Interview

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

WEBB:  Secretary Roque, welcome back to The Source and, of course, thank you for your time, sir.

SEC. ROQUE:  Pleasured to be here and good morning, Pinky.

WEBB:  Secretary, a lot to talk about. Let’s start with this.  Of course, the President, obviously, very dismayed at Vice President Leni Robredo. Ang dami po niyang sinabi na do not compete with me, do not quarrel with me, mahina ka, you did not know, so you lied, dahil nandoon nga daw po siya during the ASEAN Summit virtual meeting. Papaano po ba nag-umpisa ito, Secretary Roque?

SEC. ROQUE:   Well, I wouldn’t know personally. All I know is that he said those words and he must have heard for himself a remark made by VP Leni ‘no, asking where he is. I am not sure if the Vice President actually said it, but the President must have had a reason because if you’ve noticed, the President does not really want to quarrel with VP Robredo and that is why I take my cue from him. He has always been preferential to VP Leni and this is unusual, that kumbaga napuno na si Presidente and spoke out against her.

So he must have his reasons, but I myself, well, I do know that the President also know to the fact that in many of her postings, the Vice President made it appear that she was the one who called out the Marines to give necessary aid to the victims of the Cagayan flooding. And of course, that was covered in the President’s speech ‘no, na if at all the armed forces, whenever she calls, would be preferential to her and respectful, but actually the chain of command is the President is on top of the Armed Forces and taking orders from him and from no one else. So, that’s the context of what the President must have said ‘no.  And it was not just one post that the Vice President was making it appear that she was in charge, the truth of the matter, as the President said, is even before the typhoon, directions and orders have already been given. So by the time that typhoon arrived it was just a matter of implementing what was already ordered by the President.

WEBB:  Sabi nga ni Pangulo, two days before. But I guess the point here, Secretary Roque, is you have a President helping and you have a Vice President helping, and now you have a President obviously peeved at the Vice President, wherein you have a Vice President saying that she got so many calls for help, so many calls for rescue. And what she did, because of the limited resources, she has, was try to communicate with the various agencies. But, Secretary, do you even know who may have, I mean, could the President have been completely misinformed?

SEC. ROQUE:  I am not sure and I do not know, and my role as a Spokesman basically is to clarify matters if what the President said is not clear. But I think what he said last night  was already very clear, it was not right for the Vice President or for anyone else to ask  “Nasaan ang Pangulo?” particularly when Ulysses was wreaking havoc on the country because I myself had a very difficult time monitoring both the ASEAN and the typhoon ‘no. So, it was one of the most difficult periods of my career as a Spokesperson because you have to give importance to the ASEAN Summit where the President was the coordinator for China and made two very major interventions in the ASEAN Summit and at the same time having to deal with the typhoon as well.

So, siguro ganoon iyong konteksto rin ng exasperation ng Presidente ‘no. You could not leave the ASEAN Summit because you had a very important role as in charge of country, of China, as a country coordinator and you know a record typhoon hitting the country just when he was making interventions. So I feel for the President as far as that is concerned.

WEBB:  But let’s go to this, Secretary Roque: The Vice President was saying, she never questioned where the President was. She went as far as saying, I did never say where is the President, you can even review my tweets. So, again, that goes back to my previous question: Possible po kaya talagang na misinformed si Pangulo? And let me add now, Secretary Roque: Was there anyone there that could have said na or does anyone want to clarify this? Would you want to clarify this to the President? Kasi sinasabi ni Vice President, fake news itong nakarating kay Pangulo na hinahanap niya ang Pangulo during the typhoon.

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, I do not know about what the President said, it’s expected that she will deny of course given the very strong words of the President against her. But we all know that the #nasaanangpangulo was trending and it could not be the President supporters behind it. But as far as the denial of the Vice President is concerned, I leave it at that ‘no. And as far as the President statements are concerned, I think the President would not have been as irritated as he was if he did not have personal knowledge that the Vice President was asking for his whereabouts either publicly or privately.

WEBB:  So do you think, Secretary Roque, you do not believe the Vice President when she said I never asked where the President was?

SEC. ROQUE:  I do not know what to believe ‘no. I will only have to standby what the President said because that is my role as a spokesperson.

WEBB:  But is there a need to clarify this with the President being the spokesperson of the President?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, I do not know, maybe the President will read about the denial of the Vice President. And I think that will achieve a purpose that you want to achieve ‘no by asking me to clarify it for the President ‘no. But I cannot clarify it because I have no personal knowledge whether or not the Vice President in fact asked for the whereabouts of the President.

WEBB:  But when you talked about the #nasaanangpangulo that trended twice, are you laying the blame or are you saying that this could have been caused by the Office of the Vice President. I just wanna make that clear, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE:  I am not saying that, but it was a very loud hashtag and I will repeat that the President must have his basis for alleging that the Vice President was amongst those asking where the President was at the crucial time when he was making very important interventions at the ASEAN and when we are being ravaged by Ulysses.

WEBB:  Sayang lang ho, Secretary, because you have the President and you have the Vice President helping the Filipino people and there seems, there could be ha, Secretary Roque, obviously, this misinformation that is getting to the President when in fact, everyone is doing their best to help our kababayans. It becomes very—it’s sad and it’s disappointing!

SEC. ROQUE:  I do not know, if there was misinformation. But what I am clear and what I have been saying all along to the Vice President is, now is not the time for politics. And I think the records will bear me out that every opportunity that the Vice President welcomes opportunity to take a snipe at the President, at the time of a pandemic and even at the time of a typhoon. And of course, her twitter posters making it appear that she was the one calling the shots at the time of typhoon was completely out of order. And I thought, it was out of order. But I kept quiet because it was not my business to tell her how to conduct her everyday political life ‘no. But it was completely out of order that she misinformed the people, the nation, as if she was the one in charge of relief efforts – she was not!  And the President said, under the constitutional scheme the Vice President is a spare tire and when Ulysses struck, he [President] was in charge.

WEBB:  But if that is the kind of argument that is going to be talked about, you also have Chief Presidential – dito po muna nag-umpisa iyon eh, I don’t know if it connected ha, Secretary Roque – si Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo called out Vice President Leni Robredo. Ang sabi po niya kasi gumamit si Vice President ng C-130 plane to go to Catanduanes together with some relief goods na parang lumalabas iyong relief goods came from her. And then Barry Gutierrez said get your fact straight, to Secretary Panelo, dahil hindi niya ginamit itong C-130 plane. Are these necessary, Secretary Roque?

 SEC. ROQUE: I do not know, because I did not make that statement. You’d have to inquire from the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel. I am not even aware about the pronouncements made by the Presidential Legal Counsel. I can only speak about matters that came from my own mouth and about matters that need clarifications about what the President said. But as I said, nothing that he said last night need any construction: He was clear and the message was sent.  

WEBB: Okay. Ang sinabi po niya, “Sumabay ka doon sa mga relief goods, oh di parang ikaw ang may dala noon,” the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel said that during his TV show on PTV-4. That’s what I am gathering. But, Secretary, so where does this lead to? I mean, papaano na ho ngayon, galit ang Presidente; sinabi ng Vice President, “You know, Mr. Presidente, wala po akong sinabing ganoon.” What’s next?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, I don’t think it will have any major impact because the Vice President was given an opportunity to serve in the Cabinet. She opted to become the leader of the opposition so she has to fulfill her constitutional duties which is basically become a spare tire.

I know many of her supporters are wishing that she should take over the presidency, but for that to happen, you would have to be absolutely evil and wish the President ill.

WEBB:  But did she ever do that? Did she ever wish the President ill?

SEC. ROQUE:  I do not know. But what I’m saying is, many of her supporters I’m sure would like to see her as president before 2022. And that’s why many of her supporters are probably praying about his ill health and, you know, you hear it! You hear about it, you read about it on social media that he is sick – coming from the trolls. And I am saying, people, this is not the time for this.

Let’s wait until the pandemic is over and let’s wait until election season, that’s the time for all that – all those acts.

WEBB: Yeah. So, because you know I had to say that, Secretary, because you said it’s not the time for politicking. But when you hear the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, ginamit iyong C-130 plane, it’s as if nagmumukhang sa iyo galing iyong relief goods. I know I need to go on a break, just a very quick question, Secretary: Wala ho bang karapatan ang Vice President – I need to know ha, sir, for the benefit of myself and the viewers – doesn’t she have a right to use any government planes or choppers to be able to send out relief goods?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I think the issue is—she can if she wants to ‘no, but I think you have to be clear about whether or not you just use a vehicle and whether or not in fact, you’re responsible for relief goods being carried by that vehicle.

Again, I have no personal knowledge about what Secretary Sal Panelo talked about in his program. But what I’m saying is, I guess at that time – again, I do not know what he said ‘no – he must just be emphasizing that you have to be absolutely truthful ‘no; if you just hitched, the ride or whether or not you brought humanitarian relief goods.

WEBB:  Okay. Secretary, we need to take a break. We will be right back.

[COMMERCIAL BREAK]

WEBB: You’re watching The Source om CNN Philippines. Our guest today, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

Secretary, let’s talk about the President declaring Luzon under a state of calamity. I know there’s, you know, there’s so much to talk about when it comes to this. But can you help us understand or tell us what kind of immediate help can our kababayans get, iyon pong nagugutom, walang bahay, wala pong trabaho?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, unang-una po, there’s an automatic price freeze upon a declaration of a state of calamity. So magkakaroon po tayo ng mga price control on basic goods and commodities, lalung-lalo na po sa pagkain at sa tubig.

Pangalawa po, the local governments can now spend their calamity funds without restrictions ‘no. So importante po iyan dahil, otherwise, magkakaroon ng red tape in the release of these calamity funds.

At pangatlo po, siyempre under a state of calamity, they become the area of top priority for all agencies in the provision of necessary relief goods and, of course, the task of rehabilitation.

In-announce din po kahapon ni Presidente na binuo na nga po iyong task force; may konti pong pagbabago which is based on science. Instead of the Executive Secretary heading the task force, it will now be jointly headed by the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Roy Cimatu, as well as DPWH Secretary Mark Villar. Of course, not only it is based in science but it is also to make sense because when we talk of rehabilitation, you talk basically of roads and bridges and buildings destroyed by a calamity which is the turf of the DPWH; and you also talk about the scientific reasons why we have typhoons of this nature which is climate change, and that is the rationale of the DENR co-heading the task force.

WEBB: Yeah, it has to be some sort of an inter-agency task force, Secretary. So, am I correct in saying, tatlo po silang chairmen? Ganoon ho ba iyon, ES, DENR and DPWH?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi po, dalawa na lang po. Nabago na po iyong Executive Order. Actually, when I announced it, the Executive Order had not yet been signed. But it has since been modified and it is now jointly headed by the DENR Secretary, as well as the DPWH Secretary. So hindi na po head ng task force si Executive Secretary.

WEBB: I got that now sir, okay. So wala na po si ES diyan, and what is the first order of business for the new task force?

SEC. ROQUE: A rehabilitation of course. I think we are about to conclude the immediate provision of relief goods, now comes the even more difficult task of rehabilitation. When I went to Catanduanes a year [week] after Rolly ‘no, I thought that there had to be a wide scale effort to rebuild Catanduanes because from the air I noticed that there was hardly any structure standing ‘no. They only had commercial establishments come out intact ‘no. But as far as homes are concerned, they were really blown away ‘no and right now the immediate assistance that NHA could offer is anywhere from 10 to 15 thousand to rebuild their homes.

But my assessment, my personal assessment was really to build something similar to what we did to Marawi ‘no, which is to provide brand new homes to the residents because there was really nothing left to rehabilitate ‘no. So I think that will be the immediate task of the task force – after an initial assessment, to come up with the program to rebuild the lives of those who suffered because of these series of typhoons.

WEBB: Do you have an estimate Secretary Roque kung ilan – let’s just talk about the houses first that needs to be rebuilt?

SEC. ROQUE: I have no idea right now because you’re not just talking of Catanduanes, you’re also talking of Cagayan. I was in Cagayan too and you can imagine that when the river overflowed ‘no and with very strong current, it also did not just destroy ‘no, it completely blew away homes ‘no. So I think you’re talking of a massive rehabilitation effort, probably not of the same scale and scope as the rehabilitation brought about by the damage of Yolanda but not far behind.

WEBB: Secretary, again, we need to take a very short break. We will be right back.

[COMMERCIAL BREAK]

WEBB: Secretary Roque, the President also last night threatened to stop funding for UP students if they continue on with their call for an academic strike. Well, I also know that you know that some of the UP faculty members want to end the semester already and either do I think a pass or drop. What happens Sec. Roque in case this is approved, iyong i-end na po iyong semester? I guess that would be 3 weeks before its actual ending.

SEC. ROQUE:  No, I think the CHEd had already issued a decision ‘no that they are not going to go for any academic freeze. As result of the typhoon, they understand that classes were somehow canceled or postponed because of lack of internet capacity or because some of the students were victims of the flooding ‘no. And that is why the latest guidance from the CHEd is classes could be extended momentarily. Universities can suspend classes to enable the students to go back to their normal lives but as result of a class suspension, classes would have to be extended for the semester. So an academic freeze is out of the question.

WEBB:  Right. Opo and I know you’ve answered that over and over again pero ang sabi po ng Pangulo, mayroon po siyang threat na posibleng itigil daw po iyong funding kung ipagpatuloy po ito?

SEC. ROQUE:  Sige, let me clarify that ‘no. Actually I had to clarify twice and we had to, of course, ask the President to deliver his message anew. In the beginning he thought that they wanted to go back to school ‘no, and I clarified, “No, in fact they’re saying they’re not going to submit academic requirements” and that’s why the President had to send the message na, you know, you’re dealing with something that government should be dealing. It’s ahead of your time so parang it’s his way of saying, “Aral muna kayo, bahala na muna kami rito ‘no.” So that was the second message that he had ‘no.

But he also, I think, somehow confused the proponents of this academic strike. I explained it was the Ateneo students advocating for the academic strike but somehow, he also—well I think someone in that meeting said, “No, UP Manila also called for an academic strike.” I was not sure about the accuracy of that statement so I kept quiet but I insisted it was not UP-Diliman ‘no. Of course I have to be protective of my academic institution, not only did I graduate from there, I also taught for almost 20 years there ‘no.

So that’s why the President also had something, a message to UP. But although I think the message should only have been addressed to Ateneo Students because in my briefing I did read the declaration of Ateneo students that they will not submit their academic requirements in protest to the way the government was responding to the typhoons. I sent the message that, well, if you do that, it’s your loss ‘no because the schools can now invoke academic freedom because non-compliance with the academic requirements is a ground for students not to pass or even to be kicked out ‘no and no one can question the schools if they decide to resort to this – that’s part of academic freedom.

So as far as the threat to UP is concerned, I don’t think the UP students actually joined the Ateneans about the so-called academic strike but everyone knows now that as a result of a bill that we supported in the 17th Congress, that there is now free tuition in all state universities and colleges. And I think the message of the President is consistent – if you don’t want to study, then stop studying and we’ll use that funds elsewhere.

WEBB: All right. Secretary Roque, sir good to have you again. Maraming salamat po sa inyong oras.

SEC. ROQUE:  Thank you. It’s always a pleasure, Pinky. Good morning.

WEBB:  Good morning, sir. Thank you for joining us here on The Source.

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