Interview with Presidential Spokesperson and Presidential Legal Counsel Secretary Salvador Panelo by Annalisa Burgos (ANC – Early Edition)

BURGOS:  (coverage cut) …speculation here about the health again. What is the condition of President Duterte? I know, it’s been a grueling schedule for him.

SEC. PANELO:  Well, I think the very punishing work schedule of the President shows he is in top physical shape. His absence in some meetings yesterday was a result of having lack of sleep; he had to make power naps in between. He worked very late the night before. I think he had only less than three hours sleep.

BURGOS:  So, again when you do this type if diplomatic effort with multiple countries, people are watching you very closely so, I guess—did he make a discernment as to which events he really felt he needed to be at?

SEC. PANELO:  Well, maybe in a way, yes. What is—the very important gathering where three top leaders had to address the ASEAN leaders, he was there. The only event that he did not attend was when he was going to read the joint statement, that’s why he tasked the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to do it for him.

BURGOS:  What’s been the main goal of the delegation at the summit? There is a lot of obviously big issues that are on top of mind. But in your prospective, what is the biggest message that you are bringing?

SEC. PANELO:  Well, I think the very important issue in the ASEAN Summit is the gathering of countries, the members of that group, where they can discuss concerns that affected them in the region like security, the trade relations between them, the problems that confront them in the South China Sea and other mutual concerns.

BURGOS:  Well, the South China Sea of course is a big issue that everyone has been following and we heard from President Duterte, his comments, that you know he is willing to work with China considering that they have already occupied a lot of the features in the area. But some were seeing this, as you know, as a kind of deference to China and Beijing. How are you seeing it?

SEC. PANELO:  The President or our country is supposed to be the coordinator of the members of the ASEAN. Now, he is asking China exactly what it has in mind with respect to the Code of Conduct that the ASEAN and China will be drafting. In other words, the President is asking China exactly what do you have in mind with respect to this problem on navigation so that I can relay it with the members.

BURGOS:  You know, I just saw that Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was on BBC and talking about his own confusion about the timing of how long it would take for China to agree to a Code of Conduct and whether it will be legally binding. So, at least from the Defense side, there is at least a little bit confusion or at least misunderstanding about the timing. What can you say about that from the Presidential side to it?

SEC. PANELO:  To my mind, what is important is that China has opened itself to talk about the problems in South China Sea; where before its stand was you can’t come in, this is ours. But this time, it is going to sit down with its neighbors and talk about their concerns; because there are conflicting claims with respect to the South China Sea. So, I think that’s a very welcome development and China is willing to abide by the Code of Conduct that it will be drafted by them.

BURGOS:  Well, for sure, there’s going to be the major meetings today as you mentioned, the US as well as China. So, what are you expecting to come out of those particular summits?

SEC. PANELO:  Well, I think every time that leaders of different countries meet and they talk about mutual concerns, about problems in the region that concerned them. I think there has something to be coming out of them and mostly beneficial to the parties concerned.

BURGOS:  We are following the ceremony over in Wyoming for the return of the Balangiga Bells which is happening today with Secretary Mattis. What can you say about that, about this return of these very important historical mementos of the Philippines?

SEC. PANELO:  Well, we are welcoming any steps towards the return of those bells not only because it’s historic, but because it was taken from us under the cost of bloodshed of thousands of Filipinos. But as the President says on his own words, ‘It ain’t here until it’s here.’ So, we’d rather not comment until those bells are properly returned to us.

BURGOS:  Okay, we are looking ahead. Finally, Secretary, what we expecting from APEC? What are the biggest goals in terms of drawing attention to investment here in the Philippines?

SEC. PANELO:  Well, we hope that trade relations really improve vastly with respect to other countries and specially the security concerns. The problems of this region are, one, terrorism; and then we have the piracy on the seas; and the radicalism that seems to seep in into other countries of this region.

BURGOS:  Sir, you sound like security definitely is still one of the big issues top of mine. Always good to have you on the show Secretary Sal Panelo; joining us from Singapore. Have a good trip and looking forward to hearing what you bring back from the both summits.

SEC. PANELO:  Thank you Annalisa for having me.


SOURCE: PCOO – NIB (News and Information Bureau)