Interview

Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque by Pinky Webb, The Source-CNN Philippines

SEC. ROQUE:  [Recording starts] for the Cebu province itself, is that the numbers seemed to be concentrated in Cebu City and Talisay right now. It has not actually spread throughout the province. Which is why intercity and province borders will have to be secured because we don’t want the cases to spread all over the province right now ‘no.

And of course there is also a pending appeal from the Governor of Cebu that the rest of the province should be declared under MGCQ, but what the IATF considered is that Cebu City is really the gateway to the Cebu province even if the airport is in Lapu-Lapu but you can’t really go south or west without passing through Cebu City ‘no.

And my advice really is for the province to reestablish very stringent border patrols ‘no, to contain the further spread of COVID-19 throughout the province so that in the coming months, perhaps the province can have a better classification. And hopefully, Cebu City will also no longer remain in GCQ.

WEBB:  But Secretary Roque, what happened to Cebu City, bakit ho naging ganoon iyong sitwasyon?

SEC. ROQUE:  We don’t know. I, myself I’m asking. I’m very fond of Cebu City, I consider myself to be a native of Cebu City. I got married there and I’m very alarmed. I think what happened was there were really many cases in the—in particular, barrios and perhaps what they should have done was to declare a complete lockdown for these barangays ‘no. But you know, it did not happen and now it has spread throughout the city. We’re hoping that it is still manageable and that is why we’re hoping that everyone in Cebu will cooperate and that the city government considers further more stringent lockdowns on the affected barangays.

WEBB:  Okay, just one more question about Cebu City sir. Are there enough personnel to man the hospitals there?

SEC. ROQUE:  I think so, but the good news as I said is the rest of the nation had moved down to MGCQ. Some are in fact preparing for the new normal. So if there’s a need for increased medical personnel in Cebu City, we can perhaps borrow the personnel from the surrounding areas of Cebu City. And the good news of course is neighboring provinces like Negros, Iloilo and Bacolod have already been downgraded to MGCQ and that is why these are areas where we could potentially hire temporary health workers – if need be.

WEBB:  All right. I wanna just go to the DOH COVID-19 numbers, Secretary Roque. Let’s look at June 14, we had 539 cases reported, 366 were classified as fresh, a 173 as late – that was June 14. And then June 15 which was yesterday—

SEC. ROQUE:  You’re choppy.

WEBB:  We’re gonna have to possibly, let’s take a break first. Let’s fix our communication with Secretary Harry Roque. We’ll be right back.

You’re watching The Source in CNN Philippines. We’re gonna try this again, our guest today, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. Secretary Roque…

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes, I think it’s better now without my video ‘no – yes, go ahead please.

WEBB:  Okay. Sec., I just wanted to discuss the DOH numbers ‘no. Let’s look at June 14, we had 539 COVID-19 cases, 366 were classified as fresh, a 173 as late. And then we go to yesterday which was June 15 – 490 cases compared to 539 the other day – ang fresh 348, 142 po iyong late. I guess an average between the two days would be 500 new cases and iyong fresh cases would average about 350 cases. So, does this seem positive news for you?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, by and large, if you look at the figures on a national basis, it does look encouraging ‘no. What we need to get from these figures is the case doubling rate and when you plot the case doubling rate, you see that it has really declined. You also need to look at the mortality rates because the mortality rates, we’re now down to about 10 or so cases, even less cases a day. We brought down the number of mortality on a daily basis. And then we also look at the critical care capacity of the entire nation and we are more or less at around 30 to 40 percent utilization rate which means we have capacity for 60 to 70 percent more ‘no. So in that sense, it is encouraging and it does warrant placing majority of the provinces under MGCQ or GCQ.

WEBB:  Just a quick update on the Social Amelioration Program, sir.

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes. Well yesterday, Secretary Año who was my seatmate in the meeting with the President said that the distribution of the second tranche has already started and that bulk of the second tranche will be distributed electronically. The balance if any will be distributed through the assistance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. But I think that’s the good news for this week, that the second tranche is now being distributed.

WEBB:  Is there a target by which government wants to have a deadline in terms of distributing the second tranche, sir?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well there’s no fixed target but according to Secretary Bautista, for the amounts that they will disburse electronically, it will take them only 2 days the most. So we’re hoping that the month of June will not end without 100% of the second tranche being distributed.

WEBB:  All right. Anti-Terror Bill, you were asked yesterday, Secretary Roque, about it. The President has received the enrolled copy and you said to the question of the press yesterday, sabi mo makakausap mo si Pangulo mamayang gabi, which is—which was rather last night. Any update on that, sir?

SEC. ROQUE:  He spoke and rhetorically he said he was waiting for Senator Lacson to finish his commas and his periods. But that was rhetorical because, of course, the enrolled bill is now in his desk. So let’s just say that he’s taking a final look at it but I think he is inclined to sign it.

WEBB:  But did he have any… just any possible inhibition, sir? Did he mention anything to you?

SEC. ROQUE:  There was no mention other than—that was his quote ‘no: “I’m waiting for Senator Lacson to finish with his commas and his periods,” ‘no which seems to indicate that if it’s ready, then he will sign it ‘no. I guess we’re just waiting for final review by the Office of the Executive Secretary and if possible, if the DOJ will also have the inputs because Secretary Panelo has already studied this.

WEBB:  All right. Onto another topic, the conviction of Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos, Jr. – I know that this is a subject, not them in particular sir, but the cybercrime law. Particularly close to you something that you have questioned way back in 2012. In fact you wrote an article in Rappler, it was entitled ‘See You in Court,’ something like that sir.

First of all, I just wanna bring this in, because I wanna understand it better and I hope you can help me. Sabi po ni Dean Mel Sta. Maria, dapat daw wala nang case from the beginning. Why? Because in 2012 which he was a petitioner—

SEC. ROQUE:  Well let’s just say that we have been—

WEBB:  Go ahead, Sec. Roque.

SEC. ROQUE:  Well again, you’re choppy. Unfortunately I didn’t get anything in your question ‘no. Hello… All I can say is that we’ve had a—okay. All I can say there is that number one, the court has spoken. We have a functioning judiciary. The problem in this case is that the complainant is a private individual and under our libel laws where the complainant is a private individual, then there is malice in fact—malice in law, I should say – I stand corrected.

It’s malice in law, which means that the complainant does not have to prove that there was actual malice, the law presumes that there was and it is a burden of the defense to overcome this presumption ‘no. And the court said that the defense did not overcome that presumption and therefore she was found guilty.

I read the decision and I was surprised that there was also no defense evidence offered ‘no, to prove the absence of malice ‘no. They only presented two witnesses and there was really no witness that took the stand to say that they went out of their way to verify their facts ‘no. They accused a private individual of being a criminal and they should have at least gotten public records to indicate that he was in fact a criminal.

So I think on the basis of a merit, then there was, as seasoned libel defense lawyer myself, there should have really been evidence to prove the absence of malice. How? By proving the steps they took to verify their story. In that sense Pinky I guess you’ll never have a libel case, you will never be convicted for libel because I know you really verify all your facts.

But as far as libel advocacy is concerned, people don’t know this but in 2001, it was the President who asked for my assistance to assist journalist Alex Adonis who was jailed for libel on the complaint of then Speaker Prospero Nograles in connection with the so-called ‘Burlesk King’ incident ‘no. We went to the Committee on Human Rights in New York. We got a favorable communication, a view saying that criminal libel in the Philippines is contrary to freedom of expression.

Take note that while the party there was Alex Adonis, it was the President that gave us the support to proceed with that kind of a communication. And Alex Adonis in 2008 attempted to enforce the decision of the Committee on Human Rights in the Supreme Court where we sought to invalidate the cyberlibel case as being unconstitutional. We did not succeed because according to the court, the decision of the Human Rights Committee was only recommendatory to Congress and Congress has to decriminalize libel law. And furthermore the court said that libel is not protected speech and therefore could still be punished.

So now that she has been convicted for libel, unfortunately that’s the state of jurisprudence and law in the Philippines, despite all our efforts ‘no to decriminalize libel.

WEBB:  Okay. Just a quick question Secretary, I hope you can hear me. Do you believe that the prescription period should be 1 year or should the prescription period be 12 years?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well the court in its decision reckoned the prescriptive period from the time the article was apparently updated ‘no. So the reckoning period according to the court was when it was updated and in effect the court said that because it was updated on that day, it continues to be actionable.

WEBB:  Yeah. But it was updated or republished in 2014. The case was filed in 2017, that’s 2 and a half or 3 years later sir, so it doesn’t fall under the 1 year prescriptive period. That’s why I wanted to ask you, do you believe that cybercrime law should have, in your readings, in your studying, a 1 year prescription period or does it fall under the 12-year prescription period?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well in my view ‘no, that’s one interesting issue that appellate court can decide ‘no assuming, of course, that the court will consider it as an area to be reviewed ‘no. But there is the issue of—given the nature of the internet, unless it’s removed, there is a view that it continues to be published and therefore the prescriptive period should be reckoned on the date that it continues to be seen on the internet ‘no. So the 1 year or 12-year period, whatever it may be will be record from the fact—

WEBB:  All right. Presidential Spokesperson—

SEC. ROQUE:  —that it remains on the internet ‘no. So let’s see what the appellate court decide, but I caution of course Maria Ressa and Mr. Santos that their penalty is actually subject to probation, so walang kulong iyan. If they want, they can just apply for probation and they can be scot-free ‘no. But when they appeal and if they lose their appeal, then they have to serve time because that’s what happened to Alex Adonis.

WEBB:  I see. All right, I wish we had more time. Secretary Harry Roque, sir, maraming salamat po sa inyong oras. Take care, sir.

SEC. ROQUE:  And again, Happy Birthday. You’re truly ageless.

WEBB:  Salamat, Secretary Roque.

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