Interview

Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque by Karen Davila (Headstart-ANC21)

KAREN:  Secretary, thank you for coming to the show.

SEC. ROQUE:  Always a pleasure and it’s my privilege.

KAREN:  Now, Secretary, with the death of this 22 year old boy that they call ‘Tisoy’ ‘no, he was arrested by the police and four days later found dead. Isn’t this enough to first recommend at least the suspension of what they call Oplan Galugad, which is the anti-loitering campaign?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, I can’t answer that, because I don’t know the facts ‘no. I think it’s very dangerous to comment on something that you know nothing about. But what I’m pointing out here now is we’ve all traveled. People have worked abroad, there’s 11 million Filipinos living abroad. Saan bang lugar na merong mga tambay? Parang it’s no unique in the Philippines that people are shirtless, they smoke, they drink and they harass iyong mga naglalakad in their neighborhood.

So ang Presidente naman, all that he wants is to achieve  what  he was able to do in Davao – which is more or less limited ang mga tumatambay – and implement it on a nationwide basis. Now, is there a law against tambay itself? None. But there are ordinances that the police will have to enforce, for instance, iyong mayroong anti-smoking ordinances. Even in public, even in open places, we need to have designated smoking areas.

So iyong mga paupo-upo na nagkukuwentuhan, naninigarilyo, eh talaga namang bawal talagang manigarilyo in public places—

KAREN:  Depending on the city.

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, depending on the city and there are also guidelines issued by the DOH. Iyong mga umiinom sa… in public ‘no. Again, although drinking is not prohibited, may mga specific areas naman na bawal din ang drinking in public ‘no. And of course quite a number of local government units have curfews for minors ‘no, not implemented on a nationwide basis. Some of these local ordinances have been upheld by the Supreme Court, some have been nullified. But these have to be enforced.

Pero sa akin, let’s not panic, because iyon na nga ang reyalidad sa buong mundo naman parang unique itong sa Pilipinas, na ang dami-daming nagkukumpul-kumpulan in public places, hanging around, smoking, drinking, even playing cards or gambling in streets ‘no. So ang gusto lang ng Presidente, number one, increased police visibility.

Alam mo iyang increased police visibility na iyan, it’s really a deterrent to the commission on crimes ‘no. And it is proven to be very effective ‘no, in places like Japan and the United Kingdom. Of course, in Japan and the United Kingdom, hindi na nila i-a-accost ang mga tambays, kasi wala namang tambays.

KAREN:  No. But then siguro given the intent of the President, how do you balance then the fact that—okay, let’s go back RA 10158, which was on vagrancy, six years ago was already decriminalized  for being anti-poor and anti-discriminatory.

So, kunwari mahirap ka, ang tanong ngayon: where does the President expect them for example to hang out? Instead of use the word ‘loiter,’ cause this is where the being anti-poor comes in. If you are let say middle class, you may enter a mall, you’ll eat, you’ll spend; but if you are lower income, Secretary, what do you do?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, ako naman, I was not born rich. So nagha-hangout ‘no, when I used to hangout with my grandfather.

KAREN:  Kasi that it’s the issue of loitering eh.

SEC. ROQUE:  Alam mo diyan sa Parañaque for instance, ‘no saan sila nagha-hangout, sa barbero usually, doon sa mga karinderya. Iyong sa Parañaque, iyong mga nagse-serve ng puto bungbong, diyan talaga nakaupo iyong mga tao diyan, nagtsa-tsaa diyan ‘no, nakaupo. At saka iyong tinatawag nating usaping barbero, doon sa mga barbero ‘no.

Pero bago kasi iyong phenomena na parang doon na lang sila sa kalye, ‘no. At saka ako din, again, noong ako ay grade school, I’ve have to take public jeepneys before ‘no. May mga notorious area sa Pasay where I lived for a long time na ang dami-daming tambay na talagang natatakot kang dumaan doon, kasi mga tattooing mga tao, mga walang shirt, na mga lasing, siyempre nakakatakot naman iyon na dadaan ka, puwede kang maging biktima nung mga iyon. 

KAREN: Secretary, can you clarify ‘no. The intent of the President in terms of anti-loitering, does he literally mean iyong nakatayo sa bangketa?

SEC. ROQUE:  Hindi naman po.

KAREN:  Ano iyon? 

SEC. ROQUE:  Kinakailangan meron ding ginagawa na pupuwedeng i-regulate ng estado.

KAREN:  Because the call centers agents in Makati, they were just standing and they were arrested.

SEC. ROQUE:  Again, we don’t know what the facts. Kasi kapag na-violate naman ang iyong karapatan, there are remedies ‘no. So exercise remedies. And what are the remedies: Number one, the Bill of Rights. So kahit sinong administrasyon iyan, sinasabi na kapag ikaw ay hinuli kinakailangan sapampahan ka ng kaso within hours ‘no; at kapag hindi ka sinampahan, meron namang illegal detention iyong mga pulis ‘no.

And of course, there are remedies – iyong habeas corpus, iyong amparo, napakadaming remedies na. Pero may problema talaga tayo at may kapangyarihan ang Presidente na magbigay ng solusyon. Ang problema natin, ang dami-dami talagang posibleng krimen na mangyari kung hahayaan lang natin iyong mga taong umiinon o naninigarilyo, nagsusugal sa kalye at papayagan ito. I think it’s high time that we clean up our communities. Kung gusto nilang gawin iyan, pumasok sila sa kanilang mga tahanan. Because inside their homes, that’s their castle, they can do whatever inside.

KAREN:  But Secretary, the President intent, puwede ka bang uminom sa harap ng sari-sari store?  Is that loitering?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, kung ang sari-sari store ay merong upuan. 

KAREN:  Puwede.

SEC. ROQUE:  Hindi eh—oo, pero ang nangyari kasi hindi sila sa sari-sari store umiinom mismo, kasi wala namang upuan iyan eh. Bibili sila ng inumin, tapos doon sila sa kalye mag-iinuman, iyon ang ayaw naman ng Presidente.

Kasi alam mo the roads are for the use of everyone, pero ikaw maglalasing diyan, siyempre matatakot naman iyong iba para gamitin iyong kalye ano. Paano ka maglalaro diyan kung ikaw ay bata kung nandoon na, lasing-lasing na iyong mga tao. Iyan lang po iyong intent ng Presidente. Wag na nating i-politicize ‘no. Dahil kung merong kalabisan, if there are excesses, go for the remedies.

KAREN:  Ang tanong ko, Secretary, given that it’s vague—this is the problem that it’s vague, it’s like if you are an arresting authority, you have a window of  of interpretation. So far, 7,000 individuals – after President Duterte ordered it – have already been collared/accosted. 7,000 and yet the rules are not clear.

SEC. ROQUE:   Again, let’s not make generalizations. I don’t think we have space for 7,000 people in our jails. So they were not literally brought to jails, perhaps they were—

KAREN:  No, meaning collared—

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes—they were told, ‘alis kayo diyan, wag na kayo diyan.’ What’s wrong with that?

I don’t think there’s space for 7,000 at one time. There is already overcrowding in all our jail facilities.  Pero iyon nga po eh, iyon ang impression na lumalabas na parang kinulong ang 7,000, come on, that physically impossible. So talagang sinabi, ‘umalis na kayo diyan, otherwise mahuhuli kayo.’ So, kapag nag-iinuman, ‘itigil ninyo iyan.’ O masama ba iyon? All the police force in the world will do that. Because it’s only in the Philippines were people actually go and drink in public ‘no, not in café’s.

KAREN:  But then, what now is the boundary in terms of let’s say here you are, you’re a taxpaying individual, nakatayo ka sa kalye 11 pm, 12 midnight. I could argue that, Secretary, that’s my right, there is no curfew in Manila. I can do what I what, I can stand let’s say… you know what I mean, nasa bangketa ako sa Makati. I can choose to do that. Isn’t that the person’s right?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, that is the person’s right and the boundary is the Bill of Rights. Kung wala ka talagang masamang ginagawa, wala kang dapat ikatakot. Pero kung ikaw ay merong masamang ginagawa, meron kang masamang pinaplano, talagang matatakot ka, kasi nga, this is intended to prevent the commission of crimes.

KAREN:  Okay. But, clearly, it’s not about crimes per se, it’s simply about loitering. Tagalog, ayaw ng gobyerno na pakalat-kalat ka.

SEC. ROQUE:  Kasi nga iyong pakalat-kalat, diyan nagsisimula iyong krimen. So it’s I think a valid form of deterring crimes and as I said ‘no, wala naman pong mga tambay doon sa mga lugar na mabababa ang krimen – Sweden, Finland, Japan. Even in Southeast Asia, you don’t find tambays in Malaysia; iyan sa Hong Kong, halos lahat ng Pilipino ay nakarating na sa Hong Kong. Iyong mga Hong Kong, oo merong mga nagkukumpol-kumpulan, pero usually merong tindahan na kung saan sila nakaupo ‘no. Hindi naman kinakailangang magarbong café iyan, maski pangit na humble looking iyan ay doon sila nagtsa-tsaa, doon sila naglalaro ‘no. Pero dito po sa Pilipinas, sa kalye. Naku, talagang ginawa na nilang café’s iyong mga kalye natin, hindi ko maintindihan.

KAREN:  Okay, but then how do you balance the fact that, number one – I’m sorry to get into this – if you are in the lower income level, you lack parks, wala kang mapuntahan, talagang nasa kalye ka. Iyon yun eh.

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, sa loob na lang ng tahanan.

KAREN:  Ganoon na lang iyon.

SEC. ROQUE:  Kasi mag-iinuman eh, talaga namang dapat nasa loob.

KAREN: So, it’s not anti-poor, you don’t see it as anti-poor?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, I don’t think its anti-poor. It’s just that, number one, it’s a legitimate exercise of the President… of the powers of the President to prevent crimes. At ang ating objective pa rin is to serve the bigger community, because with less crimes, we have safer communities.

KAREN:  Okay. Now when it comes to the violation of human rights, of course you said there are remedies. But can’t—I don’t know if it’s Malacañang or the PNP, can’t they come up with specific guidelines? So as an individual you also are aware, bawal daw ito, bawal ito.

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, General Albayalde and I am big fan of the PNP Chief, has said he will come up with firmer guidelines, so let’s await that.

KAREN:  Okay, because for him to say that nobody has actually complained that their human rights were violated. I mean—

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, isa pa iyan. If there is really a violation—

KAREN:  Sino naman ang maglalakas-loob?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, alam ninyo kung hindi kayo naglakas-loob, eh ‘di siyempre hindi mapapatupad ang batas. Again, that’s the lacuna in our criminal justice system na it starts with a complaint. So, if the police will not file the complaint, then the private citizens have to, at iyan naman nag aking pinapakiusap sa lahat. Lalo na sa aking mga kapatid sa hanap-buhay, kung may alam kayo na krimen, dapat tulungan ang mamamayan na magsimula ng complaint, kasi kung walang complaint, hindi magsisimula iyong proseso.

KAREN:  Oo, but Secretary is it fair to say, can you clarify there is no curfew?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, not a nationwide curfew. But there are local government units with curfews and there are barangays also with curfews. So, case to case basis din po iyan.

KAREN:  Okay, all right, moving on to another topic. Let’s talk about quite interesting is the President accusing Ombudsman Carpio-Morales of being bias and saying that  he has a documents to show at some point showing this. But then recently she did include former President Aquino – she indicted him in the DAP case.

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, of course the Ombudsman would be stepping down in July and perhaps that’s her way of addressing criticism hurled against her that she’s guilty of selective justice. So, of course she can say, before I step down.  I charge the President…former President Aquino who appointed me with the commission, with the probable commission of a crime, never mind if really there’s no imprisonment for that crime, because it’s punishable only by six months. So even if he’s convicted he can served probation and not spend a day in jail.

KAREN:  So what you’re saying is it is for show?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, I don’t know. I’d like always to give people the presumption of good faith. But it could have done earlier if she wanted to because remember I was the one who argued   against the Constitutionality of DAP. I don’t even remember when we won that case. I know it was during the incumbency of President Aquino and President Duterte has now celebrating his second year in office. So, it must have been at least 4 or 5 years since we invalidated DAP.

There’s a decision of the Supreme Court that that the Constitution was violated. I don’t understand why it took all these period of time to charge him finally criminally and literally a month before she retires.

KAREN:  But do you see the case as weak – the indictment as weak?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, I would have filed something more serious, because the court was very clear that there was grave abuse of discretion and that is why it was invalidated, despite the fact that normally courts would assume presumption of regularity of discharge of function.

So, it was a very serious breach of the Constitution and I think, you know, charging him with  something  that would entail  imprisonment of six months which is probationable is not proportionate to  what the court decided – in my very own case.

KAREN:  So how would you describe the charge?

SEC. ROQUE:  I think there should at least been a case for malversation, because funds were improperly used and in my mind, that’s malversation.

KAREN:  Okay, now who are the candidates, of course the President did say that he has a list and he wants it to be men. Isn’t that a bit, I mean misogynistic on his part?

SEC. ROQUE:  I don’t think so. I think the frontrunner is a woman, although, I have not talk to the President about this.

KAREN:  Is it the lawyer?

SEC. ROQUE:  It’s the lawyer, her personal lawyer, Atty. Bataclan. I have not met her, I know the husband, but   based on human experience.

KAREN:  That’s the frontrunner.

SEC. ROQUE:  In my mind. In my mind, she would be the frontrunner. Because who will you trust to implement the laws against public officials. Of course, Atty. Bataclan was his personal lawyer, many times in Davao. So, there’s definitely trust and confidence in Atty. Bataclan and that is why without having talked to the President, I think she is one of the frontrunners. She is definitely in the shortlist. And I’m personally rooting for Atty. Bataclan, even if I had not met her.

KAREN:  But in terms of experience. I mean the Ombudsman is high-profile post. I mean you saw, it’s quite different in the Supreme Court and being Ombudsman. But you saw what can happen if you’re in a way, if you’re a newbie or either coming from the outside. Would she be perfect for that very controversial post?

SEC. ROQUE: I think so, because she is a litigator.  I think first and foremost, you need to be a litigator, because your job as an Ombudsman is only to determine probable cause and to prosecute these cases.

KAREN:  But won’t she be bias when it comes now to members of President Duterte’s cabinet?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, let’s just say that everyone is bias in this world. The only question is will they do their constitutional duty to uphold the law. And I think she will, because amongst lawyer’s it’s really a culture that when you take an oath to implement the Constitution and the laws you do so with the best way that you could. But it’s important that you know how the judicial system works. It’s important for the next Ombudsman to know how a prosecuting arm of government operates, because that’s the core job of an Ombudsman. You don’t really decide as Ombudsman, so you don’t need judicial experience. You need experience in trial courts and in the Prosecutors office.

KAREN:  Okay, what happened to SolGen Calida, it’s quite interesting because for a period of time, he was actually the name that was being that was being talked about to replace the Ombudsman?

SEC. ROQUE:  You know, quite frankly, I thought, he would get it.  So, I was surprise that he did not apply. But I don’t know why he did not apply.

KAREN:  So, it’s not a SALN issue?

SEC. ROQUE:  I do not know really. But quite frankly, had I known that SolGen would not apply. I would have applied for Ombudsman.

KAREN:  Really?

SEC. ROQUE:  But, I thought he was going to be.

KAREN:  Did you want that post?

SEC. ROQUE:  Oh, I would have wanted. I would have loved that post.

KAREN:  Why don’t you apply now?

SEC. ROQUE:  It’s too late.

KAREN:  Is it really?

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah, it’s too late.

KAREN:  Honestly speaking.

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah, there is a deadline. You have to comply with the deadline.

KAREN:  So how many names have applied? I’m sure you know.

SEC. ROQUE:  There are more than 10 eh.

KAREN:  Anyone we know.

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, of course there’s a justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Martirez and I think he is also a frontrunner. Because he was a—right now, he still sitting. I don’t know if he’s retired. But I think he is still sitting.

KAREN:  But for the record. Did the President really offer it to Justice De Castro   or he didn’t offer?

SEC. ROQUE:  No, he was –Justice De Castro was nominated by a fellow member of the court, a retired member of the Court. It was Justice Brion ‘no. and I would have loved to see Justice De Castro also as Ombudsman.

KAREN:  So, she declined the nomination.

SEC. ROQUE:  She declined, she want to rest apparently. So, iyon, there’s about 13 of them.

KAREN: 13 ha, 13 of them.

SEC. ROQUE:   I think so, if I am not mistaken, there’s Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello.

KAREN:  He really applied. He told us in Bandila that he wanted the post.

SEC. ROQUE: He applied, he beat the deadline and he did. I was surprised because we were together in Kuwait and he did not mention anything about Ombudsman and a few days after we returned, ohh wow!  Well you know Karen, you have to understand to – you have to see the requirements of the JBC. There’s one kilometer long of requirements and I think to comply with that requirement it would take you months, literally, because of the very long list of documents that you have to submit. So you really have t0 be determined t0 want it for you to comply even with the documentary requirements.

But I think what is important is, number one: proven integrity as a person, because you are dealing with  the Ombudsman, you are dealing with individuals who have to discharge functions pursuant to a public trust;  and number two, it has to be  proven competence  also in litigation, in criminal law in particular.

KAREN:  Okay, so you think the frontrunner is the President’s personal lawyer and that’s it.

SEC. ROQUE:  I think so, because as a practicing lawyer, a client would trust his lawyer the most. And I think in the post—

KAREN:  But it is not personal law.

SEC. ROQUE:  It’s not, but still you know the President was accused of criminal cases as Mayor. He was not accused of civil cases, and so—

KAREN:  But she was the lawyer then.

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah, I would think that she really is a frontrunner together with Justice Martirez and Silvestre Bello. So, I think the three if you were to come up with the President shortlist. Again, this is without the benefit of consultation with the President, I think the three would qualify in the shortlist.

KAREN:  When it comes now to Chief Justice. Of course, you have Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio says he is going to get the ball rolling with the JBC on Monday. He will turn down nomination for Chief Justice. So of course the President would have to choose from the final list of the JBC.

But do you know of anyone who the President prefers?

SEC. ROQUE:  Again, I have no basis, because I have no consultation with the President on this point yet.  But I would think that being a lawyer, the President would honor seniority. So, I think it’s out of the question for an outsider to be appointed by the President. He would have to choose amongst the 14 sitting justices, lest he repeats the mistake of Maria Lourdes Sereno all over again. I mean she never got the respect of her colleagues because number one, she was not really a career litigator even more so a judge and number two she was very young.

So I think the President—

KAREN:  She was I think in the Supreme Court only two years. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes and you know, she’s really did not have the benefit the litigation. She was always a professor in UP, not that. That’s not a practice of law. But normally, when you talk about the Supreme Court and you have to deal with the functioning of courts, you need experience in how courts function at least to get the trust and respect of your peers. Obviously she did not.

KAREN:  But who would be left. I mean, can you name some names because you do have I think two or three retiring already at this point and some are appointees of former President Aquino. I don’t think—

SEC. ROQUE:  Well,   in fact, majority of them are not appointees of the President. He’s only had 4 appointees so far. And with justice Carpio out of the way, Justice De Castro retiring, Justice Velasco retiring, you are really talking of 14 less 3, so there’s 11 left. Now, I think definitely Justice Leonen is out of the question he is too young and too junior. So, you have would have to look at the senior members of the courts which leaves – let’s not speculate, but the most, he will honor seniority , I think  in the choice who the next Chief Justice will be.

KAREN:  But other than Leonen, let’s see Al Gesmundo. Am I right? 

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, Gesmundo is also very young ‘no…

KAREN:  Yeah. But the talk is, he was actually in the running and he turned it down. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Well alam mo, everyone who is sitting in the court has a chance. But I would give the more senior ones more chance, and I just don’t want to give names because I’m Presidential Spokesperson and I might, you know I may be quoted as saying that this is the presidential choice already. But I’d like to assure you that being a lawyer and being a traditional lawyer at that, he would go with seniority in the choice of the next Chief Justice.

KAREN:  Alright. Don’t you want to be a member of the Supreme Court? 

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, I’m too young for that. I think—

KAREN:  Really?  

SEC. ROQUE:  I’d be absolutely bored. I don’t envy Justice Leonen.

KAREN:  No. But when you said you’re too young for that, I don’t think you mean in terms of the requirement, you’re too young. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah, but—

KAREN:  Yeah, you’re not too young like that… 

SEC. ROQUE:  I’m not ready to withdraw from a social life as of yet – although I don’t really have one because I’m always working. But it’s a lonely life – it’s a very lonely life in the Supreme Court.

KAREN:  It’s a lonely life, okay. Let’s talk about China. Criticisms on the words you used, okay. For example, you were asked I think this was a press conference in Malacañang and on China allowing fishermen to fish in Scarborough Shoal; and Scarborough Shoal has been declared as, I mean, a common fishing ground. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes.

KAREN:  And you would said, it’s goodwill that China allows… 

SEC. ROQUE:  I did not say that. It was the—

KAREN:  Okay, clarify that can you? 

SEC. ROQUE:  It was the Chinese Ambassador who said it was goodwill. And what I said is I don’t really care what they say. The fact is these are my own clients in the past. You know, the three individuals who I brought to Malacañang, I was able to bring them because they were really my clients in the past, and they were not allowed to fish during the administration of President Aquino. Since President Duterte, they have been allowed to fish since 2017. And to me, when we filed suit, it was for the right to life and right to livelihood of the fishermen. In the past – no right to life, no right to livelihood; in the present – there is right to life and livelihood. I certainly prefer the policy of Duterte today.

 

KAREN:  But then, by agreeing that it is goodwill from China, it is like saying that it is not the right of the Filipino fishermen to be there because that’s been declared as a common fishing ground. 

SEC. ROQUE:  I did not agree. I said I don’t care what they call it. Because even if you look at the decision, the court did not say it’s part of our EEZ.

KAREN:  Yeah. But then it is declared… 

SEC. ROQUE:  The court said it’s traditional fishing area – that’s it!

KAREN:  Exactly. 

SEC. ROQUE:  So, everyone can fish.

KAREN:  But ‘goodwill’ would mean that, ‘I’m allowing you.’ 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah, that’s as far as their perception is concerned. And what I said was I don’t care how you call it. What’s important is there’s now the right to livelihood for the fishermen.

My personal position is we have not just sovereign rights, but title to Scarborough because with exercised jurisdiction—judicial jurisdiction involving maritime collision in 1901 pa, as early as that – and China can’t dispute that. But the reality is, as a counsel for the fishermen, what’s important is for them to fish and they’re able to fish now.

KAREN:  I think Secretary, people—well, you have at least observers waiting for Malacañang to take a stand against China to some degree that “You know what, yes we are friends, but that’s wrong.” You get the point? 

SEC. ROQUE:  Because we’ve learned from history. President Aquino took that stand, what happened? The fishermen were driven away. Do not forget that President Aquino was first to militarized Scarborough Shoal. He was the first to send Gregorio Del Pilar, our very first military warship to Scarborough. Feeling siga siya, feeling macho… ano nangyari? Eh ‘di pinuntahan ng apat na barko ng Tsino. And since then effectively, hindi na umalis iyong mga barko ng Tsino sa Scarborough Shoal – that was the policy of Aquino. Do you want to repeat that again? We’re not—we want to learn from history; we’ve learned from history. We’re not surrendering anything, but we’re diffing—we’re trying a different tact now, and it seems to be working in terms of the right to livelihood of the fishermen and in terms of, what we hope would be economic benefits from pursuing our bilateral relations with China.

KAREN:  But do you agree, I mean before we go to a quick break, you brought up the fact that you’re saying that it was the Aquino government who first militarized the West Philippine Sea. 

SEC. ROQUE:  They sent a warship – that’s a no-no. We always send the Coast Guard.

KAREN:  But they believed that they did the right thing by going to the international tribunal. 

SEC. ROQUE:  In fact, I was the one who recommended that.

KAREN:  So you do? 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah. What do you do? You were already thrown out of Scarborough. You were outmaneuvered militarily, so what do you do? You use a legal remedy – and we did.

KAREN:  You’re in this situation where you’re often criticized on social media and even in some items that I read is, you once defended this and yet now, you’re taking a different stand. I’m sure you get that in Malacañang. It’s a… you lawyered for this, right? It’s the Scarborough argument that I read. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes, but there’s no inconsistency. When we were thrown out literally by China, by the warships of China I said, “Let’s go for the rule of law;” Justice Carpio was saying conciliation. I was saying, “No, arbitration” because arbitration under UNCLOS will have jurisdiction, that’s a matter of record, I wrote about it.

Now what has happened since? We’ve won… as far as, number one China’s Nine-Dash Line having absolutely no legal basis; the artificial islands built during the time of Aquino are built in our EEZ, and that Scarborough is a traditional fishing ground. So, that’s the qualitative difference – nothing that China will do will ever erase these three points of decision.

KAREN:  No—and this is still what you stand for? 

SEC. ROQUE:  That’s still what I stand for, kasi you know, arbitration is not only binding on parties; it is also binding on everyone as evidence of customary law on the matter. You need to understand the nature of international law – international law is law, whether or not states agreed that they are law because it serves you know, ang tinatawag nating ‘normative values’. So nothing that they do will erase that under customary law, number one, Nine-Dash Line has no legal basis; waters where the artificial islands are built are ours. So why bicker, when in the first place you know you’re in the right already.

KAREN:  Okay. So you say why bicker now that you know you’re in the right already? 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes…

KAREN:  But then I think—how do you feel with the President using words for example, you saw the videos that were shown of Chinese vessels inspecting Filipino fishermen’s catch. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Not inspecting, they were entering. They entered… oo and then choosing the fish.

KAREN:  And chose. Exactly, and the President comes out and says, “It was barter. 

SEC. ROQUE:  No, but the President also said, without agreement on valuation. So it was an imperfect contract of barter, and that’s why—

KAREN:  Yeah, but it’s not barter… 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah. But Karen, we did not accept it as being legal. We call the attention of China; we protested to China. And what did China do? They said, “We’ll look into it and we will punish if proven.” So even China, knows it’s wrong. No one is saying that the image that we saw is right, because you don’t board foreign vessels in the high seas because it’s not anyone’s EEZ according to the decision – unless you have valid basis. So that’s even illegal under international law.

KAREN:  But, how difficult is it that I think, you have reporters, your observers, your audience who’s followed you for a long time… expecting Harry Roque, the international law expert to be more vocal against China? 

SEC. ROQUE:  I don’t think I’ve changed. What has happened is, events have changed. We’ve been proven right. The law is now on our side. So in other words, we have nothing to prove as far as the lack of legal basis of the Nine-Dash Line is concerned. So, why should we be insecure? There’s no reason for us to be insecure. The only reality we have to reckon with is we don’t stand a chance against China, militarily. But since the rule of law is already behind that, I’m ever confident that nothing that they do will ever defeat our claims.

KAREN:  Okay. Alright, now on another note: Sandy Cay. Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio was here, and you’ve already had a challenge between, I think Congressman Alejano and Secretary Alan Cayetano at one point on the presence of Chinese ships on Sandy Cay. So I’m gonna ask you about that later on.

We’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be right back with Secretary Harry Roque. Stay tuned.

[COMMERCIAL BREAK]

KAREN:  Alright, still with us on Hot Copy… this is the second half; we have Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque.

Secretary when it comes to Sandy Cay, of course you have Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio that’s raising red flag saying that you have China already patrolling the area; and the President at one time saying you know China patrolling, they’re doing that because they are friends. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Well he didn’t say that they are friends; he did say that China is a friend. He’s saying that the increased military tension in the area is because of the geopolitics between the United States and China – and we don’t want to have any part in it, because both countries are our friends. We have opted for an independent foreign policy; we have pivoted to our neighbors in Asia for our economic future which you know there’s a book now, it’s called the ‘Silk Road’ – and it’s now a best seller amongst universities because its world history being rewritten. And what they’re saying is Asia was preeminently the leading force in world history prior to the rise of Europe; it’s headed back to its proper place in world history which is the center of the universe.

KAREN:  So what you’re really saying is, more than anything, it’s a foreign policy pivot? 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes, it’s a pivot to Asia. 

KAREN:  You’re saying that Filipinos have been thought to really be against China so to speak.  

SEC. ROQUE:  Definitely, because we were brought up with colonial mentality. We were conquered by the United States; we were made to think that American interest is the same as Philippine interest. It’s only now that we’re finding out na bakit ganito, kapag magkakaroon ng giyera dahil sa pinag-aagawang teritoryo, ang posisyon ng Amerika, “We don’t take sides in territorial disputes. 

KAREN:  Oo, pero teka lang… okay. Pero, because Justice Carpio said Sandy Cay is now land territory. Dati high tide/low tide issue ito. Ngayon, because of the change in the tides, it’s literally land he said, and if China continues to patrol that, they are reiterating and strengthening that the Nine-Dash Line, until that is theirs. 

SEC. ROQUE:  You know since he’s saying it’s land territory, it continues to be disputed. It’s outside of the decision of the arbitral tribunal. 

KAREN:  No, but it is two nautical miles off Pag-asa. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Correct. But the tribunal never ruled that we have title over Pag-asa. Why? Because it’s the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. It cannot resolve claims – conflicting claims to land territory. So if Sandy Cay is land territory, that’s outside of the jurisdiction of the ITLOS. So, let’s—

KAREN:  But wouldn’t that be West Philippine Sea the other side that’s— 

SEC. ROQUE:  It’s land, not water. Walang jurisdiction ang Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for conflicting— 

KAREN:  Kung naging land territory na siya. It used to be water you said. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Oo, conflicting land territory. Yes, yeah that’s true. Kaya nga po, what we’re emphasizing is we have a favorable decision on the Nine-Dash Line, on water issues. But the court has not resolved the conflicting claims to land territory. And that’s why, it’s better to have friendly ties with your enemies because this will not be resolved by any judicial organ. It’s beyond the compulsory dispute settlement procedure of UNCLOS; you need the consent of China if you were to litigate in the ICJ which China will never give. So it would seem that this will not be resolved during our lifetime, the land territory issues. And that’s why the President has decided while the land territorial issues remain unresolved, let’s push through, let’s move forward on areas that we can agree upon – and that areas are investment, trade and other cooperation. 

KAREN:  Okay. Alright, of course we can talk about China for two hours but we have to move on to another topic. I’m gonna ask you about the peacetalks. Can you confirm if the government has already suspended backchannel talks with the CPP-NPA? Let me just read you a briefer: Secretary Lorenzana earlier recommended a three-month postponement of the peacetalks with the CPP-NDF. Does the President want the postponement? Did he wanted or it was recommended to him?  

SEC. ROQUE:  Well you know Karen, the fact that it’s characterized as ‘backchannel talks’ means I’m not privy to it – kaya nga backchannel talks eh, otherwise hindi na backchannel. 

KAREN:  Oo. Hindi, iyong postponement of the peacetalks.

SEC. ROQUE:  Well as far as I’m concerned…

 KAREN:  Three months… 

SEC. ROQUE:  The President remains committed to the holding of peacetalks. I cannot deviate from what the President said; he says he wants the peacetalks to resume in July in the Philippines – July is not three months from now. 

KAREN:  Yeah, 26 yata… July 26. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah. July is not three months from now, that’s next month. So that’s the latest from the President, and I speak for him so I stand by what he said. 

KAREN:  Okay. Now the President of course has reiterated that there is no third party facilitator that’s needed and it should be in the Philippines – not in Norway. But you have Joma Sison of course saying that Duterte is trying to kill the peacetalks; that they wanted on neutral grounds. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Again, that’s so wrong. I never said that Norway will not be a third party facilitator. I said, third parties who have been helping the past can continue to help if they want. It’s the venue that the President has been insistent that it should be held in the Philippines – we’re Filipinos. He does not understand why we can’t talk here in the Philippines. 

KAREN:  But didn’t the President say that a third party facilitator isn’t needed?  

SEC. ROQUE:  He did not say that. That’s—you know when that was broadcasted on TV Patrol, I was about to call the news director of channel 2. She called me instead and said that “My report was wrong.” I was hoping that she was—she told me, she assured me that there would be corrections and that she’d call the attention of the reporter… 

KAREN:  Yeah, but I didn’t read that from a channel 2 reporters. 

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah, this happened. 

KAREN:  This is already from I think— 

SEC. ROQUE:  As I was about to call the news director— 

KAREN:  From different papers… 

SEC. ROQUE:  The news director called me, and as far as I’m concerned, as of last night there’s not been any correction because your news report was so wrong. And it was the line that prompted Secretary Dureza to condemn irresponsible journalism. Fortunately, all my press briefings are recorded and there are transcripts. So it’s very clear – I said, third parties can continue to help if they want to. But the story that appeared in TV Patrol was really a story for the CPP-NPA. But you know remarkably— 

KAREN:  So, set the record straight. Set the record straight.  

SEC. ROQUE:  Yeah. Remarkably the same report showed what I said, which contradicted the story itself. So I said, I standby what I said that’s why my conscience is clear. People could hurl rocks at me for all I care… but I know what the truth is. It’s recorded on video, it’s recorded on transcript. 

KAREN:  Okay. Secretary, so set the record straight – I did not watch that particular report. You have to forgive me for that, but—so, what is the government stand? Not Norway… 

SEC. ROQUE:  Venue is, should be the Philippines… 

KAREN:  But then? 

SEC. ROQUE:  But Norway, if it wants can continue to help. We’re not saying— 

KAREN:  They can attend?  

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes. We’re not saying they are not welcome to. They’re welcome to if they want to continue, because after all… you know, I took a course actually on Getting to Yes. And Getting to Yes, sometimes a presence of a third party will really help ‘no. But the President is firm – it has to be in the Philippines. He’s given security assurance to Joma Sison; he has said he will pay for all the expenses of the negotiators including all the expenses of the entire CPP-NPA during the duration of talks. 

KAREN:  Okay. I have a question, since we don’t have enough time. If Joma Sison declines hypothetically to come to Manila, what’s the President’s stand? 

SEC. ROQUE:  I do not know. But he has articulated his conditions, and I think he will stick with those decisions – the parameters. 

KAREN:  But clearly the President has gone in/out of peacetalks with the Reds, and now he’s back again… 

SEC. ROQUE:  Well you know, Karen it’s the longest running insurgency according to the Guinness Book of World Record. Give him credit because he’s really trying to put an end to it. But if the other party does not want to, so be it. It continues to be the longest running insurgency… [laughs] 

KAREN:  Now Secretary, last words regarding that… I wanted to ask you, is this a non-negotiable condition – the venue?  

SEC. ROQUE:  Alam mo, nothing is non-negotiable. All I’m asking perhaps ‘no, what the President is asking is, come on, stop speaking as if you’re government already. Do stop making public declarations on so-called agreements which have been agreed upon in backchannel talks. If there’s an entity that should announce, it should be the government ‘no. But stop arrogating… parang the powers and acts normally done by the sovereign states. 

KAREN:  Yeah. Now Secretary, I’m gonna ask your reaction on this: Government negotiator Hernani Braganza as we’re speaking just released a statement this morning. He said the government team conveyed the Philippine government’s decision to suspend all backchannel talks with the NDF pending the three-month review.

So apparently, Secretary Lorenzana’s recommendation for postponement for three months is to review all signed agreements related to the peace negotiations. So how does this affect the July talks that supposed to be set in Manila? Oo, okay… 

SEC. ROQUE:  Again, I have not seen the statement of Braganza, and you know my office, sometimes were criticized for it, but we don’t really say anything on record until we have vetted it, until I’ve actually seen the documents. So I assume that there is really that decision, and I know that what prompted the President to decide in this manner, is because he really wants to review all agreements entered into by the CPP-NPA-NDF with others’ governments ‘no – so I can confirm that much. 

KAREN:  So backchannel talks gone, you can’t confirm yet if talks in Manila— 

SEC. ROQUE:  You know… backchannel talks are backchannel talks. You can say they are on, you can they’re off… they’re backchannel ‘no – that’s the very nature – you don’t know what’s happening there. And sometimes, when you talk about very sensitive negotiations, it’s better to hold it in these terms. 

KAREN:  Alright. Which means, then the Malacañang Press Corps will be asking you for an update with that today [laughs].  

SEC. ROQUE:  Thank you… 

KAREN:  Secretary Harry Roque, thank you so much. Replay of this interview is at 10:30 this morning. It’s also available at iwanttv.com.ph, ANC Facebook page and Twitter page. 

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

 

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