Interview

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

Event Media Interview

WEBB:  Secretary Roque, welcome to The Source and maraming salamat po sa inyong oras.

SEC. ROQUE:  Good morning Pinky and good morning Philippines.

WEBB: So the President of course met with Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and Congressman Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday that was about around 12:30 in the afternoon. Of course, that was after Cayetano tendered his irrevocable resignation verbally and then the ratification of the speakership of Lord Allan Velasco.

Sir what prompted the President first and foremost to call for that meeting?

SEC. ROQUE:  I could only assume that he sought that the—the impasse could not be avoided without his intervention. But fortunately before the meeting to two—well, the two aspirants for Speaker have already come to an agreement that Speaker Cayetano submitted an irrevocable resignation and the House had already ratified the election of Speaker Velasco which was held the day before ‘no.

So by the time they came to the President, the situation has already been fixed, there was already a new Speaker of the House and I guess it was just to reiterate that both parties are still with the majority, both parties are ever supportive of the President and that there is now one simple big majority in the House in favor and supportive of the administration.

WEBB: Yeah. Because quite frankly yesterday, Secretary Roque, when you announced that the President had called both gentleman for a meeting sometime at noon. What happened at the House of the Representatives at the plenary, the ratification of the speakership of Velasco, wala pa po iyon eh, that has actually not happened.

So, I was actually wondering myself, was the President going to intervene prior to the actual ratification of the Speaker; bago po may mahalal na Speaker, iyon po ba iyong talagang plano ni Pangulo sa kanila, ayusin iyon para hindi magkagulo?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, you know as I was actually conducting my press briefing ‘no. I was conducting my press briefing at 12. And it was the Malacañang Press Corps that told me that there already a ratification of Speaker Velasco’s election as Speaker ‘no. So, I had the first—well, I subjected it to three verifications, three separate reporters of course verified that it had already happened and this was before 12:30.

So, I suppose the ratification of the election actually took place before the meeting in Malacañang. So, in Malacañang it was just a matter both Congressman Cayetano and Speaker Velasco reiterating their support to the administration of President Duterte.

WEBB:  So, tell us more about what the President told the two gentlemen?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, again this is a second hand sources, because I was conducting a press briefing as they were holding the meeting. But I understand that according to Senator Bong Go, the President was like a father to both Speaker Velasco and to Congressman Cayetano and the two of them reiterated their support.

Congressman Cayetano apologized to the President. He apparently misunderstood the mandate of the President. He thought that the term sharing agreement will be effective after passage of the budget.

But the President of course was very appreciative of the cooperation of both parties and he appreciated the fact that Congress is now focusing on the budget, because that has been his call from the very beginning – to pass the 2021 budget.

WEBB:  And with Congressman Alan Peter Cayetano apologizing, was that necessary; and number two, tinanggap po kaya ng Pangulo itong apology?

SEC. ROQUE:  According to Senator Bong Go, he was like a father. So of course a father would accept apology from a son ‘no and—all is well that ends well.

WEBB:  And ang usapan naman talaga even with the reports that have come out that they will work together as one majority. Iyon ho ang lumalabas na parang outcome noong meeting na iyon.

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes. There is still one very strong and very big majority party in support of the administration of Presidente Duterte and of course the President is very appreciative of this.

I repeated it over and over again: This is the first ever budget that was prepared in response to the COVID-19. And a reenacted budget would be a disaster of sorts, because there was no COVID when the 2020 budget was actually deliberated upon and passed as law.

So, the responses would not have been funded if the 2021 budget will not be passed on time. We cannot afford even a month of reenacted budget because the reenacted budget would not have any provision for COVID-19.

WEBB:  Absolutely, sir! I wanted to talk about the budget. As a former lawmaker, please help us understand the situation. Because there are actually two options here – to either recall the budget on second on reading or proceed with the third reading.

The decision of course yesterday was to recall the budget on second reading and conduct budget deliberations.

What is the process here and do you think, as a former lawmaker, this could actually delay the passage of the budget?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, reopening the budget would of course result in more discussions ‘no. But for as long as the discussions are concluded within the period called for the President for the holding of special session, this would have no negative effect on the budget itself. So, for as long as they are able to pass the budget, despite having reopened debates on it, then that would be still no problem. All that is needed is for the proposed law to be passed on third and final reading on the 16th, so that the Senate can commence their plenary discussion.

I would like to highlight that pursuant to the case of Guingona, the Senate is already deliberating on the budget, but at the committee level. They cannot proceed to a plenary discussion without receipt of the House budget approved on third and final reading by the House.

WEBB:  Yeah. In fact, the Senate doesn’t really want to go into their final report in the committees really until they get the third and final reading passage of the budget. But what we are looking at Secretary is really what, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, three days. Madali po bang maipasa iyong budget now that it’s been recalled on second reading?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, we have a super majority in the House. So, I don’t see any problems anymore and now that there are no more political maneuverings and bickering, I think the process can proceed.

WEBB:  So, even when we ask some Congressmen—of course, they are still looking at the passage of the budget on Friday. But of course there is certainly, there could be room, Secretary, I’m sure for an extension of the sessions possibly even until next week. That’s possible, right?

SEC. ROQUE:  If the President calls again for a special session of Congress ‘no, so the option is—I’m confident though that Speaker Velasco, as he promised the President, can pass it on the 16th. If he is not able to, then the suggestion made by some senators is to call for special elections in November, because there’s going to be another recess in November and that would be the opportunity for Congress to finish it. But it’s absolutely indispensable of course that it is signed within the month of December and publish in the Official Gazette and in two newspapers of general circulation so that it can be effective the first of January.

WEBB:  The government will roll out new guidelines soon to further reopen the economy amid the pandemic. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque will tell us more after the break. This is The Source on CNN Philippines. Please stay tuned.

[BREAK]

WEBB:  You are watching The Source on CNN Philippines. Our guest today, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. Secretary, let’s talk about that full Cabinet meeting. What was discussed and what was agreed upon? This is the first, I believe, since March that happened last Monday. Maybe it’s good to talk about the agreements made. Let’s first start with the one seat apart recommendation and approved during this Cabinet meeting, sir. Sir, so papayagan na po sa mga public transport na makasakay at hindi na po one meter kung hindi one seat apart na lamang.

SEC. ROQUE:  Opo. That was agreed upon in the Cabinet meeting after presentation made by Acting NEDA Secretary General Karl Chua ‘no. Lumalabas po kasi talaga na bagama’t 50% bukas ang ating ekonomiya under GCQ lalung-lalo na sa Metro Manila where 60% of our GNP comes from, eh kulang po iyong transportasyon – 30% lang po ang nabibigay nating transportation doon sa 50% ng workforce na pumapasok na.

So kinakailangan talagang damihan pa natin iyong transportasyon at mayroon naman pong mga scientific studies na nagpapakita na basta naka-mask, naka-shield, mayroong distancing, may proper ventilation, mayroong frequent disinfection at walang magsasalita, walang kakain ay pupuwede naman pong maiwasan iyong pagkalat ng COVID-19 lalo na sa pampublikong transportation. At marami naman po talaga, sa daigdig ngayon, na umaasa pa rin lalung-lalo na sa mga tren at iyon naman po ang sinusunod ‘no, every other seat.

WEBB:  It’s important though ‘no Secretary to note that hindi pa ito i-implement today. It has to be published on the Official Gazette, tama ho ba?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, it has to be published and there will be guidelines to be issued by the LTFRB ‘no. Pero it’s been approved by the Cabinet so we expect it to be implemented eventually, sooner probably than later. Antayin lang po natin iyong final guidelines ng LTFRB dahil sila naman po ang regulatory body. Kinakailangan kasi, bagama’t every other seat, it will still have to be enforced.

Already we’re getting reports na even with the one-meter rule, marami raw bus na siksikan na, so kinakailangan talaga na ipakita ng LTFRB na bagama’t tinaasan natin ang ating transportation availability eh importante pa ring masunod ang mga health protocols dahil baka naman tayo po ay magkasakit.

Ang ating panawagan po ay kaya naman pong magtrabahong muli, pag-ingatan lang natin ang mga buhay para tayo po ay makapaghanapbuhay.

WEBB:  Napakalaking problema ho talaga ng transportation as you mentioned a while ago because the economy has opened 50% and yet transportation is really only available—napakaliit po noong availability noong transportation, 30% doon sa 50% na pagbukas po ng mga nagtatrabaho. So the LTFRB also opened 44 new jeepney routes, that’s an additional close to 5,000 jeeps allowed to ply the streets again. So malaking tulong sigurado iyan sa mga commuters. What about motorcycle taxis, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, the IATF has done what it could do. It has recommended to Congress that it renew the pilot study being conducted on Angkas and on other similar businesses ‘no. Hindi kasi pupuwede naman na mag-operate nang walang franchise pero kung papayagan naman po ng Kongreso through a resolution iyong continuation ng pilot study prior to the approval of the franchise eh mapapayagan naman po sila. The best solution of course is for Congress to pass the franchise as law already but we leave that to the sound judgment of Congress.

WEBB:  And the age group Secretary, that’s been expanded from 21 to 60, ngayon puwede na ho ang 15 to 65 years of age na makalabas?

SEC. ROQUE:  Oo. Well, as I’ve said in my press briefing ‘no, kasi ang nangyari there was a motion to approve all the recommendations of the economic cluster pursuant to the report made by Secretary Chua. Pagdating dito sa age group, the recommendation really was to expand the age group that could be allowed to leave their homes. Ang nakasulat doon sa recommendation ni Sec. Chua is e.g. 15 to 65 which means ‘for example’ ‘no. So although we approve in toto the recommendations ‘e.g. 15 to 65’ means it’s only for example.

So I took that to mean that IATF will have to meet and agree once and for all kung ano iyong bagong ages ‘no. I’m confident that the age of 65 will remain, I do not know what age will be allowable for the younger population ‘no. Pero iyon po iyong naging problema ‘no, approved in toto ang recommendations pero e.g. pagdating doon sa age ng mga young people and old people will be allowed to leave their homes.

WEBB:  We’re gonna take another short break. The Source will be right back.

[BREAK]

WEBB: Welcome back to The Source. Secretary, you were asking OCTA not to publicize their recommendations and instead send them to the IATF. Why is this; and are you or Malacañang not satisfied with the recommendations of OCTA?

SEC. ROQUE: On the contrary, I explained that I appreciate very much the help being extended by OCTA. They basically verified the figures we already have within the DOH and within the IATF.

However, if you noticed, whenever there is a change in classification, the IATF makes a recommendation to the President. We never publicize what the recommendations are, and we allow the President to make his decision.

Why is it important that these recommendations not be made public? Because it will enable the President to make the correct decision even if it may be an unpopular decision; and that is why we have had this consistent policy of let the President decide. We can only gather the data, present it to him, and privately at that because it’s never publicized, and let him decide pursuant to what is best for the national interest.

Health consideration is very important, but as you know, we’re now at the point where we’re not talking about the economy, we’re talking about people going hungry, people being malnourished because of lack of income. So it is in this context that the President should be allowed leeway in deciding what is best for the country.

And any recommendation publicly made tends to either influence the President because there will be public opinion generated by the recommendation, and we want the President to make the right decision without pressure from public opinion.

WEBB: Has there been recommendations made by OCTA that the President actually approved in contrast or contradicting, possibly an IATF recommendation?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, let’s put it this way ‘no, so far, there has not been a divergence of suggestions. But the point is: it should not be discussed publicly.

The data can be discussed, but in the end, let the political leader decide pursuant to what he thinks is best for the country. I think that is, number one, a good way of deferring to the wishes of the people who elected the President to make these kinds of decisions in the first place.

In other words, classifications, because they will determine whether or not economies will open or close, should be done by the President without pressure from the public or without the hindrance of public opinion.

WEBB: And when we talk about quarantine status, I know you’re saying this will obviously be up to the President, but was this also discussed during the full Cabinet meeting last Monday? Because instead of the two weeks, sir, nandito na tayo sa every month on possible review of the quarantine status.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, it wasn’t discussed this Cabinet meeting. It was discussed in the IATF twice. Before the change of status, there’s a preliminary discussion on the data on attack rate and on critical care capacity. And then, immediately before the recommendation is submitted to the President, the decision is finalized and this is after the LGUs have also been given the opportunity to appeal.

Now, going back to the latest OCTA recommendations ‘no, well, you know we already have a system in the IATF that unless you are highly urbanized city, the classification is decided upon by the provincial governor and the regional IATF. So, it really is incumbent upon OCTA if they want to influence the decision-making process at that level to just submit it to the IATF and it will be forwarded to the regional IATF for the guidance of the governor.

WEBB: But to be clear, hindi naman po talaga mapipigilan ang OCTA, hindi po ba, to release these recommendations because, indeed it’s a private group. And let me just add, Secretary, because CNN was able to speak Mr. David yesterday, and he actually said this, ‘These recommendations, these reports since April pa and we’ve actually been sending our reports directly to Malacañang, and I’m not sure in the past if we’ve been doing this.’ And he adds that, ‘I’m not sure if people are aware, but we are not actually commissioned for this. We are not being paid by government and we are not being paid by anyone. So this is a free public service.’

SEC. ROQUE: It is, but at the same time, it was an appeal to them ‘no that the President should be given the leeway to decide, to make the correct decisions without being influenced by public opinion. And of course, you generate public opinion if you publicly make known your recommendations.

Of course, we cannot stop them but it was an appeal to them after I expressed our appreciation of what they have done.

WEBB: Thank you to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

SEC. ROQUE: Thank you very much and always a pleasure.

 

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