Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque by Pinky Webb (CNN Philippines – The Source)

PINKY: Good to see you again Attorney, Secretary Harry Roque Jr., Attorney/ Secretary / Congressman.

SEC. ROQUE: It’s a pleasure, it’s a good Monday morning.

PINKY: Happy Monday to you.

SEC. ROQUE: Good morning to everyone.

PINKY: I know that you already said the President said no to a possible term extension but I wanna start with this. Does this talks of Charter change and the shift to a federalism form of government – has there been talks between you and the President on any directive towards this, sir?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, he has said it ‘no and my task as a Spokesperson is only to repeat what he has said publicly. He has said that if we are able to amend the Constitution to provide for provisions that would strengthen institution, safeguard against graft and corruption that he would want to cut short his term ‘no. So what he has said is, if the Constitution is amended, you know, so that it would be more responsive to the needs of the people, he is willing to let go ‘no. Because he is not keen really on staying as President, that’s the truth ‘no.

PINKY: In fact during his SONA, sir. I think it was SONA, when he said that you know if there’s a shift to a federal form of government aalis na siya sa posisyon, if there is somebody in place.

SEC. ROQUE: Correct, correct. In other words, he wants to make institutional changes, particularly on the Constitution and that appears to be his short term, medium, long term objective. If that’s met, then there’s no use for him to stay. But, he has never, ever, ever said that he is willing to stay one minute longer beyond his terms in 2022.

PINKY: I heard you say that during the press conference and I have to say that yes, I’ve heard that a number of times that he does not want to stay in power. However, it’s the same president that who also said in the past that he was not going to run for President and he did. What assurance can you give those who are probably doubting that the President wants to stay longer in office that this will not happen, sir?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, let’s just say that he loves Davao very much. He can’t stand Manila and really the moment that he can come, go back home his home by sea, he would take that opportunity, anytime.

PINKY: So, you are a 101% sure he will say no to a term extension, if not even a day longer, sir?

SEC. ROQUE: Not even a day longer. To him that’s the ultimate nightmare. He wants to finish his term. He wants to give it his best shot and that’s it.

PINKY: Okay, but all these talks on no election, is this something the President was aware of that Speaker Alvarez would say something like there’s a possibility that the midterm elections among senators might not happen.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, that’s why we have to say that the President’s position is he is against any term limits, he is against no-el. You know the President after all was Mayor of Davao for almost 30 years. He is used to running in elections and he had not lost an election. But the point is he is not running in another election and that’s why he sees no benefit really in no-el ‘no.

PINKY: So, he is against a no-el scenario in 2019?

SEC. ROQUE: He is the Chief implementor of the Constitution and because of this he will abide by the terms of the Constitution. When the Constitution says that the next election will be in May of 2019, he will implement that. And he promises that the next election in 2019 will be the cleanest that we will ever had.

PINKY: So, that’s where we wanted to go. Because when you answered that—you said that the Constitution provides elections in 2019 ‘unless amended.’

SEC. ROQUE: Unless amended.

PINKY: So, let’s go to that, Secretary Harry Roque. What is ‘unless amended?’ I mean I know what that means but are you saying that the possibility of a no election can happen if the Constitution is amended, sir?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I think the Senate President was rather specific in this regard ‘if the President accepts it.’ Because it depends if the President will say, ‘I’ll just leave you and go.’ There’s no one that can compel him to stay beyond his term of office ‘no. But he has said that he will not ‘no. And that’s why they could amend it, they could provide for transitory provisions that a President will stay; but it does not necessarily mean that President will be President Digong Duterte, it could be Leny Robredo ‘no.

PINKY: Really, but what if the President wants it—I’m sorry, what if the people want him to stay, that call for him to want to stay at least for a couple of – I don’t know – months or a year. Is that not gonna change his mind at all?

SEC. ROQUE: I think the contract with the people is to serve until 2022 and that is why he will honor it because it is his constitutional duty, unless there’s a way out earlier. What he prefers in fact is that constitutional change that would cut short his term.

PINKY: Yah, he said that. Cut is short not extending it.

SEC. ROQUE: Oo, he is a creature of habit eh and he is so at ease in Davao. He ran, he has his reasons for running, but he said it over and over again that he was provoked into running because of a wrong Supreme Court decision and he is implementing his electoral promise which is really is not much, it’s really the fight against drug, it’s really the fight against corruption and the economy and that’s his way. There’s no attraction to perpetrate himself in office. He even accepted his son’s resignation.

PINKY: Yeah, we are gonna go to that. But he have a particular model in mind for a federal form of government, sir. Has he talked to you about that?

SEC. ROQUE: What he has said [is] that he like France, although France is not a federal form of government. France though has a strong president elected by everyone, but it has more or less decentralized powers. But so he goes with a president who is directly elected by the people. He doesn’t want a Prime Ministers elected only by representative. But he does realize that unless you give the resources to local government units, the low LGUs will never get what they need—

PINKY: So what does he want? He wants a President elected?

SEC. ROQUE: He wants the President elected and he wants a decentralized form of government where resources will go automatically to LGUs. Kasi naman, Pinky, isang barangay road that cost 1 million kinakailangan DPWH Manila pa; whereas our Municipals Mayors and Governors have the capacity to do the same road anyway. So, why give it to the national government when you can give it already to local government units.

PINKY: Why do you seem to understand it now, Secretary, because doing my research, you were against charter change, right?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, yes. I was—of course, that was my prior declaration as citizen Harry Roque. But two things – and this is for real. It’s not just because I became a—

PINKY: What made you change your mind?

SEC. ROQUE: The issue of decentralizing resources and power. I’ve been a counsel for the province of Palawan on the Malampaya funds, since 2002 we have sued the national government for the right to share Palawan, which according to the Local Government Code is 40% gross of revenues derived via Malampaya, we’ve never gotten it ‘no. And the reason, I suppose is because there’s a natural resistance on the part of national government to share resources with LGUs ‘no.

Now, so I proposed – instead of waiting for a court decision – a bill in Congress. I call this BREPE – the Budgetary Reform Privilege Empowerment – where we give more resources to LGU. It was opposed by my own colleagues in Congress and the reason was they don’t want to give up the power to identify projects and therefore unless you have charter change it will never happen that LGUs will be given enough funds.

PINKY That made you change your mind?

SEC. ROQUE: That I saw it, I saw how opposed to the idea my colleagues in Congress were. And I said, it’s hopeless, they will never give it up.

PINKY: Okay, so there are two things, you said… There were two things that made you change your mind.

SEC. ROQUE: Another thing is the case of Dr. Mandanas also ‘no, which is to recompute the amount of IRA ’no, because Customs duties and other national taxes are excluded from the computation. So there’s always a resistance to share the resources with LGUs. And the reality is the LGUs know best and they all have the capacity to implement projects faster ‘no. Our problem perennially is under spending, hopefully this will not be a problem under the Duterte administration. But why we will not have the problem of decentralization, when it will be DPWH that all infra works not just for DPWH, but for DepEd, for DSWD—

PINKY: Everyone else.

SEC. ROQUE: DOH, everyone else.

PINKY: So the President wants the President elected, what about the Prime Minister?

SEC. ROQUE: I don’t think he even wants a Prime Minister.

PINKY: He doesn’t wants a Prime Minister?

SEC. ROQUE: He wants a strong President elected by the people.

PINKY: Does he want a bicam or a unicam?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, you know, I have not really heard him comment on this ‘no. What I have heard is the PDP proposal where they will retain the Senate but elected on a regional basis.

PINKY: Yes, that’s Senator Aquilino Pimentel, the father.

SEC. ROQUE: But he is quiet on a unilateral or bicameral ‘no. He just wants a strong President. He wants Federalism because he wants more resources for LGUs. Having been a Mayor, he knows by experience that it’s not enough for LGUs to spend their own funds, that you have to get the national funds and give it to the local governments.

PINKY: So if we were to follow that model, the PNP Laban model that will be about, I don’t know, sir I don’t remember, but something like 15 regions possibly or 16 something like that.

SEC. ROQUE: Yes, 17, I believe.

PINKY: As proposed by the father of the Senate President. But because of talks of no-el or charter change or shift to federal form of government, you have Vice President Leni Robredo saying, you know, she is opposed this saying that the elections is provided for in the Constitution; that the former Senate President Franklin Drilon also saying this is laying the ground work for the Senate’s abolition. Do you think this is true, sir?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, the President can only agree with both of them ‘no. I mean, which proves that really the opposition does not have the monopoly of good policies. The President is against no-el, the President is against term extension. So where is the debate? Well, debate with our people, not the President.

PINKY: But when you have Speaker Alvarez criticizing the work of the Senate and Senator Franklin Drilon saying that this is a prelude to the abolition of the Senate. What do you think of that?

SEC. ROQUE: I don’t think there’s factual basis, because the PDP Laban’s draft retain the Senate and makes it… the elections on a regional basis. I mean, come on. PDP Laban is the official party of the President, if they wanted to abolish the Senate, they would have said so. And of course they have the political will of the President, if we want to push it, but there’s no such proposal.

PINKY: And there’s no talk?

SEC. ROQUE: And there’s no talk.

PINKY: Of the abolition of the Senate?

SEC. ROQUE: So far none of the proposals I’ve seen ‘no. At least coming from PDP Laban suggests that ‘no and the reason of course is practical. How would you convince the senators to agree to charter change if they are going to abolish themselves? Practical consideration—

PINKY: Here’s the question: Are they supposed to vote jointly or vote separately, sir?

SEC. ROQUE: There’s a drafting error that will give rise to a controversy. They thought that they would approve a unicameral body of Congress and unfortunately that was voted down and we retain the bicameral. So in the provision of the Constitutional amendments, they did no amend it ‘no. So now it reads as if we have a unicameral—

PINKY: Both voting jointly?

SEC. ROQUE: Yeah, voting jointly. But of course, clearly that’s a drafting errors, but then again, that would have to resolved—

PINKY: What are your thoughts on that?

SEC. ROQUE: I’m convinced that they should vote separately, because the Constitution – now that we have two Houses of Congress – specifies instances when they vote jointly, when they vote separately and if normal passage of law requires both House voting separately, more so when we talk about amending the Constitution.

(off air on facebook)
PINKY: But that has to re-ano… I think once and for all, it needs to be decided upon… cleared by the Supreme Court.

SEC. ROQUE: Kaya nga nothing will happen, because unless—

PINKY: Sir, we’re live on facebooks ha.

SEC. ROQUE: Yeah. I think you know, these two Congresses, these two Houses of Congress, they have to entice the Senate. The Senate would never agree to it, if it’s voting jointly, because that makes them a rubber stamp, there have no influence whatsoever.

Ang sa akin naman, I’m confident that even the Senate will go with what the President says ‘no because he has still influence din, they passed some laws after initially opposing it.

(back on air)
PINKY: Sir, Senator Leila de Lima had called this no-el scenario, this shift to a federal form of government the Duterte dictatorship is coming. Let’s listen to what the senator said.

(VIDEO CLIP OF SENATOR DE LIMA): “Iyan lumalabas na iyong tunay at maitim nilang balak. Dapat bantayan natin iyan, iyong madilim na balak, iyong maitim na balak nila: no-el, iyong federalism, iyong mga hangarin lang naman nila ay nandiyan sila sa puwesto, kapangyarihan.”

PINKY: Reaction on that, Secretary, please?

SEC. ROQUE: She’s obviously bored while in detention that she has all these delusions already.

PINKY: So hindi totoo iyong—napakalayo nung sinasabi niyang maitim na balak?

SEC. ROQUE: Nakuh, all you have to do is listen to the President. He want out, come on. So, I guess thoughts like that can be articulated by De Lima, because what do you do when you are stacked there in the same place, 24-hours a day with fan.

PINKY: We talked about Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte as well, sir. From my understanding was, when he tendered his resignation, which was December 25 or 26, sir?


PINKY: Malacanang had 15 days to accept it?

SEC. ROQUE: 15 working days to accept it or reject it. But if it is not acted upon, that means it is deemed accepted. But the President opted to accept it so that there’s a clear message that the President respects the decision of the son. He agrees that it is out of delicadeza, since his name was besmirched he should probably clear his name before he continues with government, to me that was the message.

PINKY: Was that what the President told you, did you have a discussion with him?

SEC. ROQUE: No, but I was like you know, really relentless in my effort to find out what he will going to do. But at some point in time, I didn’t get the message that it will be accepted. I just don’t know when. But when it was accepted, I have to admit I was caught off guard, because I just announced already the termination of the MARINA. I thought I’ll have a breathing day, one breathing day before next another controversial decision or announcement. But it came right after the MARINA admin—firing of the MARINA administrator.

PINKY: Right, and then after that would be the—the councilor would taking over as Vice Mayor.

SEC. ROQUE: Yes, the first counselor is now going to be the Vice Mayor. He has to take his oath soon.

PINKY: Councilor Al-ag will be replacing a Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte. Okay.

And then of course Gerry Ortega. Very recently of course the Court of Appeals—si Palawan Governor Joel Reyes had been released. We’d like to get your reaction on that, because you serve as a legal counsel to Ortega family.

SEC. ROQUE: You know this is the first time when I have to get the express consent of the President to speak not just as a Spokesperson, but as a former private prosecutor of the case and the President gave it to me. So let me say first, what I have to say as a Spokesperson: The Chief Executive is still the chief implementor of the law, it was executive branch thru the National Prosecution Service that filed the information and court and that has been prosecuting the case before the RTC of Palawan.

Of course this is a major setback in the drive against criminality, because we are not talking about… you know a petty crime here, we are talking of the crime of murder, murder of a journalist, murder of an environmental activist, which in our book makes it very, very serious, because you have an affront not only on the right to life, but on the right to freedom of the press and on free speech in general, because environmental advocacy… he was known for environmental advocacy ‘no.

And of course, as Spokesperson, I am announcing that the Office of the Solicitor General will take all steps necessary, they are studying legal options now. This is unacceptable by way of an official policy—

PINKY: Did you say ‘unacceptable?’

SEC. ROQUE: Unacceptable. We do not want suspected murderers to walk away scot free, considering that in this case he is also been convicted twice for violating the anti-graft and corrupt practices law. So you are not talking about a person who has got presumption of innocence here. He has been convicted twice of graft, he is a nefarious and bad character. Now, this all I can say as a Spokesperson—

PINKY: Before you go as a legal counsel to Ortega family. So what can the OSG do sir, please educate me, because… can they file a motion? Doesn’t that conflict on the double jeopardy rule?

SEC. ROQUE: No, there’s no double jeopardy here, because they moved to dismiss on the basis of the lack of probable cause. He was not found innocent ‘no after a full blown trial. So there is no double jeopardy.

Now, the interesting thing here is the Supreme Court has spoken on the case, they questioned initially Leila De Lima’s action of creating a special, a second investigating team rather than exercising her powers as a—her appellate jurisdiction as Secretary of Justice and acting on the petition by way of petition for review. That was resolved by the Supreme Court saying, well that maybe right, but that’s moot, because the case is now pending, it’s now—there’s now a full blown trial in the Regional Trial Court of Palawan and pursuant to what is known as a Crespo ruling, which is the…who is Crespo again? Mark Jimenez case ‘no. It is now up to the discretion of the court what it wants to do with the case ‘no.

And I stayed on the case long enough to finish the presentation of evidence by way of opposition to his petition for bail. So we presented our evidence by way of opposing the petition for bail. He finished his evidence in support of his petition and judging on the evidence of the RTC denied the petition for bail. So we were already—well the prosecution was already completing its case; he is completing his defense but all major evidence have been submitted to the court and the court has made a decision.

Now, the Supreme Court has already said it is the RTC that must now determine whether or not it should be dismissed on the basis of probable cause and the RTC has made that decision, the evidence of guilt is strong and that is why petition for bail is cancelled. How can now the Court of Appeals overrule the Supreme Court on this?

PINKY: See that where it gets very tricky, sir.

SEC. ROQUE: I spoke as a former private prosecutor, no longer as a Spokesperson. But really—But I have the permission of the President, only specifying that the details I speak as the former private prosecutor ‘no—

PINKY: So what can the OSG do, can they file a motion?

SEC. ROQUE: Of course they will have to file an MR first, then they will have to go to the Supreme Court invoking the earlier Supreme Court decision in order to annul the Court of Appeals decision. But I leave that to the Solicitor General. That’s only my thoughts as a lawyer myself ‘no. But I’m sure, the government in this instance will not take this sitting down, we will avail of all remedies.

As in fact, we will avail all remedies for all victims of extra legal killings. Now this is a classic case of extra legal killing, because Leila De Lima and Chito Gascon limited the definition of extra legal killings to the killing of journalist and activist and Gerry Ortega was both a journalist and an activist.

(off air)
PINKY: Sir, but what they can do, sir, ano nga, MR muna?

SEC. ROQUE: Madami, madami.

PINKY: Hindi pero sinabi mo, you are not part of it.

SEC. ROQUE: MR muna.

PINKY: Okay. So for sure na iyan, we can put that as MR ha.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I’ll have to invite in fact the SolGen. I want to invite him para si Calida ang magsasabi.

PINKY: So we will not take this sitting done, we will do what it can. That’s funny, because I did read about that. But I was kind of also drawn into that ano eh, nag-ano sila eh special team of five.

SEC. ROQUE: Kasi nga two dissented.

PINKY: 2-1, tapos nagdagdag ng dalawa, naging 3-2.

(on air)
PINKY: Sir, Telco what’s going on, sir? Telco, the China Telecom company.

SEC. ROQUE: There’s a Cabinet meeting this afternoon that is one of the topics, because the President ordered government to make sure that the third telecom’s player is up and about at the end of the first quarter of this year. It’s a tall order, but we will have to see how… what steps the DICT has taken together with the NTC.

PINKY: When you say running, I know the President said that he want it running by the first quarter of 2018. Sir, it’s already about January. Even provide the infrastructure or to partner with someone that might take some time really. Honestly can somebody be—a third telco company be running by the end of first quarter?

SEC. ROQUE: That’s what the President wants and we will find out what Chairman Rio will report this afternoon.

PINKY: But isn’t open to other player, sir. Other possible player or still China muna?

SEC. ROQUE: It’s been offered to China. China has nominated China Telecoms. So from all indications an offer was accepted but we don’t know if it will actually happen. If for any reason China Telecoms says they can’t do it, then we will have to open to another player.

PINKY: Why it taking a while?

SEC. ROQUE: Normally, it should take a long time before a third telecom company can come in. But the President is just exercising his political will to break the duopoly and I take it that there’s sufficient frequencies left for a third telecom company to be up and about. The only issue is will they have sufficient frequency for mobile phones to be a viable third alternative. But as you we have a separate deal with facebook on laying down of a new internet wires and because of this, we could actually—

PINKY: When is that?

SEC. ROQUE: It’s going to happen now. It’s been delayed by a year, but I think the target date is by next year, it should be up and about as well. You are talking of installing a capacity that equivalent to the joint capacity of both telecoms provider. So if we have a backbone, an internet backbone, then it can be done, even if there’s no more frequency available.

PINKY: Okay, Marcos deal, sir, anything new, since that letter of Atty. Lozano?

SEC. ROQUE: Let me correct you, because he was not authorized by the Marcos heirs. There’s no proposal even ‘no. You can’t have a proposal with the legal heirs not consenting. So it is a piece of paper. It’s a communication which was duly received by Presidential Legal Counsel Sal Panelo; but because there was no (signal cut). It’s just a piece of paper.

PINKY: Because the Marcoses has said, we didn’t. Okay.

Calammard, Agnes Callmard, sir. Is this gonna continue this tirade against UN Special Rapporteur?

SEC. ROQUE: That really depends on her, because I was speaking about the two Filipina Special Rapportuers who did not even disclosed that they are from the Philippines. Reading their names – they are both married to foreigner – you would think that they are foreign ‘no, commenting on affairs about the Philippines. So, I have to expose, number one, both of them are Filipinos.

Now, Callamard had to come in, of course, she just had to join the conversation, but she just had to join the conversation. Nagpapansin, as we know. But anyway, so I had to tell her the truth. She said they are not elected, well but they are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. Human Rights Council compose of 38 countries, of course, there is horse trading and equivalent of an election before you are appointed. It’s one of the most political posts that you can ever aspire for the UN, the post of a Special Rapportuer.

So to me, the ball is up to her. I am not going to take criticisms against the Philippine government sitting down.

PINKY: Yeah, but you were questioning her credentials as well.

SEC. ROQUE: As Special Rapporteur on extra legal killing. Because I know her personally as an exponent of freedom of expression in the academic and freedom of expression, we were in the same field because I always been active in freedom of expression.

So had she spoken and so—has she been appointed as Special Rapporteur of freedom of expression, I would probably respect her views more. But since she’s talking a field that she is no particular expertise on, come on I dispute her conclusion; especially since she has made it possible for her to conduct official investigation since she had absolutely alienated this government.

PINKY: What about anymore government post or people in government that will be axed soon?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I have already said that there is quite a number of members of the PNP who will be axed including some superintendents with the rank of colonels. It’s a matter of time before I make the announcement.

PINKY: How many, sir?

SEC. ROQUE: I think it’s a minimum 30, that how much.

PINKY: 30 what?

SEC. ROQUE: 30 policemen/personnel. If I am not mistaken there would be at least 4 colonels.

PINKY: Apart from that, sir, anybody else?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, let’s just say that the President always acts on complaints and I know of at least 3 complaints that have been received by the Office of the President.

PINKY: Over and above and the last one in the MARINA, sir.

SEC. ROQUE: Yes, over and above.

PINKY: So, you are studying that?

SEC. ROQUE: He never ignores these complaints. Now, but in fairness, he does his research and he always appoints an entity to investigate and when I make an announcement he always give me a copy of the report submitted to him after investigation has been conducted.

PINKY: Sir, these three are they top government post?

SEC. ROQUE: Of course they are.

PINKY: How high up?

SEC. ROQUE: All presidential appointees I guess. Why would he fire someone he did not appoint? [laughs]

PINKY: Of course, but you know meron naman pong ranking iyan, merong mas mataas, ano ho ba. Very high?

SEC. ROQUE: Let’s just say that he has given the message to everyone, that if you want to travel, if you want to make money join the private sector, you have no place in government.

PINKY: Okay. Last, isa na lang po. 2019 tatakbo ka ba?

SEC. ROQUE: You know, as I said. I’m happy to survive on this job on a daily basis. I can’t see beyond today, tomorrow is another day. I can’t even see what will happen to the next week. So, I live literally on a daily basis.

PINKY: Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, sir always a pleasure, maraming salamat po sa inyo. Good to see you, sir.

SEC. ROQUE: Of course, I’m thrilled to see you. I wish you could join the Palace press corp.