Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo by Christian Esguerra/Early Edition/ANC

 ESGUERRA:  Good morning, sir; and thank you for joining us again.

SEC. PANELO:  Good morning, Christian; always happy to be here.

ESGUERRA:  Okay. Thank you very much that you are happy. But let’s start with this modus vivendi that was supposedly agreed upon between the Philippines and China as early as 2016. Was there really an agreement, a formal one?

SEC. PANELO:  That was the statement of the President, that they discussed it and… in whispers as that.

ESGUERRA:  In whispers.

SEC. PANELO:  Actually not in whispers, but they were talking during the bilateral.

ESGUERRA:  But is there an actual agreement allowing the Philippines to fish there and allowing China to fish within the Philippines as EEZ?

SEC. PANELO:  I think that was more of an informal agreement other than documented.

 ESGUERRA:  So, in that cases… that finding?

SEC. PANELO:  Well, it’s being enforced in a way. We are being allowed to fish there in the areas that fishermen could not at that time.

ESGUERRA:  Which are areas within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines?


ESGUERRA:  Now, a very curious word that you used there, ‘Filipino fishermen are allowed to fish within our own EEZ.’

SEC. PANELO:  Precisely. Because as repeatedly articulated by the President, these waters are disputed. China claims it to be theirs and that is precisely why they are enforcing their own authority over those waters and we used to fish there and then suddenly, because of that policy of theirs—

ESGUERRA:  What policy?

SEC. PANELO:   Their doctrines, that it’s theirs.

ESGUERRA:  The Nine-Dash Line.

SEC. PANELO:  Yeah. They shoo away our fishermen until they agreed that they should stay.

ESGUERRA:  But you know for a fact that there was already a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that identified the entitlements clearly the EEZ of the Philippines and that the marine resources there is for the Philippines.

SEC. PANELO:  Yes. But the problem is – as we have also repeatedly said – you cannot enforce it, except by way of force, which we cannot do, nor either countries would want to help us.

ESGUERRA:  So, your solution was for the President to appeal to China to allow us to fish in our own backyard?

SEC. PANELO:  Our solution is to negotiate, to be friendly with them. Things that we can get out of this arbitral ruling, we may be able to get through negotiations; and that is what we have been doing.

ESGUERRA:  But don’t you think this is quite defeatist at the very least, because the way you sounded – the way the President sounded – it seems that we even need to get permission from China. We know the realities on the ground. But why do we have to appeal to them, please allow us to fish in our EEZ?

SEC. PANELO:  I don’t think we know the realities of the ground, especially the critics and detractors. They cannot seem to understand that it’s not as easy as that. They cite about Vietnam and other countries asserting their authority and then there have been several armed conflicts between the two sides. Is that what we want? We will sacrifice the lives of our people. You know when there is an armed conflict, certainly lives will be lost. Do we want that to happen?

ESGUERRA:  Of course—

 SEC. PANELO:  When we can get what we want through negotiations.

ESGUERRA:  Some of those that we want were getting so far.


ESGUERRA:  Based on the modus vivendi.


 ESGUERRA:  What we are talking about here is not exactly waging war with China the moment we assert our rights based on what was ruled upon at the PCA.

SEC. PANELO:  But you must remember that China’s position is that it is ours and you will get into trouble if you keep on forcing yourselves to us.

ESGUERRA:  But why don’t we remind China consistently there was a ruling, international law that this is EEZ?

SEC. PANELO:  Well, they have already responded to that. As far as they are concerned, they are not part of that because they refused to be part of that arbitration.

ESGUERRA:  And we are accepting that?

SEC. PANELO:  Can we do something about it, we can only protest as we always do.

ESGUERRA:  But it seems that we are somehow surrendering that because you don’t accept this ruling, landmark as it is?

SEC. PANELO:  Not really surrendering. We are friends. We are negotiating and we are getting what we want. The trade relations have been much better than prior.

ESGUERRA:   So, the modus vivendi that was agreed upon between the Philippines and China was more of a discussion between the President and Xi JInping—


ESGUERRA:  In 2016.


ESGUERRA:  So in that sense, some of those critics—even officials were looking for a copy of this document. There’s none.

SEC. PANELO:  I don’t think so.

ESGUERRA:  Okay. Doesn’t that violate the Constitution of the Philippines because it says there that the marine wealth and resources within the EEZ is for the exclusive enjoyment of Filipinos?

SEC. PANELO:  The President has already responded to that. He says – and I agree to him completely – that that provision, if you enforce that literally then you’re courting in dangers; because precisely China would not want that. In other words, what benefit do you have if you enforce that provision and then losing everything?

So, he is going beyond the provision. He is going to the very source of other provisions protective of the Philippines like under Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution, it says that the government’s prime duty is to serve and to protect the people. And that is precisely why he is doing that. Because what use is there – that provision – if you aggressively enforce the arbitral ruling and it will precipitate and trigger armed conflicts between the two sides?

Ano bang magagamit natin ito kung wala na tayong lahat.

ESGUERRA:  Isn’t that an elementary excuse of an argument, given the fact that you are not just trying to enforce Article 12, Section 2?

SEC. PANELO:  Come again?

ESGUERRA:  Because you are not trying to enforce Article 12, Section 2, the protection of the nation’s marine wealth, you are trying to make use of an excuse on the other part of the Constitution.

SEC. PANELO:  He is precisely going beyond that provision, using Section 4, Article 2 of the Constitution which says that the prime duty of the government which he heads is to protect and to serve the people, eh mas matindi nga iyong ginagawa niya. He is thinking about the 110 million Filipinos, our properties.

ESGUERRA:  Don’t you think that would be slippery slope, if we use that same argument and other provisions of the Constitution that the President decides not to enforce?

SEC. PANELO:  Hindi nga eh. Iyong lahat ng provisions doon, protective of the state and properties and the Filipino people, nanggagaling lahat iyon doon sa to serve and to protect.

ESGUERRA:  Iyon nga, pero it seems with the way you and the President have been arguing it, it seems that the President can pick and choose which provisions of the Constitution he can enforce as President.

SEC. PANELO:  Eh kasi nga mas importante iyong number, iyong Article 2, Section 4, iyon nga ang outlaying provision ng lahat ng provision that is geared precisely to protect the entire Philippines.

ESGUERRA:  So, he is not committing an impeachable offense by not enforcing this particular—

SEC. PANELO:  Why impeachable? I cannot even understand, why impeachable, why impeachable?

ESGUERRA:  And why not? Culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.

SEC. PANELO:  He is precisely enforcing the Constitution – Section 4 of Article 2.

ESGUERRA:  By not enforcing Article 12, Section 2?

SEC. PANELO:  Ine-enforce mo na nga iyong—iyon nga ang basis ng lahat ng provision eh, papano?

ESGUERRA:  Pardon me, but it’s very hard to accept, because—this one is very clear. That one can sound nebulous, that can be used as an excuse not to enforce certain provision.

SEC. PANELO:  Because critics and detractors, especially those lawyers, they are reading the provision in isolation of the other provisions of the Constitution. You know, we learned at the College of Law – and all of us are came from there – that when you read a provision, you always relate it to the other provisions; hindi pupuwedeng iisa lang. Kung literal ang ano mo diyan, eh talagang magkakamali ka diyan.

ESGUERRA:  We know that, but the point here is that, this Article 12, Section 2 is very, very clear.

SEC. PANELO:  Lalong clear din naman iyong to protect… ‘to serve and to protect the people,’ mas lalong klaro iyon at number one iyon, nangunguna nga iyon, iyon na nga ang nagiging basis eh.

ESGUERRA:  Does it justify the President’s description of this particular provision as thoughtless and senseless?

SEC. PANELO:  Ah, thoughtless and sense—ito iyong paliwanag diyan eh. Iyong tumitingin diyan sa provision nagiging thoughtless and senseless, because hindi mo nga iniisip iyong kung i-enforce mo iyan at nawala na lahat iyong dapat mong i-protect, eh bakit mo pa… anong saysay? What’s the usefulness? Halimbawa, iyong aggressively enforce, nagkaroon ng bakbakan doon, nagkaroon ng patayan, siyempre hindi naman papayag si Presidente na papatayin mo iyong mga tao niya, oh lalaban siya, di hanggang nagka-giyera na tayo. And don’t tell me na ‘o, bakit naman puro giyera?’ Bakit nakakasiguro ba kayo hindi tayo gigirahin?

Kung ang argument mo: ‘Bakit nakakasiguro ka bang gigirahin tayo?’ Ang tanong ko naman sa iyo: Nakakasiguro ka bang hindi?

 ESGUERRA:  But are you also sure that China will go to war with the Philippines over this?

SEC. PANELO:  The President is anticipating things. Magaling nga ito eh. Kumbaga player ito ng chess eh, ina-anticipate niya. Ayaw niya nang makarating doon, in the same way that—sino ba iyong senador na sabi niya, ‘why do we have to wait for armed aggression, let’s invoke the treaty.’ Eh you cannot even invoke that, because under the treaty there must be an armed aggression. Iyon din ang argument ko ngayon: Eh bakit ka mag-aantay ng pumutok ito? Ina-avoid na nga natin eh.

ESGUERRA:  But there’s also the argument that the President is just making use of that war proposition to hide his weakness in terms of dealing with China.

 SEC. PANELO:  He is a very pragmatic man, he is cautious and yet he is very wise.  Magaling ngang mag-ano siya eh… mag-negotiate eh.

ESGUERRA:  So, you are saying now that the description made by the President, ‘thoughtless and senseless,’ does not refer to the provision?

SEC. PANELO:  Doon sa mga gustong i-apply iyong provision over and above the provisions that says it is his constitutional duty to serve and to protect.

ESGUERRA:  Yes, kasi nga nandito, it’s in the Constitution.

SEC. PANELO:  Eh nandoon din iyon sa Constitution.

ESGUERRA:  You are going to use same argument, anyway. So, what’s the rule now? So anyone can fish within the EEZ of the Philippines?

SEC. PANELO:   Hindi, ang sinasabi naman ni Presidente, i-enforce natin, eh ayaw nga nila eh. Anong gusto mo, mag-trigger tayo ng laban?

ESGUERRA:  So, quiet na tayo?

SEC. PANELO:  Hindi, hindi quiet. Hindi nagkaroon sila ng usapan, ‘oh sige doon kayo, dito kami.’ Anyway, hindi naman namin fishing ground iyan. Kaya wala naman tayong report napi-fish sila sa Reed Bank di ba. Sa atin lang nagpi-fish doon, wala namang iba eh.

ESGUERRA:  What is the basis of that?

SEC. PANELO:  I have not received any report, neither the Coast Guard or the Western command, walang akong—

ESGUERRA: Or maybe we’re not yet checking?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi naman, di may nagreklamo na sana, iyong ating mga fishermen—

ESGUERRA: Because I think, following that argument by the President, that can also invite other countries to fish within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines?

SEC. PANELO: You must remember, Christian, na—where did I read that? Na it’s a traditional fishing ground iyong mga lugar na iyon. Maraming nagpi-fish doon, hindi lang naman Pilipino kung hindi may Vietnamese, may Malaysian, Indonesian, may Chinese.

ESGUERRA: That refers to the Scarborough, part of it.

SEC. PANELO: Kaya nga.

ESGUERRA: But when you talk about Reed Bank, which is within the exclusive economic zone, it was not classified as a traditional fishing ground.

SEC. PANELO: Pero wala rin naman akong naririnig na may nagpi-fish doon. Iyong particular incident on Red Bank, hindi natin alam kung nagpi-fish ba sila doon or they were just passing through, innocent passage.

ESGUERRA: I think that will be the subject of the ongoing investigation when it’s completed. But the point is, as a policy, the President already declared that the Chinese can fish there.

SEC. PANELO: Wala siyang sinabing “can fish”. Ang sinasabi niya, na ayaw niyang—he wants to avoid trouble, conflict.

ESGUERRA: The President said this: They asked, “Will you allow the Chinese to fish there?” I said, “Of course, that was where we have been discussing before that’s why we’re talking. That’s why we’re allowed to fish again.” Sorry, I cannot understand my penmanship. Anyway, it was a mutual agreement. Let’s give way to each other – you fish there, I fish here.

SEC. PANELO: Exactly. Kaya nga.

ESGUERRA: It’s very clear.

SEC. PANELO: Oh kaya nga. Eh di ibig sabihin, nag-agree sila para—kasi sinasabi baka may niya trouble tayo diyan kapag pinilit mo iyan. Oh di ba, ina-avoid niya na nga eh.

 ESGUERRA: I think the big picture here is this: Can the President arbitrarily pick and choose which provision of the Constitution or which part of international law he would choose to enforce?

SEC. PANELO: Again I will repeat: Under the Constitution, the constitutional command, the directive for him is to serve and to protect the people. All provisions emanate from that, in respect to, relative to, the protection of the entire country.

ESGUERRA: Now, were there other nationalities that were allowed by the President to fish within our EEZ aside from China?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi ko alam, hindi ko alam.

ESGUERRA: But using that principle that was used by the President toward China, can the Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Indonesians also fish within our EEZ—

SEC. PANELO: Wala namang gumagawa niyan eh. I don’t think they are claiming the right to fish in that particular area.

ESGUERRA: Of course, there were instances when the Taiwanese fished within the EEZ of the Philippines. So ibig sabihin papayagan na rin sila?

SEC. PANELO: Basta ang alam ko, ang usapan lang iyong dalawang bansa.

ESGUERRA: And why only China?

SEC. PANELO: Sila nga … they claim to be theirs nga eh, ‘di ba? Kumbaga, lalaban sila kapag pinuwersa natin.

ESGUERRA: Now, there’s also the warning that with the way the President has been dealing with China, basically allowing them to fish within our EEZ, that might also even create a right on the part of China?


ESGUERRA: That later on, because you’ve been allowing this to happen, that becomes their right.

SEC. PANELO: Alam mo, Christian, nakakalimutan natin, maraming ginagawa ang China for us eh. Like iyong nagkaroon tayo ng problema sa Marawi, ayaw tayong bigyan ng armas ng America, binibili na nga natin. So we went to China, binigyan tayo, ayaw ngang magpabayad. Ganoon din sa Russia. Tapos iyong sa laban natin sa war on drugs, rehabilitation centers, binibigyan tayo, nag-establish sila. Tapos iyong ating trade relations, maganda, marami—you have to consider that also.

You must remember that under the Constitution, sinasabi doon, first, we renounce war as a policy. And then, ang policy natin dealing with nation, is peace and amity to all nations; dapat tinitingnan natin iyon. Hindi iyong gusto natin reckless, gusto nating mang-away. Eh puwede naman nating makuha sa magandang usapan.

ESGUERRA: Is this peace and amity, or more of appeasement of China?

SEC. PANELO: Ah hindi, hindi totoo iyan. You don’t know this President.


SEC. PANELO: Si Presidente ay mabait na tao pero don’t provoke him. Nakita mo naman when you provoke him.

ESGUERRA: Because I think the point here is that there are certain irreversible consequences of this particular action.

SEC. PANELO: Like what?


SEC. PANELO: What irreversible?

ESGUERRA: Example, the food security of the Philippines, in the long term, might be compromised if this President, given the last three years of his administration, would continue to allow other countries, in particular China, not just to fish or extract marine sources within the EEZ but also destroy the marine environment.

SEC. PANELO: I don’t think so. Alam mo, Christian, bago nga siya dumating, hindi ba, iyong previous administrations walang nagawa diyan. Napasama nga eh, nakuha sa atin. Dati dati sa atin iyan eh.

ESGUERRA: Of course, we can criticize any other administration when it comes to dealing with other countries. But on paper, that particular case that was filed before The Hague was also the one that clarified maritime entitlements, even if, of course, we know that there were no enforcement mechanisms.

SEC. PANELO: Iyon nga ang problema, walang enforcement. Hindi ko naman maintindihan bakit pa nagkaroon ng arbitration pagkatapos wala naman pa lang enforcement.

ESGUERRA: O sige. Let’s go to the threat of the President. He warned that he would jail anyone who would file impeachment case against him?

SEC. PANELO: Alam mo, Christian, that was an expression of righteous indignation. He cannot even understand why these critics and detractors cannot visualize what he’s doing for the country. Kumbaga, he was pissed off by that. Ano ba itong mga taong ito? Gusto nilang—wala ngang nagawa ang America, walang nagawa ang ganoon, gusto nila ako itapon nila doon. They’re really looking for trouble.

ESGUERRA: But why would you even threaten to jail these people, that’s part of their—

SEC. PANELO: Ano lang iyon—

ESGUERRA: Ha, ano lang iyon?

SEC. PANELO: Expression lang iyon.

ESGUERRA: Ng… righteous indignation? He’s not serious?

SEC. PANELO: Expression lang iyon. Hindi ba si Presidente kapag nagagalit ganiyan.

ESGUERRA: So outburst lang?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi ba kapag sinabing I will kill you, hindi naman niya ginagawa rin. Pinapakulong niya.


SEC. PANELO: Iyong mga involved sa drugs, sa war on drugs.

ESGUERRA: That’s another issue. Anyway, you said that that was more of an expression of righteous indignation—


ESGUERRA: Because that could also send shivers down the spine of those who might be planning to exercise their constitutional right.

SEC. PANELO: Hindi ba even the senators know na hindi naman totoo iyan, alam mo naman si Presidente.

ESGUERRA: I why he would even threaten to jail those who would be filing an impeachment case when in fact, in terms of numbers, he controls both chambers?

SEC. PANELO: Exactly. Oh di iyon ang argument ko sa’yo. Bakit niya pa ipapakulong iyon eh alam naman niyang… In other words, ano lang iyon, expression.


SEC. PANELO: Of disgust, of disappointment. He cannot understand, bakit itong mga taong ito, kontra nang kontra. Gusto talagang—kumbaga, sabi nga doon sa kanta, if you’re looking for trouble, you came to the right place. Sa kaniya, hindi. If you’re looking for trouble, this is not the right place. I will not accommodate you because trouble means, trouble para sa bansa natin. I will never allow that under my watch. Iyon ang sinasabi ni Presidente.

ESGUERRA: Now, when will the President finally invoke—

SEC. PANELO: Invoke! Siguro at the end of his term. Pero alam mo, ano pang i-invoke niya kung nakuha mo na at the end of his term? Sige nga?

ESGUERRA: Ano bang nakuha natin?

SEC. PANELO: Ah hindi … hindi pa naman eh, may three years pa tayo eh. Nagni-negotiate  nga tayo ‘di ba.

ESGUERRA: You’re talking about the PCA ruling?

SEC. PANELO: Lahat iyan, lahat nang sinabi diyan sa arbitral ruling. Kung nakuha na natin through diplomatic negotiations, o ano pang i-invoke mo?

ESGUERRA: It’s a basis of that, ‘nakuha na natin.’ We’ve gotten the—

SEC. PANELO: Hindi nga. What I’m saying is, hindi ba arbitral ruling, sa atin iyon. Sabi naman ng China, ‘Hindi, amin iyan.’ Eh kung sa pakikipag-usap, sinabi natin, ‘Ikaw naman, ang dami mo na—‘di ba, kinukuwestiyon nga ni Presidente, ‘Ano naman ba ang basis mo na sa’yo lahat ito?’ Oh hindi ba. Inumpisahan na nga ni Presidente. In fact, by saying that, he is already invoking the arbitral ruling in a different way, hindi ba. What is your basis of claiming the entire South China Sea, just because it’s named China Sea? Oh di sabi niya, ‘Ako rin, I will use South—ano iyon… Sulu Sea, as amin.’

ESGUERRA: Did the President actually read the PCA ruling? Because his basic questions were already answered by that ruling.

SEC. PANELO: Which one?

ESGUERRA: He was claiming whether—he was asking, can one nation, China in this case, claim the entire ocean? He was referring to the South China Sea. Of course the PCA ruling didn’t decide on the territorial dispute, but the maritime entitlements were clear.

Now, earlier you were saying that how would you even need to invoke it when we’re already getting what was discussed or ruled upon by the PCA. But we’re talking here of the EEZ which is very, very clear.

SEC. PANELO: Even then. Pero alam mo iyang EEZ, Christian, ang basis niyan palagi ay iyong ownership eh, control ng China—as far as China’s concerned, sa amin iyan. Wala akong pakialam sa sinasabi ninyo. Kapag pinuwersa ninyo kami, may gulo diyan.

Iyan ang ayaw ni Presidente. So kung iyan ang posisyon mo, eh bakit naman ako lalaban sa’yo nang harap-harapan. Oh di mag-usap muna tayo, baka naman makiliti kita, baka naman mapaki-usapan kita na, ‘Teka muna, masyado na kayong marami. Amin naman talaga ito, bakit hindi mo na lang … huwag mo na lang kami pakialaman.’

ESGUERRA: Sige. Since we like to raise a specter of war here or conflict, is this true, did President Xi Jinping really say this?  When the President said, “I want my oil because that’s ours”; Xi Jinping allegedly said “No, that could mean trouble.”


ESGUERRA: Did he really say this?


ESGUERRA: Is there any record?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi, nasa ano iyan eh, nasa—during the bilateral.

ESGUERRA: Sila lang?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi, nandoon kami.

ESGUERRA: You heard it?

SEC. PANELO: Oo. Iyong mga Cabinet members nandoon, nag-uusap. Hindi ba sinabi niya, nandoon ang mga Cabinet members.

ESGUERRA: And how did the Chinese President say it? Did he sound threatening?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi. Kumbaga, parang ‘huwag na iyan, may gulo pa diyan eh.’ Parang ganoon, ganoon ang style. Ikaw naman, kung ikaw naman ang Presidente, ‘Ayaw pala nito, baka magkagulo lang kami.’ So kung magaling ka, eh dadahan-dahanin mo na lang siya.

ESGUERRA: And what did the President tell the Chinese President when he was told that could mean trouble? What was the President’s response?

SEC. PANELO: Nakalimutan ko na ang response niya. I have to go through the transcript.

ESGUERRA: Because the way the President has been recalling this conversation with the Chinese President, it seems that the specter of war and armed conflict was actually raised. When in fact, the way you said it now, it could mean different trouble.

SEC. PANELO: But alam mo, there were many ways of… sabi nga, there are many ways of killing a cat. There are many ways of threatening you. There are many ways of making you feel that I’m really sincere or talagang gagawin ko ang sasabihin ko sa’yo. Eh ganoon ang ginawa niyang istilo. Pero si Presidente kasi, he’s very sharp. Kahit na nagbibiro ka, alam niya na tototohanin mo eh. Bakit naman siya—why will he force the issue?

ESGUERRA: And did he feel threatened?


ESGUERRA: President Duterte?

SEC. PANELO: Sinasabi ko na nga he wants to avoid—

ESGUERRA: Hindi, during that conversation, when he was told that?

SEC. PANELO: Hindi, si Presidente naman ano rin iyan ‘di ba, he is amiable pagdating sa mga ganiyan eh. Naka-smile lang iyon.

ESGUERRA: Okay. Secretary Salvador Panelo, thank you very much. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you.

SEC. PANELO: Thank you for having me.


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