ARCENA: Good afternoon Manila and Asia, good morning Europe, good evening USA. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon Philippine standard time.
Good day to all of you. I am JV Arcena of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, Office of the Global Media Affairs. Welcome to the Virtual Presser.
The Virtual Presser is PCOO’s inter-active online video platform for engaging with the global media and foreign audience. Again, I am delighted to welcome our media participants – more than 35 registered participants – joining us today from across the globe. Thanks to all of you for joining us.
Today, we will be speaking with Secretary Salvador Panelo, the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and Presidential Spokesperson of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to talk about the updates on the priority policies of the Duterte administration.
But just a short introduction about our speaker, prior to joining the government Secretary Panelo had an illustrious career as a private law practitioner with expertise in constitutional, criminal and remedial law. He was known for handling controversial and celebrated cases and he was also a professor of law at the Centro Escolar University School of Law, University of the East College of Law since 2003 and currently on leave at the College of Law of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.
Good afternoon sir, welcome to the Virtual Presser.
SEC. PANELO: Good afternoon.
ARCENA: Sir, before I turn it over to you for some opening remarks, I would like to make a comment on the procedures for our question and answer session later. Participants have three options to participate in Q&A session – one, via Skype. If you want to throw your question via Skype conference call, please do let us know in the comment section or email us well, our Skype ID is pcooglobalmedia; number 2, via a comment section. Participants can now start submitting their questions in the comment section or send via email to PCOO Global Media at pco.gov.ph. And lastly, questions in advance.
So with that, let’s get started. Secretary Panelo, thank you again for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for your opening statement.
SEC. PANELO: Thank you for inviting me. I’m happy to be here as your first guest of this pilot episode of this program called Virtual Presser. I do not know exactly what do you mean by Virtual Presser.
Anyway, you know, there had been many false reports in the international media and foreign audiences; they have been bombarded with stories which have no basis in fact nor in law especially regarding the drug war and many other issues. It appears that media, the biased ones, would focus on stories which have negative impact on our government.
But the fact of the matter is this administration of the President has so many accomplishments – you will recall the return of the Balangiga Bells; and then you have the declaration of the President of the Philippine Rise as the Marine Resource Reserve; and then we have the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; and then we have landmark legislations: free-schooling, free tuition, free irrigation and many others. And so far, if you will ask members of the ASEAN, the heads of state are in awe and admiration for this President who has demonstrated his political skill, his gutsiness. He is sort of a dare devil leader and he couldn’t care less what others will look at him for as long as he obeys the constitutional mandate on him by the Constitution saying that ‘your job is to serve and to protect the people.’
This program of yours is a good opportunity to… like any program that has an international audience to present the true state of the nation of this country – the unblemished truth and not the false stories, the false narratives that have reached them and unfortunately they believed hook, line and sinker.
ARCENA: Thank you very much, Secretary Panelo. As a reminder to our participants today’s virtual press conference is on the record. We have a live streaming which is exclusive only to the registered participants. We will re-broadcast this Virtual Presser on PCOO Global Media Affairs Facebook page and other PCOO affiliated FB pages. Again, you can start submitting your questions now in the comment section or via email PCOO Global Media at pco.gov.ph. You can also call us or ask via Skype, our username is PCOO Global Media.
Okay, sir. We have already a caller via Skype. With us on the line Wang Zheng Zen (Yellow?) of CCTV. Good afternoon.
YELLOW/CCTV: Good afternoon, Secretary Panelo. Secretary, I have a question about the coming Chinese trip of our President Rodrigo Roa Duterte because we know that maybe April 24, he will travel to China again to attend the BRI [Belt and Road Initiative]Forum there. So, I’d like to know from you, you can give us some update of his trip like how many Cabinet members will join his trip and what’s your expectation on his trip to China?
SEC. PANELO: I didn’t get the last part. What did you say again, the last portion?
YELLOW/CCTV: I mean, maybe you can give us some details like who will join his trip to China and what’s your expectation of his trip?
SEC. PANELO: (garbled) the relationship between the two countries – China and the Philippines. Hopefully (garbled) discuss hopefully (garbled) that will benefit the two countries will be discussed especially the terrorism, the trade relations between the two countries, anything beneficial.
ARCENA: Do you have a follow up question?
YELLOW/CCTV: Secretary, you will join with him to China?
SEC. PANELO: Yes.
Q: I mean, do you have any other details about… like other Cabinet members who will join his trip, who will be there?
SEC. PANELO: I do not know the exact number of the members of the delegation. But I suppose the Department of Finance Secretary would be there, the NEDA Secretary would be there, the DPWH Secretary would be there, will be joining us and other major departments.
ARCENA: Thank you Yellow of CCTV. Okay sir, we have a question from Press Berhad Malaysia, from Khoo jin Kiat. He says has there been any changes in the South China Sea situation since US Navy instituted freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and Scarborough Shoal. What is the Philippines official stand on the US Freedom of Navigation Operations?
SEC. PANELO: Well, the Philippines as before has a neutral stance on this matter. We are for free navigation on the South China Sea including the over flight. There should be free navigation as well as free flying on the sky.
ARCENA: Sir, follow up question: Will the Philippine government firmly uphold the credibility of the South China Sea arbitration document to demonstrate the spirit of the Philippines full respect legal and diplomatic process?
SEC. PANELO: We have already issued a statement that we have the arbitral ruling and it is an irreversible judgment, it has (garbled) and we are maintaining our sovereignty (garbled) and does not perform any act that might endanger or risk the security of our fishermen who are fishing in the area, as well as affect future bilateral relations between the two countries.
ARCENA: Okay, sir. Another question from South China Morning Post – Riza Robles: What message does the Philippine government convey to China by agreeing to training exercise of Philippines and US troops with an invasion scenario adjacent to South China Sea islands?
SEC. PANELO: But these exercises have been there by reason of agreements between the two countries. So, there’s nothing new, there’s nothing new with that. In other words, those are regular military exercises jointly agreed upon by the two countries even prior to the so-called present conflict between China and the Philippines.
ARCENA: Next question comes from Ellen Cruz of Tokyo Shimbun: Is the government planning to make concrete action to assert sovereignty in the Philippine territories in the South China Sea?
SEC. PANELO: Well, we have made our position very clear. We have made diplomatic protest vis-a-vis any action that we feel is not consistent with our sovereignty and our rights over the exclusive economic zones and we shall wait with the response by the Chinese government.
ARCENA: Okay, once again thank you for joining us in today’s the Virtual Presser. We are conducting this regularly to connect with our foreign audiences and to answer questions on today’s top issues. If you have questions or any feedback, submit it through comment section; you can email us at PCOO Global Media at pco.gov.ph or connect with us via a Skype call with username PCOO Global Media.
ARCENA: Sir, another question from Noel (?) of US NPR: Why is President Duterte now calling out Beijing on its harassment of Filipino fishermen just weeks before the elections? Is the Palace worried about the voter’s anger over the President’s warming relations with the Beijing?
SEC. PANELO: Nothing to do with the election. Our responses on China’s movement in the South China Sea are studied, are calibrated. We just don’t issue reckless statements when we receive reports on this and that, we have to validate. If we validate the same as true, then we make our statements.
With respect to whether it will affect the election, the survey of the President shows very high rating for him. So I don’t think it has anything to do with the elections.
ARCENA: Okay, sir, we have a caller. Zhao Yipu of People’s Daily from Thailand. Hi, Zhao. Good afternoon.
ZHAO YIPU/PEOPLE’S DAILY: Hello. Good afternoon, JV. Can you hear me?
ARCENA: Go ahead.
ZHAO YIPU/PEOPLE’S DAILY: Okay. Good afternoon, JV. And Good afternoon, Mr. Salvador [Panelo]. This is Zhao, a journalist from People’s Daily China. Thanks for the invitation. And my question for Mr. Salvador [Panelo], this is a question about the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation taking place in Beijing the end of April. And we want to know, some of the Mr. President’s expectation for the forum this time because we all know that he had attended the forum two years ago in Beijing. So we want to know any difference for Mr. President this time compared to two years ago and any comments on the development of BRI in the Philippines for the last two years. Okay, thank you, sir.
SEC. PANELO: What exactly was the question? I’m sorry—
ARCENA: He’s asking, sir, if … the right question is: May I know of the President’s expectations for the forum this time? And his follow up question is: Any comments on the development of BRI in the Philippines for the last two years?
SEC. PANELO: What’s BRI?
ARCENA: The Belt and Road Initiatives.
SEC. PANELO: Well, as I said earlier, we hope that there will be discussions, and the discussions will reach certain agreements and forge satisfactory solutions to the mutual problems that we have. And at the same time, we hope that the relations between the two countries are further strengthened especially the part of trade relations between the two of us.
ARCENA: Okay, sir. Zhao, do you have a follow up question?
ZHAO YIPU/PEOPLE’S DAILY: Yes, I have a second question. The question is actually related on the Balikatan exercise between the US and the Philippines in the South China Sea. We all know that the exercise is attracting spotlight of everyone especially when the Philippine government issued a statement condemning the Chinese presence near the island recently, maybe two days ago. We want to know if Mr. President has any plan to solve the problem or negotiate with the China’s leader on his trip in Beijing?
ARCENA: He’s asking, sir, if the President has any plan to negotiate or to solve the problem with Chinese leader during his trip to China?
SEC. PANELO: Well, we have the so-called mechanism or bilateral negotiation. So the issues involving South China Sea will be tackled there. Now, whether or not in his visit this will be raised would depend on him, as well as the President of China since we have already made our statement on the matter, and they have already responded. So let’s see how it develops when we reach Beijing.
ARCENA: Thank you, Zhao Yipu. Do you have a follow up questions, Zhao, or are you satisfied with his answer?
ZHAO YIPU/PEOPLE’S DAILY: My question is already finished.
ARCENA: Thank you, Zhao Yipu of People’s Daily from Thailand. Sir, we have a question from Agencia EFE. It’s a Spanish news agency. He is asking: How is the current relationship with China regarding the last events in South China Sea?
SEC. PANELO: Well, still friendly, cordial. While we are asserting our rights over it, we maintain our friendly relations with them.
ARCENA: Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Panelo. Our next question comes from Erich Parpart of the Bangkok Post: Will the South China Sea issues especially China’s assertion be discussed at the meeting in Beijing?
SEC. PANELO: I think I have already responded to that. It depends on the President, as well as the President of Chinese Republic if those issues will be raised in the course of their talks or meeting.
ARCENA: Okay. From Zachary Lee of BBC: Will Philippines hold bilateral talks with China on the South China Sea? Have you discussed with China the talk how and where it will be held?
SEC. PANELO: Again I will repeat what I said: there is a mechanism for bilateral negotiations. And if I’m not mistaken, there was one last week. And there will be regular meetings between the representatives of both governments.
ARCENA: Okay. Sir, we have another question from Filipino media based in Japan, Joho (?) Shimura: The President is set to visit Japan this May to speak at the Annual Future of Asia Conference, and scheduled summit with Prime Minister Abe. Question: Are we expecting a new batch of projects to expand or in addition to the one trillion yen aid projects in 2017 from Japan under the President’s Build, Build, Build Program?
SEC. PANELO: Well, there are certainly agreements that have been signed. And in addition to these, I understand, there are proposals coming from Japanese firms. So let’s see.
ARCENA: Question: Japan economic growth is suffering from manpower shortage in many private sectors. So Prime Minister Abe passed and made into a new law to hire around 350,000 foreign workers to address the manpower shortage of Japan. Question 1, still from Shimura: How can the Philippines help Japan in this manpower shortage issue as economic development partner?
SEC. PANELO: Well, we have many Filipinos who are still under employed. And if they are qualified to be workers on specific areas in Japan, then certainly we can send them there.
ARCENA: Okay. Sir, another question from Khoo Jin Kiat from Malaysia: USS Wasp F35 were seen operating near Scarborough Shoal. Does the Philippines have any official position in this matter? Is there any special message?
SEC. PANELO: I think that’s still part of the Balikatan exercises, if I’m not mistaken.
ARCENA: Okay. Another question from Jiho(?): Are we expecting Japanese workers and engineers to come to the Philippines for the infrastructure projects of Build, Build, Build Program just like the workers from China?
SEC. PANELO: I think that question should be addressed to the Secretary of the Department of Labor. I’m not privy to that.
ARCENA: Okay. Thank you, sir. Another question: How would you evaluate the progress of the Duterte administration’s infrastructure push?
SEC. PANELO: We have plenty of projects in the burner. Hopefully, all of them will be implemented in the soonest possible time, especially if the general budget has been signed by the President.
ARCENA: Okay. Sir, another question: Poverty incidence went down from 27.6% in the first half of 2015 to 21% in the same period in 2018. Is the Duterte administration on track of attaining the 14% target by 2022?
SEC. PANELO: Well, yes. Hopefully, this administration will do everything in its resources and power to respond to the problem of poverty.
ARCENA: Okay. Sir, the Belt and Road Forum is coming up this week, how important is that even for the Philippines?
SEC. PANELO: We will repeat what we said earlier: We hope that by that meeting, there will be strengthening of relations between the two countries. And hopefully by way of negotiations we can forge satisfactory solution [to problems] that confront both countries relative to the South China Sea problem.
ARCENA: Okay. Sir, another question from Japan: The popularity of the President has gone up according to recent surveys. How do you think this would contribute to attaining the administration’s goals now we are half way into the term?
SEC. PANELO: Well, the President has consistently received that kind of rating because, precisely, the people see in him his competence, his devotion, his (unclear) to the constitutional command of serving and protecting the people. So he will continue with that, and no negative force on earth can detract him or distract him from pursuing his goals.
ARCENA: Okay. Unfortunately, that was the last question that we have time for. Do you have any closing remarks before ending this Virtual Presser?
SEC. PANELO: No, unless our friends in the media here would want to ask more questions like Joseph Morong and Ina?
ARCENA: Do you have questions, MPC? Okay. Okay, thank you, sir. I want to thank you, Secretary Panelo for joining us; and to all of the journalists for participating and for your questions.
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Thank you again for your participation. Thank you to the Office of the Secretary, Secretary Andanar, Secretary Panelo. And we hope you can join us for another Virtual Presser soon.
SEC. PANELO: Thank you also for having me.
Source: PCOO-NIB (News and Information Bureau-Data Processing Center)