Interview with Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo by Christian Esguerra (Early Edition-ANC)

ESGUERRA:  (recording cut) This would be more about the local politicians and candidates?

SEC. PANELO:  Since it’s a national election, then, it will include those involved.

ESGUERRA:  Now, let’s talk about the legal aspect here, because there are lot of concerns that this might violates the rights of those who might be included on the list, because strictly speaking they are not yet guilty and formal charges have not been filed against them.

SEC. PANELO: You know Christian, under the Constitution, there is the right to information of matters to public concern which affect the lives and the welfare of the people, so necessarily it becomes the duty of the state. The voters and the public have the right to know who are these destroyers of our society. You must remember that the drug menace has reached the level of nation security and it threatens the republic’s safety. And it is the primordial duty of the state to protect and to serve these people.

ESGUERRA:  But the state also has the duty to respect the individual rights of each citizens?

SEC. PANELO:  Yes, but you must remember that in the balancing of interest between the individual right as against the people’s right – the interest of the people – unquestionably the interest of the country prevails. You have to balance the interest.

ESGUERRA:  Now, why not just file cases against these people if you have the goods against them? In that case, you can already publicize their names, because cases at the very least have been filed against them.

SEC. PANELO:  There will be cases filed against them, administrative as well as criminal. I talked with Secretary Año last night and he said he will be doing that.


SEC. PANELO:  As soon as he files it then—

ESGUERRA:  But what’s the wisdom behind releasing the names before actual cases are filed against those on the list?

SEC. PANELO:  You know, there are cases which cannot be filed outright, you need certain documents and—

ESGUERRA: Evidence.

SEC. PANELO:  Yeah, documentary as well as testimonial, if you have not enough, then—while you can file it and the Prosecutor may find probable cause, your problem is – during the trial – it might be dismissed. So, useless lang. So you might as well, paghandaan mo na.

But meanwhile, you cannot let the people wait to be informed kung sino iyong mga involved diyan. As far as we are concerned, we will not allow people involved in drugs to govern their respective municipalities or barangays.

ESGUERRA:  That’s a good intention definitely, no one can argue with that. But of course, you talked about balancing the interest of the state and also the individual rights here. But of course we all know that even the President himself made a mistake before despite assurances that the list had been vetted over and over again; in fact he even have to apologize for including I think at least four names in his own narco-list.

SEC. PANELO:  It’s only one – Governor Aquino.

ESGUERRA:  Espino.

SEC. PANELO:  Oh, Espino.

ESGUERRA:  You have Espino and three other officials from Pangasinan. So the point here is that despite all these assurances you still have a situation where even the President himself,   backed by the intelligence officials of the government, could still make a mistake.

SEC. PANELO:  Now, Christian, you mentioned about the right of an individual – the presumption of innocence. You know, rights under the Constitution can be waived. These candidates who were involved in drugs have, to my mind, waived the right to such right of being given the presumption of innocence. Why? Because they know they are involved there, they run for public office and its fair game –  you open yourself to criticism as well as exposure of your involvement to anything illegal.

ESGUERRA:  Why not also—following that logic, that argument. So that means you can also come up with the list of corrupt officials running in the May elections?

SEC. PANELO:  Oh, you can do so, why not.

ESGUERRA:  So, why won’t you do it also?

SEC. PANELO:   Which one?

ESGUERRA:  A list of corrupt of officials running in the May elections. No charges have been filed, but as far as you are concerned they are corrupt.

SEC. PANELO:  Oh there have been cases filed against—in fact the President has been firing officials including Cabinet officials.

ESGUERRA:  My point is following this logic; that means you can also come up with any other list pertaining to candidates in the May elections.

SEC. PANELO:  Yes, but the particular involvement in drugs by people is very much dangerous, you endanger the entire safety of the state.

ESGUERRA:  As well as corruption.

SEC. PANELO:  Not so much—if you will weigh in the corruption and the drug involvement, mas matindi ang drugs – sisirain mo talaga ang buong Republika ng Pilipinas, because you will be destroying families.

ESGUERRA:  That’s true. Iyon nga, so why not also come up with a corruption list?

SEC.  PANELO:  Well, siguro we will consider that. Galing sa iyo, sige. We will make a list.

ESGUERRA:  I am just trying to show how absurd a lot of people see the argument behind releasing a list of supposedly politicians involved in illegal drugs before at the very least, actual cases  are filed against them.

SEC. PANELO:  We can understand. I know that there are well-meaning people concerned about the individual rights; but again, as I said, as between the people’s interest, people’s safety with that of the individual right – siyempre iyong people’s right, people’s interest, people’s public safety will always prevail.

ESGUERRA:  Okay. Now, let’s talk about what you mean by involvement. When you say a candidate or a politicians or an official – a sitting official – is involved in illegal drugs, what  exactly  does the government mean?

SEC. PANELO:  Oh it means, either you are supporting those in the drug industry – illegal drug industry – you’re pushing it, you’re profiting it, lahat ng klaseng involvement.

ESGUERRA:  How about direct involvement, let’s say trafficking drugs?

SEC. PANELO:  Oh eh di lalo na.

 ESGUERRA:  Kasama iyon. Now, when you say support, because this was I think raised before when the President first came up with this list. What exactly did the President mean by support? For example, there’s an illegal drug trade that is flourishing under the watch of a politicians that might also be interpreted as an active participation in that, active support or incompetence.

SEC. PANELO:  Kasama iyon eh. Basta anything that you will profit from the drug industry, then that is support.

ESGUERRA:  Now, how solid is this list of yours? Meaning, how valid? Let’s talk about the process.

SEC. PANELO:  You must remember that the law enforcement agencies have sources – one, would be intelligence; number two, surveillance – we are using modern technology; number three, you get sources from those members of the syndicates themselves who have been arrested. Those who have surrendered, they point to individuals who are part of the drug industry. So, you have a lot of information that will validate.

ESGUERRA:  But why not just use those information as leads to build cases against these people?

SEC. PANELO:  In fact, they are doing that, they are building cases.

ESGUERRA:  But instead of releasing the list right away.

SEC. PANELO:  What do you mean, releasing?

ESGUERRA:  Hindi, just build cases against them, because you have all these sources of information that you mentioned.

SEC. PANELO:  No, kasi election time na. We cannot allow people who are running the drug industry in this country and those supporting them to run and govern local government units, hindi pupuwede iyon. Otherwise, eh nasa state of nacro-politics nga tayo they will be strengthened pa lalo.

 ESGUERRA:  So, that’s how bad the prognosis is?

SEC. PANELO:  Yes, definitely.

ESGUERRA:  The Philippines has descended into…?

SEC. PANELO:  Di ba sinabi nga ni Presidente iyon, how many thousands of barangays involved – thousands of them. So far, 11,000 pa lang ang nalilinis natin.

ESGUERRA:  Let’s talk about the situation now, because the President said that there are now 7 to 8 million drug users in the Philippines, how come?

SEC. PANELO:  Because, as he explained, the three million was confined only to Metro Manila but if you will add those involved in Visayas and Mindanao that will total into 7 to 8 million.

ESGUERRA:  So, in Metro Manila alone there are three million drug users or addicts.

SEC. PANELO:  And pushers.

ESGUERRA:  What’s the source of the President here?

 SEC. PANELO:  Oh eh di the intelligence—kung saan galing iyong kanyang impormasyon, would be coming from the intelligence – the law enforcement agencies, ang dami-dami niyan, may CIS, may PNP, merong PDEA, may Armed Forces pa nga eh.

ESGUERRA:  But didn’t the President—just to be clear ha, didn’t he make a mistake by saying 7 to 8, perhaps he meant something else?

SEC. PANELO:  No. He explained that eh. Sinabi niya iyong 3 million na sinasabi niya noon at saka nila Bato at saka nila General Santiago, Maynila lang iyon, Metro Manila.

ESGUERRA:  Why they didn’t they say it then or clarified it then?

SEC. PANELO:  Siguro hindi nila napansin iyong—kasi they were concentrating in Metro Manila eh, kasi talaga namang Metro Manila ang bastion ng drug industry.

ESGUERRA:  Because some people have this observation that perhaps the President again made an off the cuff remark perhaps mistakenly pegged the number at between 7 and 8 million drug users and afterward he just had to somehow rationalize it.

SEC. PANELO:  Hindi rin eh. You know, Christian, I read a briefer every day, talagang buong Pilipinas eh. There is drug bust operation every day, nakikita ko iyon, so many arrests, tapos pag nag-resist talaga may mamatay. All over iyan ha.

ESGUERRA: How do you explain this—because I remember the former Chief of the Dangerous Drugs Board was sacked by the President because of the numbers that he gave based on the study of the DDB – 1.8 million. The President didn’t like it. Sabi niya, understated iyong number. He said, in truth, it’s three to four million.

So how do you explain the increase here? It seems that despite this bloody drug war or comprehensive approach now that the government has been doing, it seems it’s only getting worse. How do you explain that?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi naman eh. You must remember the … like, as I said kanina, 11,000 ang nalinis. And then we have dismantled so many factories, drug factories all-over the country. And then, we have rehabilitated thousands also of drug addicts; we have arrested thousands also. And there are thousands who surrendered.

Mayroon tayong tagumpay, pero masyadong malawak iyong drug menace kaya we have to be more relentless in the campaign against it.

ESGUERRA: Yeah, as promised by the President, it will be harsher. But how do you explain that number that—going to the middle of the—half way into the President’s term, you still have seven to eight million drug users. So what’s wrong here?

 SEC. PANELO: Aba, eh di lalo na siguro kung if there’s no war against drugs, eh baka 10 to 12, 15 million tayo.

ESGUERRA: But won’t you also look into how the campaign is being waged or being done? That perhaps you need some refinements; that certain parts of it might not be working.

 SEC. PANELO: Sa tingin ko, successful nga eh. The fact alone na nalinis mo iyong 11,000 barangays—that’s not a laughing matter, when you cleaned 11,000 barangays contaminated with drugs, and then the surrender of thousands of addicts, the arrest of thousands too.

ESGUERRA: And the deaths of thousands as well.

SEC. PANELO: Yes, eh kung nagre-resist eh. Iyong nga ang—ang hindi ko naman kasi maintindihan sa mga kababayan o iyong mga few who are questioning the drug war, there are 165 police officers killed; there are 725 injured police officers. Ano ba naman iyon … eh kung iyong sinasabi nilang extrajudicial killing eh di sana ‘zero’ ang casualty ng police kung binabaril mo na lang iyan.

ESGUERRA: Hindi, of course, the fact that certain police officers are killed, that means there are actual encounters because the policemen, I suppose, wouldn’t shoot fellowmen in uniform.

SEC. PANELO: Of course.

 ESGUERRA: But I think the question is that there have been shortcuts done by certain policemen as shown in the Kian Delos Santos case, certain evidence being planted. And what other people are saying, there has to be more transparency as far as the government is concerned.

SEC. PANELO: But the President will not allow that kind of abuse of authority because as he said, there is hell to pay. In fact, na-prosecute and na-convict, at maraming pending administrative charges against these perceived policemen who have abused.

ESGUERRA: But you have the high number of deaths not just in connection with actual police operations recorded by the PNP but also the other numbers that are floated around, it seems that the number of policemen getting investigated is very few compared to the gravity of the deaths, of the situation?

SEC. PANELO: You must remember na when there is a drug bust operation and somebody gets killed, there is a police report. Tinitingnan iyan and automatically mayroon kaagad imbestigasyon at mayroon kaagad demanda iyan. May demanda kaagad iyan kapag may namatay.

ESGUERRA: But how do you sustain this, this kind of drug war because the impression is that this is driven by in large part by fear, as shown, for example, by the latest SWS survey saying that 78 of the respondents fear that they or someone they know might fall victim to extrajudicial killings? So you could sense that there’s fear and perhaps, as promised by the President. But how do you sustain a project—

SEC. PANELO: Eh mas maganda nga iyong may fear para hindi na mag-i-involve sila sa drugs, dahil kung walang fear, eh di open season na naman iyan.

ESGUERRA: But is that sustainable?

SEC. PANELO:  I think so, yes.


SEC. PANELO: Until the end of the term of the President. Eh i-sustain mo iyong kampaniya laban sa droga di masu-sustain mo iyong tagumpay mo.

ESGUERRA: Now, there’s also this concern that, of course, you addressed this before, but I think this needs also to be addressed more deeply the fact that certain men of the cloth, certain bishops and priests are getting death threats. And the President, of course, denied that he had a direct hand in this. Pero this was in the context of these priests or bishops criticizing not the President personally but the way his drug war is being conducted.

SEC. PANELO: But you know iyong mga death threats na iyon eh it can be real, can be also done by pranksters or by the personal enemies of those receiving those threats. Or iyong mga kalaban ni Presidente, they’re doing that to put him in a bad light para kung may nangyari doon, kung may gusto man silang gawin doon, ibi-blame sa Presidente o sa gobyerno.

ESGUERRA:  Which particular possibility do you think is most plausible here? In the case of, let’s say, Bishop Pablo David?

SEC. PANELO: Ako tingin ko doon baka mga either pranksters iyon or galit sa kaniya or galit kay Presidente; lahat na possibilities, puwede lahat iyon eh. Hindi mo alam kasi nga, eh kung you just received it on the phone, kadami-daming… ang dali-daling magpadala ng threat sa telepono eh.

Alam ninyo, kung talagang papatayin ang isang tao, hindi kailangang magbanta; papatayin ka na lang diyan.

ESGUERRA: But here’s a—you have here an atmosphere that has somehow created by the President’s frequent attacks on members of the church. And somehow, the impression is that, that has emboldened people. Even if, let’s say, you say they’re pranksters, emboldened them to actually issue death threats against people or getting criticized often by the President.

SEC. PANELO: But you must remember the criticism of the President is focused on certain members of the church; hindi naman lahat minumura niya o pinapatamaan.

 ESGUERRA: Hindi ba?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi. Sinasabi niya lang iyong—kasi naging biktima siya ng abuse, ‘di ba?

ESGUERRA: But the way he says it eh, he’s prone to generalize it, “Kayong mga pari, kayong mga Obispo.”

 SEC. PANELO: Yes, but at the same time, kung minsan, kagaya nga ng sinasabi niya, “Naniwala naman kayo, ano ko lang iyon, istorya lang iyon.” Ibig sabihin, nagbibiro lang ako. And you must remember that he made that pronouncement not to touch the priests and the bishops because they are not part of my personal fight against those who are … men in the cloth who have abused their being church officials.

ESGUERRA: But afterward, in another engagement, I think the President began attacking or criticizing priests again?

SEC. PANELO: Eh talagang hindi mawawala kay Presidente iyon kasi naging biktima nga siya. And you must remember that the Pope is even validating all his allegations, with respect to abuses inside the church. Ang Papa na mismo ang nagsasabi na maraming mali dito sa simbahan—

ESGUERRA: Yeah, of course, there’s an acknowledgment. In fact, there’s an investigation at saka may recent conviction sa Australia. But the point here is that, of course, the church is doing something about it, but in the case of the President, the fact that he continues to issue these … what amount to threats against certain bishops simply because they’re criticizing his drug war. This is what is quite alarming.

SEC. PANELO: No. You must remember, in-explain ni Presidente iyon, sabi niya, “Kayo ang nauna eh. Ginamit ninyo iyong pulpit, tapos pinagdarasal ninyo ko na mamatay ako. Kaya bumanat din ako.”

ESGUERRA: I think that’s one priest. But why would he—

SEC. PANELO: Even then.

ESGUERRA: That was one priest.

SEC. PANELO: Even if there’s one—

ESGUERRA: If I’m not mistaken, that was in the Senate, right?

SEC. PANELO: Even if that is one priest, we are a Catholic country and supposed to respect and revere priests. Pagkatapos isang pari sasabihin mo sa simbahan na pinagdarasal mong mamatay ang Presidente, malaking bagay iyon. Kaya nag-react ang Presidente.

ESGUERRA: Just a side issue here, why was the President so sensitive with that when in fact, the way he criticizes his critics is even more crass, more virulent?

SEC. PANELO: Iba kasi iyong galing sa pari, sasabihin mong mamatay na sana itong isang ito – iba ang dating eh.

ESGUERRA: So kapag presidente, okay lang?

SEC. PANELO: Ang Presidente kasi may duty. May duty na sabihin iyong dapat malaman ng mga kababayan natin.

 ESGUERRA: With the way he is doing it? With the way he is saying it?

SEC. PANELO: He’s been doing that in the manner that he is doing it and the people have accepted him as such. In fact, the survey shows na okay iyong kaniyang istilo, otherwise bagsak na sana ang rating niyan. Tatlong taon nang ganiyan iyan eh, eh bakit hindi bumabagsak? You respond to that question. Bakit hindi bumabagsak ang rating niya despite all the garbage thrown to him, despite iyong sinasabi nating crude and curse manner of delivering his utterances, his narratives? Bakit ganoon pa rin?

 ESGUERRA: But I don’t think the survey is actually asked exactly whether you like the way the President is delivering his message, the way he is cursing at his critics. Kasi you’re taking it wholesale, the fact that he was elected by—

 SEC. PANELO: Hindi, kasi ang tanong naman sa ano, “Do you approve of his war against drugs?” “Do you approve of his governance,” oh di kasama lahat iyon. Siyempre kasama na iyon pati iyong style niya.

 ESGUERRA: Okay. Now, before I let you go, let’s talk about this … the announcement last night—


ESGUERRA: That Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno is now the governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. What was the reason here? Isn’t this meant as to give him some sort of a golden parachute the fact that he was being heavily criticized at the House?

 SEC. PANELO: Not really, a much deserved appointment. The man is competent. He is expert in his field so the President—in fact, last night when he announced it, he told the newly appointed Bangko Sentral Governor, “There is only one thing that I will say: serve public interest.” Iyon lang sinabi niya. And he always tells everybody na ina-appoint niya na ganoon; wala siyang marching orders: basta pagsilbihan ninyo ang mga kababayan natin.

 ESGUERRA: When did the President decide to put Diokno at the BSP?

SEC. PANELO: I think, yesterday kasi in-announce niya kaagad pagpasok niya.

 ESGUERRA: Did he also consider the fact that this might be a reward for Secretary Diokno, the fact that he was being heavily criticized by another ally of the President in the House, a lot of controversies were being thrown against him, and that this might be a better fit for him?

 SEC. PANELO: No, I don’t think it’s a reward. The way he told us last night, marami raw names na binigay sa kaniya, inisa-isa niya, si Diokno ang napusuan niya. Kasi nga matino, man of integrity, everybody says that except, of course, iyong isang kaibigan ko diyan sa Kongreso.

ESGUERRA: Now, can this also be seen finally as a rebuke coming from the President on your friend in Congress, Congressman Andaya, the fact that he had been saying all these things but at the end of the day, he in fact put him at the BSP?

SEC. PANELO: Well, you can see it that way. It could be.

ESGUERRA: Okay. Thank you very much, Secretary Panelo for joining us.

SEC. PANELO: Thank you for having me.



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