authorization from the Philippine government.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I’m not sure about my dates because …

DAVILA: Okay, but then that was 2004.

SEC. ROQUE: …it was, and you know, I was in charged if this project in the UP Law Center. We started the initiative to claim an extended continental shelf. On my first day in UP, I took over the project from my former dean, Merlin Magallona. And I’m almost sure that by 2004, we have not yet been awarded exclusive rights over the Philippine Rise because we were in the process of making our submission in the UN.

So by the time they conducted the research, it really was part of the open seas because it did not extend, you know, our EEZ and our continental shelf only extended up to 200 nautical miles. It is when you make a submission and if it’s granted that you are able to claim an additional 150.

So I think it’s clear that when they made the research which had no authority from the Philippine authorities, it was still considered part of high seas because it must have been prior to the grant of the extended continental shelf. But I have to check the dates. But I’m almost sure, 2004 there was none yet because we started the project in – if I’m not mistaken – 2001, and it was a very long project. It was… a most expensive single project undertaken by the UP law Center.

DAVILA: All right. In the bilateral meetings, you said we have a bilateral mechanism that discusses issues with China. When it comes to Scarborough okay, the islands are already formed, they are already built. You have studies saying, that in fact China doesn’t have to build anymore, that it’s all enough. Is there anything in the bilateral mechanism wherein China is promising that they will not either put arms on the island, put soldiers on those islands, use them for training grounds?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, let me first clarify: Scarborough is different from where the artificial islands are. The artificial islands are really in what is known as the Spratly’s Group of Islands. And Scarborough is off Zambales, and it’s only claimed by the Philippines and China, whereas the artificial islands are claimed by other nations.

Now, what we have been able t0 obtain from China under—

DAVILA: Nook of priorities… Fiery Cross, Mischief Reef

SEC. ROQUE: Yes, this is Spratly’s Islands. What we have been able to get from China is a commitment that they will not reclaim new islands; they will not make new artificial islands, okay. But those islands—

DAVILA: But really they don’t have to. That’s the thing. Professor Batongbacal said, they don’t have to, Karen. They have enough.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, the point is: They committed, they will not make any further reclamations. That’s not true because they could reclaim in Scarborough Shoal, and that’s the most important to us. We don’t want anyone making an artificial island out of the lagoon in Scarborough Shoal. Obviously, for defense reasons, they are close to Zambales. And number two, for ecological reason. That’s literally an aquarium.

DAVILA: Yeah. So that’s my question: When it comes to Scarborough, in the bilateral mechanism that we have right now, have they promised not to build anything new there?

SEC. ROQUE: Yes is has. That’s the concept of good faith that I have been talking about. The good faith obligation is not to make new reclamations, not to make new artificial islands; and they have not done so.

Batongbacal is wrong. They could reclaim in Scarborough, and they have not done so. Proof that the Duterte policy, new policy on China, is working… Otherwise, it’s very easy for them to reclaim the lagoon within Scarborough.

DAVILA: What’s the end goal? People are asking, what’s the end goal of this administration when it comes to the victory that we’ve achieved in the tribunal? How are we going to use it to our advantage?

SEC. ROQUE: It’s there. You know, that’s the thing. Batongbacal claims we have to do more. What do we do? Under international law, that’s the difference between domestic law and international law. There’s no international police, unless you go to the security council and China has veto votes there.

DAVILA: So are you saying we can’t do anything?

SEC. ROQUE: No, but the decision itself is self-executory. The decision itself is our means of enforcing international law. The Duterte foreign policy on China right now is we have the decision. It’s very clear that China has no… cannot claim territory by virtue of the 9-dash lines. And it’s very clear that the artificial islands are built on EEZ. Nothing that China will do will ever change this. They will never have title pursuant to the 9-dash lines, and we can never be deprived of our rights in our EEZ in the area where the artificial islands are made.

So the Duterte policy now asks, having said that, what do we do? Do we continue antagonizing China and not get anything from China? Or, do we now maintain friendly relations, because we can maintain friendly relations now precisely because we have the decision in our favor? The President opted for friendly relations, and we’re seeing economic benefits from these friendly relations.

DAVILA: But have we not given up, as Professor Batongbacal says, too soon, too early, too much?

SEC. ROQUE: I don’t know what he is talking about. In the first place—

DAVILA: I mean, have we actually seen any of these promises—

SEC. ROQUE: You know I really do not know what he’s talking about because I do not know what we have given up. Because we have gained everything that we have because of that decision. We have not surrendered that decision, so what are we giving up?

We’re not renunciating or we’re not saying, we do not see the decision as binding any longer. So what is there to give up? Nothing… See? The only decision now to be made is – given all these facts that we have a ruling in our favor and that there are things which become immovable there, built during the time of Duterte’s predecessor – what do we do? Do we move forward on a bilateral basis or do we become antagonistic to China?

I’m sorry, if Professor Batongbacal wants to be antagonistic to China, go ahead, arm himself and declare war there. And he can go and fight his war together with Justice Carpio if he wants to. But that’s not the President’s position. He will not lose Filipino lives on an issue that he thinks we cannot win, neither in the near future nor in the medium term.

DAVILA: Okay. Malacañang, I think, correct me if I’m wrong, President Duterte has spoken about a possible joint exploration with China recently?

SEC. ROQUE: Because it was sanctioned by the Supreme Court – La Bugal.

DAVILA: That’s my question. I mean, you have many interpretations on that wherein you have Justice Carpio saying that it is only exclusively. In other words, the Philippines cannot get into an agreement with another country. They can contract… The government can contract a third party to actually explore under contract with the Philippine government. But the Philippine government cannot get into an agreement with China or any other country to explore?

SEC. ROQUE: That’s the problem with Justice Carpio – he thinks he is the Supreme Court. He lost in the voting in La Bugal. He voted in the minority. The majority decided that it is pursuant to Philippine sovereignty to decide – if we want to enter into a joint exploration agreement – and that is constitutional.

DAVILA: With another country ha, you have to stress.

SEC. ROQUE: We have another… with foreign entities. So that’s an actual decision of the Supreme Court. It was penned by former Chief Justice Panganiban. Justice Carpio lost in that decision.

So I don’t understand why he keeps on maintaining the minority view as the prevailing jurisprudence on the matter – it is not… It is the minority opinion, and therefore, the majority view right now – the jurisprudence – the law is we could enter into joint exploration agreement.

We’re not just joint exploration, but joint exploitation of natural resources as well.

DAVILA: But, Secretary, that decision says, it can get into an agreement with foreign entities. It doesn’t say another country.

SEC. ROQUE: No, we’re not entering into another country. We are entering—we might enter…

DAVILA: Into an agreement?

SEC. ROQUE: Into an agreement with the Chinese-owned corporation, not the Chinese state itself.

DAVILA: I see. Okay, now this… now, you are revealing this—

SEC. ROQUE: I’m not. I’m not.

DAVILA: You are.

SEC. ROQUE: We’re not entering into a sovereign agreement for exploration. It will be an agreement if we do between two corporate entities. One, which is a state company—

DAVILA: Then if Justice Carpio says, that’s fine?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, you know, in the first place, he cannot change jurisprudence on his own. This is a decision of the Supreme Court let’s respect that as part of the laws of the land.

DAVILA: But they have to be a third party contractor, that’s what I mean. It’s not—

SEC. ROQUE: You know, there’s no such thing in that decision. The only issue was, can you allow foreigners to engage in exploration and exploitation of natural resources? And the Supreme Court said yes.

DAVILA: All right, okay. So can you name the Chinese company?

SEC. ROQUE: No, I can’t

DAVILA: But there is? There is already?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, there are talks ongoing. But I underscore the fact that in that decision, it can be done but the Constitution requires that Congress be formally informed, so that representatives of the people can be heard.

DAVILA: No… But, Secretary, this is big. I think with what you are saying this whole morning this is the newest thing and then biggest thing. Can you tell us at least, how many Chinese companies are applying for this? Has the government chosen one? How is it done?

SEC. ROQUE: In the first place, it wasn’t me who revealed it. It was the President who revealed it yesterday, the possibility that we will—

DAVILA: All right. But the name, you know?

SEC. ROQUE: No, I can’t.

DAVILA: But you know the name, that’s what I mean.

SEC. ROQUE: I cannot reveal obviously because it’s still under negotiation.

DAVILA: Is it just one company?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I know it’s a state company, yes.

DAVILA: But then who’s negotiating with the government? It must be—if it’s a state company…

SEC. ROQUE: No, it’s the Department of Energy.

DAVILA: But it’s still the Chinese government.

SEC. ROQUE: No, it’s the state company itself.

DAVILA: Okay, all right. So you won’t reveal the company.

SEC. ROQUE: No.

KAREN: Okay. The terms of the contract at the very least, what’s the timetable for this Secretary? You must know.

SEC. ROQUE: No. I don’t really know the timetable. It’s just that I know they are discussing, they are moving forward and it’s likely to happen.

KAREN: Okay. Will it be different from the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, that kind of joint exploration?

SEC. ROQUE: They are different, because what Mrs. Arroyo entered into is a Joint Seismic Maritime Exploration Agreement.

KAREN: And this is?

SEC. ROQUE: This is now a result of that Joint Seismic Maritime Exploration Agreement. This will now actually entail joint exploration and possible exploitation of natural resources. So we’ve gone beyond determining if there are resources, they’re convinced there are resources – the only issue now is, is it commercially viable. That’s good news.

KAREN: Okay. And then—that’s good news. But then, can’t a Philippine company do it? I mean, that’s another thing. If the President is saying when it comes to Philippine Rise, only Filipino companies or only Filipinos can research. Why not exploit? Can’t a Filipino company do it?

SEC. ROQUE: Number one, even Filipino companies rely on China for capital, okay. Number two, when a Filipino company attempted to explore on its own, they were met by Chinese war boats. So that’s the reality. How do you now tap the resource that we need given this conflicting claim to territory? And the President is saying, “Let’s find a way.” If joint exploration is a solution, let’s not wait 100 years. Let’s avail of the benefits of the natural resource and let’s find a way to do it that would be beneficial to all.

KAREN: But then Secretary, it’s almost like saying that we have no choice, only China.

SEC. ROQUE: No, it’s not that we have no choice. We always have a choice. We can go back and say, “Fine, no one benefits from the resource now.” But come on, we’re trying to look for alternative sources of energy –everyone is doing that. So why you will make a decision, let it be.

KAREN: Okay. Does Congress need to vote on this?

SEC. ROQUE: No, but they have to be informed. The President has to enter into this agreement in writing, and it has to be submitted to Congress. Although it is not expressly provided in the Constitution that it should be reviewed by Congress—of course it will be reviewed by Congress, otherwise, why would it be submitted to it.

KAREN: If they don’t have to take a vote, because—

SEC. ROQUE: There’s no vote.

KAREN: That’s my question. If that’s the case, then what role do the opposition lawmakers have?

SEC. ROQUE: Well no, it’s policy. We need to inform the Representatives of the people. They need to be able to scrutinize the provisions of the contract. If they have suggestions, they should be heard. But they no veto power, because ultimately that’s an executive function.

KAREN: Okay. Now Secretary, can’t the President be impeached for this if it’s found out, that he’s violated the Constitution by getting into an agreement that could be questionable?

SEC. ROQUE: Well he could be, but you know the President of course, does not govern on the basis that he does not wish to be impeached. He governs because he does what he thinks is best for the country.

KAREN: Okay. We’re gonna be right back with Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque. Please stay with us after this short break. Hot Copy will be right back.

[COMMERCIAL BREAK]

KAREN: Alright, still with us on Hot Copy this morning, a lot of issues to be discussed with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

Secretary, reacting to that, you once called for the resignation of Chief Justice Sereno. You’re right, she didn’t heed the call for resignation, and you already have the IBP saying it’s troubling when it seems other magistrates are asking or to take an indefinite leave. Where does Malacañang stand right now?

SEC. ROQUE: The formal position of Malacañang is we have left it to Congress. Yes, we have suggested to the Chief Justice once, three/four months ago to resign, to spare the institution of the Supreme Court from being undermined; and also, so as not to waste the time of Congress. It was rejected by her, and we respect that. So our official position is: we now leave it to Congress.

But having said that, you know, I would like to underscore the fact that while she has maintained that the impeachment against her is… because it was the Palace that orchestrated it, I’d like to highlight now that almost all of the crucial witnesses are no other than her own colleagues.

So I think it is now unfair for the Chief Justice to point an accusing finger at the President when in truth and in fact, she should only look at herself at the mirror and ask herself why is it that no less that all her colleagues apparently want her out.

KAREN: Okay. Two questions, I’m gonna ask you about Chief Justice Sereno and I want you to answer me first not as the Palace Spokesperson. I mean, you were once an independent lawyer, okay. Was there anything questionable frankly with the appointment of Sereno? Because you have the Speaker saying that it could be questioned, it’s a whole other issue. And you now have people asking, “Alright, what’s questionable about that?” The President—I mean, former President Aquino could do that.

SEC. ROQUE: Well no, it’s only now that we found out that she did not comply with the documentary requirements of the JBC. So there was really—

KAREN: Be specific, so the SALN?

SEC. ROQUE: Yeah, for example the SALN. It’s required to be submitted. Karen, until now, I don’t have a salary in Malacañang because I have not complied with all the requirements, amongst which are clearances from the House and there’s a library book in the House. So I’m complying with it. Without complying with it—

KAREN: So, you have no salary now?

SEC. ROQUE: No salary, going on my fourth month. And I don’t understand how she got away not only with being recommended, shortlisted by the JBC, and even appointed and assuming as Justice without complying with the documentary requirements. To me, it’s so unfair that I don’t have a salary because I have to comply with all the documentary requirements, and she became appointed without having to comply with established filing requirements of the JBC.

SALN is basic. Why did she not file it? I don’t understand. And how could the JBC have recommended her to be shortlisted without complying? Alam mo in fairness naman kasi, when you want to aspire for a judicial post, napakahabang requirements ‘yan. But you have to, everyone does it. Who are you? What makes you so special that you don’t have to comply? So sa akin, I’m really surprised.

KAREN: But who can remove her based on that? That’s the question now, who can remove her based on that particular complaint that she didn’t comply and the appointment was questionable?

SEC. ROQUE: Well you know, the Palace leaves it to Congress now because there is now an impeachment complaint pending against her. So—

KAREN: But Congress said, that’s not under them.

SEC. ROQUE: That’s not under them, but the decision on whether or not to remove her ultimately is a decision of Congress.

KAREN: Okay, number two. Didn’t Congress… and frankly the doctors who attended the hearing breached, I mean, her basic human rights of revealing results in her psychiatric tests. I mean honestly speaking—don’t answer me as a Secretary. As a lawyer, tell me what the law says. Because the President, when he was running at one point said it wasn’t right that the results, the psychiatric test of his annulment case were revealed – that’s basic doctor-patient confidentiality. And you have doctors in Congress saying this was the test, she… you know, she’s emo—they’re analyzing her in Congress.

SEC. ROQUE: I do not know if this is covered by privilege quite frankly, because this is a requirement of the JBC. It’s not as if the doctors are being required to submit their findings on the basis of an earlier relationship with them – between a patient and the client. If she did not want these records to be scrutinized, she should not have aspired for a public office that required the psychiatric test. But there’s a reason why you require public officers take the psychiatric test. It’s to determine your fitness to occupy a very high and responsible government position.

KAREN: But then Secretary, that doesn’t follow because you have—remember during the presidential campaign, we’ve all demanded that the candidates release their medical examinations. And it’s not required by law. You remember, this was part of the debate.

SEC. ROQUE: But this is a requirement of the JBC.

KAREN: Even Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago—

SEC. ROQUE: That’s correct…

KAREN: It’s not required. I don’t have to—

SEC. ROQUE: It’s not required, but this is an appointive post and you have to go through the JBC – and it is the JBC which is also Constitutional body that required it. So if it—

KAREN: So you feel your psychiatric tests can be released?

SEC. ROQUE: I could release it anytime. I just took it, it’s very high. [laughs]

KAREN: No, I’m trying to say that’s not the point. Because it’s high—

SEC. ROQUE: Two percentile of senior management… [laughs]

KAREN: Seriously, no—that’s my point. Because it’s high, you feel okay… let me release it. But then what does the law say? That’s my question.

SEC. ROQUE: Well it’s really a grey area, because what cannot be compelled—

KAREN: Okay. Why don’t we release all the Justices?

SEC. ROQUE: What is really privileged is a doctor-patient relationship. I do not know if there is a doctor-patient relationship in this instance because that was a requirement of the JBC.

KAREN: Okay. Moving on to another topic, after the statement of Iceland wherein they have said that it’s already time to actually—the statement of the Iceland Ambassador saying that it’s already time to allow a UN Special Rapporteur to investigate the drug killings without preconditions. And you agreed, but with the condition that it’s not Agnes Callamard – so that’s the condition.

SEC. ROQUE: Well you know, under the Special Rapporteur system of the UN Human Rights Council, there is no way you can compel any state to allow an investigation by a Special Rapporteur if it does not want to. The whole system is built around sovereignty and decisions made by sovereign states. So—

KAREN: Okay but if the Philippines has nothing to hide, the government is confident it has nothing to hide. Why don’t you just let them investigate?

SEC. ROQUE: Certainly, you need to allow number one, a Rapporteur that you can trust. How do you trust a Rapporteur: that he is really an authority in the specific area that they will be investigating; that they are persons of integrity; that they will be objective and that they are not partisan.

Now, under these criteria – I mean Agnes Callamard – flunks all of it. She is not really an expert on extra-legal killings; she is a freedom of expression person; she cut the objectives; she has prejudged us; she is not neutral and she’s even glared partisan, because she works closely with the Soro’s Open Society Institute.

KAREN: So what do you plan to do? I mean not you personally, but the government. Will we open the country to a UN investigation but will you request for another member of the UN to come or another..?

SEC. ROQUE: Let’s just way, we are considering other rapporteurs to come. Now, Karen we have allowed a special rapporteur to investigate in the Philippines. Philip Alston, former professor of law at NYU.

KAREN: Is he here?

SEC. ROQUE: No – in the past – World Authority on Human Rights. So there was no problem because Philip Alston, when he investigated he knew he had to be objective, otherwise he loses his credibility. But when you don’t have any credibility to begin with, what do you have to lose… that’s the case of Agnes

KAREN: But then what was Philip’s result? Did you see that?

SEC. ROQUE: Yes it was during the time of GMA. He confirmed that there was extra judicial killings happening, that the numbers are not important: what is happening is that, the state should discharge its obligations to protect and promote the right to life; victims should be accorded domestic remedy.

He even investigated the Davao Death Squad and concluded that Duterte, there’s no evidence that President Duterte is behind the Davao Death Squad and he said that utmost there could be a liability on the basis of negligence, simple negligence.

KAREN: Okay, is the Philippine government going to request for Philip Alston again?

SEC. ROQUE: He is not a rapporteur anymore.

KAREN: I see, so that’s out. So, other than Agnes Callamard, are there any other options?

SEC. ROQUE: She is not the only Special Rapporteur, there are other rapporteurs. So we are exploring other rapporteurs who could be invited to come in, because the war on drugs is really an important health issue. So were exploring, perhaps a health professional to come in, to help us, to guide us even.

KAREN: Would you have names, I’m curious?

SEC. ROQUE: No, I don’t have names. But, it’s important that we get international support for the war on drugs, because as you know, no less than President Trump now appears to be following our footsteps on the war against drugs.

KAREN: I am not sure about that. What makes you say he is following? They do have an Opium crisis but…

SEC. ROQUE: He declared war on…

KAREN: …the approach is different.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I do not know about that. But you know – if he is the only President – well that’s not true. President Bush before him also declared war on drugs because of their proximity to Columbia and the threat from the drug lords of Columbia.

So, it’s really a serious matter for the international community. It’s a concern not just in the Philippines, but because it involves shipping prohibited drugs across national lines, it has become a recognized international issue.

KAREN: My apologies to clarify, it was the Iceland Foreign Minister, all right, I skipped over the line in my research. Just to clarify to our audience.

SEC. ROQUE: Sure.

KAREN: Moving on to another topic. Was it appropriate for you to actually – I mean you closed a press conference, it’s a classic – some reporters told me and you just had to say, that line against Senator Leila De Lima: “Happy anniversary in jail.” Did you say may you spend the rest of your life in jail?

SEC. ROQUE: I did.

KAREN: Yeah, okay, the notes are here right now. So I’m going through it. Why did you have to go that way?

SEC. ROQUE: Because the question was, what do you have to say to Leila De Lima saying, you have sacrificed your integrity and reputation for political gains.

KAREN: But, Secretary you know she is not the only one who says that. I know many people also say, what happened to Harry? You know that… You’re a professor…

SEC. ROQUE: Yes, may feedback is, I will say it again. Leila De Lima, enjoy the rest of your life in jail. Why? Because I have heard a testimony, not just from convicted felons but from no less than your own lover, from your appointee, whom you appointee as head of the Bureau of Correction and from a Deputy Director of NBI that you appointed that you are really engaged in large scale drug trafficking. You deserve to spend the rest of your life in jail.

KAREN: But how can Senator Leila De Lima expect a fair trial when you have no less than the Secretary, I mean the Presidential spokesperson saying something that blatant of “you deserve to spend your life in jail.”

SEC. ROQUE: She’s got lawyers. She’s got Florin Hilbay, she’s got Chel Diokno, the greatest lawyers, former Solicitor General. I am sure she will have no problems proving her innocence, if she is… But as I said, when I was a Congressman, under oath, I heard her own appointees, her own lover, testify that she is really engaged in large-scale drug trafficking.

KAREN: Of course to clarify, this was when you were still on Congress and you did, you were questioning the witnesses during a congressional investigation.

SEC. ROQUE: And my advice to Leila De Lima: if you don’t want to hear anything from me, stop saying things about me. Because remember I am free and can reply, you are in jail.

KAREN: But she can reply.

SEC. ROQUE: I only respond, when she says something about me. She can’t take it away from me, if I respond to anything that she says. I leave her alone, as a matter of policy, because she is in jail. But stop attacking me and you know stop expecting that I will not hit back when you do attack me.

KAREN: Okay, but Secretary Harry. Isn’t this government, I mean I wanted to ask you, giving a perception that it’s frankly acting, way too personal?

SEC. ROQUE: It’s not personal. This is about drugs. Come on. This is about trafficking and drugs.

DAVILA: But your response to Senator De Lima?

SEC. ROQUE: What do you expect? She is being prosecuted by the state. I’m part of the state. She is being prosecuted in the name of the People of the Philippines.

DAVILA: Okay. So her statement that you sacrificed your ideals for political gain; the question now on everyone’s mind: Have you and will you?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I do not know what political gain I’ve gotten because so far I’ve only gotten flak. So where’s the gain please? I want to see the gain. [laughs]

DAVILA: Okay. First, 2019, will you be running for the Senate? I’ve spoken to many sources, and they did tell me that you are part of the senatorial slate under the President’s slate.

SEC. ROQUE: I’ve officially thanked the Speaker. But I have officially also said that right now my concern is to do the best that I could in my current position as spokesperson.

DAVILA: Okay. What will make your run and what won’t make you run? I mean, I’m being honest.

SEC. ROQUE: The truth?

DAVILA: Yeah.

SEC. ROQUE: If I have the money. They say it cost at least 300 million. Naku, I do not know where to source that 300 million even if I wanted to run. So I’m just being very practical.

DAVILA: That’s one.

SEC. ROQUE: The practical part of it is normal people like us, we can only dream really of these things because we can’t afford 300 million.

DAVILA: Okay. Did the President ask you to run? Did he say, ‘Harry, I want you to be on the slate?’ I mean, be honest.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, the President jokes around and he endorses. But I’m not the only person he has endorsed publicly. He has endorsed, you know, Mocha Uson; he has endorsed Secretary Bello; he has endorsed Secretary Vit Aguirre. But you know the President can be very playful in these matters.

At the end of the day, the President, as a seasoned politician, will of course look at numbers, look at winnability and will give his endorsement to those whom he thinks will have a chance of winning and will have a relevant role in that elective position.

DAVILA: Is it an option for you to run for Congress if you don’t choose to run for the Senate 2019, or that’s out?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I could go back to Congress. I mean, I did have a resounding victory as a partylist congressman. So all options are open. But right now, I just want to survive this post as spokesperson, that’s really the truth.

DAVILA: Okay. Speaking about surviving the post, you have had your own experience with the hardcore Duterte supporters in the beginning of, I mean, your stint as Secretary. But recently, quite controversial was Asec. Mocha Uson’s poll on EDSA if it was fake news. And you did come out with a statement. But then people felt it wasn’t that strong a statement given that you had experienced EDSA. You were part of EDSA, Harry. So people were asking: What was that?

SEC. ROQUE: I do not understand what people wanted from me. I already confirmed it’s not fake news. It’s something that we celebrate as a matter of law. It’s something that we appropriate funds in the annual budget. There’s even a government body that supervises the celebration. What more do you want?

It’s not just me. It’s been a long time. And you know, people have observed that this year’s celebration was the least attended. So it’s an important milestone in our history that children have to be taught, but people have also moved on. It will never be any less significant, but people have other matters to attend to. And it’s not just me, that’s why it was the least attended celebration this year.

DAVILA: But then that doesn’t change the fact that it really changed.

SEC. ROQUE: It did. I’m not disputing that. And that’s why I had to officially state that EDSA is not fake news. It was the single most, probably, important historic event that we’ve had in the past 50 years.

DAVILA: EDSA restored our democracy.

SEC. ROQUE: Since the Second World War, I think this was the single most important event in our history.

DAVILA: Okay. Very quickly, Secretary, what is the policy of Malacañang, for example, was Asec. Mocha in anyway, I don’t know, reprimanded or told or disciplined? I mean, it is not a personal question because I am presuming it was posted in her personal Facebook. But it’s always been an issue that the fact she is a government official…

SEC. ROQUE: The thing is, I have no jurisdiction over Asec. Mocha. I head the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson. And she is from a different department, which is the Presidential Communications Office (PCOO) headed by Secretary Martin Andanar.

DAVILA: Yeah. Well, the President did give a statement regarding EDSA. But then, we’re just—

SEC. ROQUE: That’s the statement that we publicized as Office of the Spokesperson, and that’s the official position of Malacañang.

DAVILA: Okay, all right. Last word, Secretary. Anything else, I know—will you be having a presscon today?

SEC. ROQUE: Yes. It’s Thursday. The Malacañang Press Corps will again hate me for appearing on a TV show. They’ve been bargaining, I should not speak before the press briefings. But I did not really say anything new here.

DAVILA: No, you did. Which is the fact that the Chinese—

SEC. ROQUE: The Chinese [laughs]

DAVILA: You did. So you let the Malacañang Press Corps already hunting you for the company itself, when is that going to be finished, when are we expecting the exploration—

SEC. ROQUE: Well, announcement will be made in due course. But negotiations are continuing. You know, it’s not also easy to convince the Chinese to undertake an activity that they don’t control a 100 percent.

DAVILA: Wait, are we going to give them that?

SEC. ROQUE: No, no. That’s the problem nga. They know that they can’t have it 100 percent. And I think if it’s difficult for, you know, some members of our society to accept joint exploration when the Constitution says, and international law, it’s exclusive. It’s also difficult for the Chinese to think of an undertaking, a capital intensive undertaking that will be undertaken on a joint basis. So actually, we have mutual dilemmas here.

DAVILA: Okay. But, Secretary, this is important: Is the government willing to release, if ever this pushes through, the details of the agreement?

SEC. ROQUE: Of course.

DAVILA: Can it be scrutinized?

SEC. ROQUE: Of course. It has to be submitted to Congress. It has to be authorized by the President, submitted to Congress.

DAVILA: In other words, it can be, in details, scrutinized?

SEC. ROQUE: Yes, it will be. Except that during negotiations, we don’t know if it will even push through. The reason why I said earlier that the Chinese are not used to not having a 100 percent control is because that’s how they operate. And that’s why I’m saying, it’s not a sure bet undertaking as well because the Chinese don’t favor activities that they have to join or undertake jointly with other people.

So you know, we have doubts if it will really push through from our end. And the Chinese also have doubts if it will push through from their end.

DAVILA: All right, okay. Well, we don’t have enough time. I’m sure the Malacañang Press Corps will be asking you the company and the details of that deal.

SEC. ROQUE: Thank you.

###

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

Resource