Press Briefing

Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque with Assistant Secretary Jonas George Soriano, Deputy Executive Director and Assistant Secretary for the Project Performance Management Office

Event Press Briefing
Location Malacañang Press Briefing Room, New Executive Building

ROCKY IGNACIO/PTV4: Good morning, Malacañang Press Corps. Welcome sa regular press briefing ni Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. Good morning, sir.

SEC. ROQUE: Good morning Philippines, and good morning ladies ang gentlemen of the Malacañang Press Corps. Again, will you please join me in a moment of silence as we offer prayer for the victims of the passenger bus which plunged into a deep ravine in Occidental Mindoro.

The Palace expresses its deep sympathies to the victims to their families and friends. Nananawagan po kami sa lahat, lalo na sa mga tsuper ng bus na ibayong pag-iingat lalo na at papalapit na ang Semana Santa at summer break kung saan libu-libo sa ating mga kababayan ang luluwas at uuwi sa kani-kanilang mga probinsya. Moment of silence please…

Let me go to the good news. This first piece of good news will make the opposition very sad… Filipinos are happy people and the latest Social Weather Station survey conducted December 8 to 16, 2017 highlights this: 94% of Filipinos are very or fairly happy with life in general. SWS considers this a record high, surpassing the previous 92% registered 22 years ago. It is worth mentioning that of the 32 surveys conducted by SWS since 1991, three of the five instances wherein over 90% said they were very or fairly happy took place during the Duterte administration. These were December 2016, September 2017 and December 2017.

Indeed genuine change under the leadership of President Duterte which has been felt by our people coupled with their hope for a better future under the current government certainly makes Filipinos across all geographic areas happy – and the opposition sad

We are pleased to announce the report of the Department of Finance that the revenue from tax collections in 2017 reached 2.251 trillion pesos which represents 14.25% of Gross Domestic Product. This is considered as the highest tax effort in 10 years prior to the introduction of these laws.

We take note of the thousands of members of the New People’s Army who have accepted the offer of the President to lay down their arms and restart to live normal lives. To date 4,356 rebel members and supporters of the New People’s Army have surrendered nationwide from the 1st of January to 15 March 2018, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The military expects more surrenderees as former rebels and supporters divulge corruption and so, the pattern of deception being done by the leaders including propaganda and false promises.

We are pleased to announce that Manila, particularly Ninoy Aquino International Airport ranks 10th in the World Airport Awards for Most Improved Airports in the World 2018. According to Skytrax, the leading global source of airline rating and reviews, the award for most improved airport is based on a relative year-on-year quality performance by all airports featured in the World Airport Survey. Survey was conducted from August 2017 to February 2018, covering 550 airports worldwide.

Proof that we are committed—that no Filipino learners should be left behind, almost 4,000 un-energized public schools in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas will benefit in the launching of the Computerization and Solar Power Project by the Department of Education and UN Development Program. Project is expected to provide access to laptops powered by solar power to identified schools which should raise the ICT literacy of our school children.

Would you like to have our guest now, or would you like to ask questions first?

ROCKY IGNACIO/PTV4: Questions first.

SEC. ROQUE: Okay, questions first.

ROCKY IGNACIO/PTV4: Sir, welcome lang natin iyong mga estudyante sa La Verdad, sa Caloocan.

SEC. ROQUE: Welcome. Welcome.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Sir, good morning. Sir doon sa nangyari sa Dimple Bus, kasi parang I think it’s not enough na iyong operator iyong managot dito. Kailangan din siguro may mabitay sa LTFRB. Kasi as if it seems that they are not doing their duty to conduct regular inspection at nangyayari iyong mga ganitong—every now and then may nangyari tapos naging—dapat proactive sila, hindi iyong nagre-react na lang kapag may nangyaring trahedya ulit o aksidente. Sir, don’t you expect na may something na—o someone to be relieved or dismissed from LTFRB?

SEC. ROQUE: Hintayin muna natin kung ano talaga ang magiging resulta ng imbestigasyon. Kung ito po’y resulta ng kapabayaan ng mga taong gobyerno, siyempre po mayroon na namang masisibak. Pero sa ngayon po, nakiki—nagpaparating lang po kami ng pakikiramay sa mga pamilya ng nasawi. Darating po tayo sa punto na bibigyan natin ng katarungan iyong mga nasawi.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Saka, can we expect also na iyong—kasi nandiyan naglilipana pa rin even sa EDSA and even iyong mga provincial buses iyong mga kambal-plaka, iyong mga… sa mga colorum. When do we expect to—real audit of these mga… sa plaka nila?

SEC. ROQUE: Naku continuing ano naman po ‘yan, effort. Doon nga sa mga jeepneys at saka pagdating sa mga public utility buses din, dahil nga po sa issue ng traffic ‘no eh pinapaigting din po ang kampanya laban po sa mga colorum.

ROSE NOVENARIO/HATAW: Sir, good morning.

SEC. ROQUE: Yes, Rose…

ROSE NOVENARIO/HATAW: Kasi po iyong LTFRB sa mga nakaraang mga kaso ng ganiyang mga aksidente, parang nagiging ano pa po sila eh… sila pa iyong nagiging tulay ng bus operator para aregluhin iyong mga pamilya ng biktima. Ano iyong panawagan ninyo sa LTFRB, ipagpatuloy ba nila iyong ganitong ginagawa nila or may bago ba kayong—?

SEC. ROQUE: Ang problema po kasi, talagang sa batas natin quasi-delict po ‘no, kapag namatay dahil sa isang vehicular accident; so talagang pupuwede pong magkaroon ng compromise agreement pagdating sa quasi-crimes ‘no gaya ng reckless imprudence. So sa akin po, talaga pong ang batas ang mismong nagsasabi na pupuwedeng maareglo ‘yan, pero siguro eh bibigyan natin ng reminder ang LTFRB na mayroon din silang katungkulan na mag-supervise ng mga public utilities. At kinakailangan nga paigtingin iyong kampanya ng LTFRB pagdating sa maintenance ng mga bus at saka doon sa continuing effort na dapat ay maitaas ang kakayahan ng mga public utility bus drivers.

ROSE NOVENARIO/HATAW: So idi-discourage po natin iyong LTFRB na maging taga—tulay ng pakikipag-areglo ng mga bus operators?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi po natin magagawa iyon, kasi ina-allow talaga ng batas ‘yan. At when the LTFRB acts as a bridge, eh doon din po papunta iyon eh – maski magkasuhan, pupunta rin po ‘yan sa settlement dahil nga allowed ang settlement sa mga quasi-crimes. Ang sasabihin po natin is, bukod pa doon kinakailangan paigtingin iyong kanilang responsibilidad na siguraduhin na ang mga public utility buses are well-maintained and the drivers are up to date as far as skills development is concerned.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Sir, President Duterte sir on Tuesday mentioned a supposed conspiracy between the ICC and the Filipino-American philanthropist Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis. He mentioned having a transcript of a wiretapped phone call regarding the ICC’s preliminary examination. Sir, do you have more details on this sir?

SEC. ROQUE: I don’t, unfortunately. It’s just the President who mentioned it. I’m not privy to information that was given to the President.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Regarding Ms. Lewis po, mayroon din po ba tayong information and why does the President think na she is capable to conspire with the ICC against the President?

SEC. ROQUE: She is rich! The ICC accepts donations from private persons and organizations. and I do know that—particularly on the reparation fund, the ICC welcomes donations from everyone.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Pero ano po kaya iyong connections niya sir, and her motivations to conspire against the President?

SEC. ROQUE: Civil society kasi is given a very big role in the ICC. In fact in the policy-making meetings of the Assembly of State-Parties as I said, I’ve attended many of these meetings representing civil society. So this is, I guess an unusual feature of the court although it was established by states, civil society is given a very strong voice. And of course if you look at the Rome Statute itself on issues of reparations, this is an innovative feature of the court that civil societies are allowed to assist victims of cases being heard by the court.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Sir, do you have information ng mga civil society groups kung saan nagdo-donate si Ms. Lewis?

SEC. ROQUE: No, I have no information right now.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: And also sir in an interview sir yesterday, iyong Russia sir expressed support for the Philippines’ withdrawal sa ating ratification ng Rome Statute. What can the Palace say about it?

SEC. ROQUE: That’s to be expected, and we’d like to thank Russia for such a comment. The President has said that he is enjoining other countries of the world to withdraw from the ICC. I have read reports that countries like South Africa, although it has relented from its earlier decision to withdraw from the court, will initiate withdrawal proceedings again. So, the Philippines is not alone.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Thank you, sir.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Sir, I understand the ICC released statement that they will still continue with their preliminary investigation regardless if the Philippines withdrew from the Rome Statute. But what if – iyon nga itutuloy nila – the ICC will ask the President’s comment or respond or summon him or his answer to the allegations, will you still submit any answer or just ignore the process?

SEC. ROQUE: The President has not made any directive in this regard, however when the ICC said that we continue to be bound by a duty to cooperate, I’d like to reiterate that the President’s decision was to immediately withdraw. I don’t think the ICC can look forward to cooperation from the Philippines as a state-party or a soon-to-be former state-party to the International Criminal Court.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: And, what can we expect if there is no cooperation from the party, the Philippines?

SEC. ROQUE: I do not know how the ICC can proceed without cooperation from the Philippine state.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Thank you, sir.

ROSE NOVENARIO/HATAW: Sir, good morning po uli. Sir in case na i-push noong ICC iyong pag-imbestiga kay Presidente Duterte, saan naman po puwedeng magpunta iyong Pilipinas para ireklamo naman po iyong ginagawa ng ICC against the Philippines?

SEC. ROQUE: Well halos wala naman pong mga miyembro dito sa ating part of the world, sa ASEAN na member ng ICC. So hindi po masyadong malaking sagabal iyong mangyayari na ‘yan, dahil ang sinasabi ko nga po, wala pa pong universal ratification ang ICC.

There’s only a 124, now, 123. If reports are accurate, it might even be another state leaving, South Africa, 122 and the major countries such as the United States. Russia and China are not parties to the ICC. So, I think the ICC has to rethink its options because they are at the cross roads. We could prove the ICC as being inutile. And the ICC need only blamed its prosecutor for violating the principle of complimentarity.

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: Sir, regarding Boracay, because I understand some of the resorts there, parang hindi na sila binibigyan ng credit line, because may uncertainty whether Boracay will be closed or not. When the President said that he is supporting whatever General Año will be recommending. Papano ba iyon sir, are we going to be have an announcement of the closure or of the rehabilitation phase? Can we be, maybe a little assuring or at least specific as to the direction of the Palace?

SEC. ROQUE: No specific instruction has been made by the President and if he has made a decision then, I would most certainly be the first to announce it. So, right now, there’s not been any decision.

JOSEPH/GMA7: So right now, status quo dapat.

SEC. ROQUE: Right now, it’s status quo, there is a recommendation but the President will act on it and I will verify later in the day from cabinet secretary Evasco if the issue of Boracay will be included in the next cabinet meeting scheduled for the 3rd of April.

JOSEPH/GMA7: April 3 pa?

SEC. ROQUE: That’s the next cabinet meeting.

JOSEPH/GMA7: So, sir halimbawa, I mean coming from the point of view of iyong mga kababayan natin who might be planning to go to Boracay. Can I still proceed with my plans?

SEC. ROQUE: Proceed to Boracay, especially since its Holy Week. I don’t think any closure will happen during the peak, peak season of Boracay. We are looking at possibly, if the President finally accepts the recommendations, lean season.

Incidentally, before we proceed. There was a letter which was copy furnished, me an offer from Boracay 2B to do the drainage of Boracay for free coming from Macro Asia, which is the owner of Boracay 2B; One of two water concessionaires in Boracay.

LIELA SALAVERRIA/PDI: Sir, do you think, Malacañang has to study the plan to open two news casinos in Boracay, in light of the President h desire to rehabilitate the island?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, you know, I don’t really know how the temporary closure will affect the casinos because they will have to construct. But what I do know is there’s a moratorium right now in place for any further improvements in Boracay. So gaya ng sinabi ko po the last time: Caviat developer! Warning to the developer, they should know that all their development plans hinges on what the President will decide upon on the issue of Boracay. But right now, there’s a moratorium on news improvements. So, they can’t build, even if they wanted to today, because of the moratorium.

LIELA/PDI: But after the improvements are made?

SEC. ROQUE: After the improvements are made. I highlight to add that the problem of Boracay is really disposal of wastewaters into to the oceans, which should not have been a problem, because the law says that all resort owners or all those with 50 plus capacity should have their own wastewater treatment – STP – so that the water being discharged into the ocean would already have been treated.

Now, obviously not all establishments complied with this. The option is to connect with the existing sewage system maintained by Manila Water or Boracay water in Boracay. The problem is, all the existing infrastructure appeared to be insufficient now, which explains the back flow of sewage material even in 7 star hotels in Palawan. So, there’s really an imperative to construct drainage and sewage systems in the entire island of Boracay and to enforce the requirement that all resorts should have STPs or wastewater treatment facilities or to adopt a zero-discharge, where water like in, I understand in Shangri-la Boracay, there is a policy of zero discharge, which means that all water in fact, is cleaned and recycled for other purposes.

So, I do not know if the zero-discharge will be part of the recommendation for Boracay, I would think, it should. But at the very least, all resorts should have their wastewater treatment facilities.

LIELA/PDI: But, sir some observer see the problem with the sewerage, a contributing factor to this is the over development of the island. So, would it be wise to have two new casinos there?

SEC. ROQUE: That is what I am saying. If there is a closure or whatever happens to Boracay, what’s imperative now is to lay down expanded infrastructure for both drainage and sewage treatment facilities ‘no. And that’s the argument for closing Boracay, because you can’t dig the road, you can’t put wastewater treatments under the road, you can’t expand the road if you have people tourist lurking around Boracay.

So they want to – the way I understand it — because yesterday, I had a conversation with DENR and DILG, is that they want to close it, so that they can do all the required capital investments for drainage and sewage treatment unimpeded by tourists and other individuals.

So, if they will decide to actually construct wastewater facilities and drainage system: they will have to destroy all roads; expand all roads; put treatment under the roads and that is why they appease to be a recommendation to close Boracay for that purpose, so that major infrastructure construction works can proceed unimpeded.

LIELA/PDI: So, inaayos natin for future businesses.

SEC. ROQUE: Yes. Well of course, we are fixing it, so that it becomes a sustainable environment. It can be sustainable, it can support huge developments as it was originally envisioned during the time of Imelda Marcos, they wanted it to be modern Monaco, that is why they issued a PD that it is tourism reserved. That was the idea, but they never just build the infrastructure. They should have built the infrastructure when Boracay was pristine, but they perhaps did not envision that Boracay would be the best beach in the world, attracting this much crowd today.

JOSEPH/GMA7: Sir, if I maybe direct, kasi may mga impression sa online and some observers na parang: okay iko-close ninyo iyong Boracay pero may papasukin pala kayong isa. Meaning, iyong intention to really clean up Boracay is really, it doesn’t appeared to be such, na parang mas ang priority is to maybe give way.

SEC. ROQUE: No, I don’t think so. Because if they build a facility as big as they want to build, perhaps the DENR will require what Shangri-La Boracay has, which is zero-discharge. When we talk about zero discharge, that means they are actually reusing all wastewater, treating it and reusing it either for flushing or for gardening purposes. So, an establishment as big as this casino, will probably be required to have not just an STP, but the water recycling treatment facility. So the size will not matter for as long as, a necessary infrastructure are there.

JOPEL PALENIO/DWIZ: Sir iyong national ID system na approve na Senate and nasa Palasyo na po yata iyong bola.

SEC. ROQUE: Na-approve na ba siya sa House din, na-approve na rin sa House ‘no.

JOPEL/DWIZ: Yes.

SEC. ROQUE: So, it will be submitted to the Palace. But I do not know if they have already a bicam. The next procedure is for the Senate and the House to reconcile both their respective versions, after which, it will be ratified by both houses. So I would say, before they go on sine die adjournment, this will become law.

JOPEL/DWIZ: So after ng mga proseso sa both Congress, sure po ba na aaprubahan ito ni Presidente?

SEC. ROQUE: I believe so, because in the last cabinet meeting, there was an overwhelming consensus for the need for the national ID system and there’s already a budget allotted in the 2018 budget for national ID.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Sir, sabi ng DICT late June or July, basta before SONA po, maa-announce iyong third Telco player. Is the President okay with this timeline considering na sabi niya first quarter of the year, dapat open running na iyong third player?

SEC. ROQUE: Whether or not he is happy, that’s the reality. What can he do! At least he prompted that actual steps be undertaken leading to the announcement in June. Had he not exercise the political will, we would still have bickerings from the two, the duopoly and machinations and orchestrations against the third Telecoms.

PIA/ABS-CBN: May bago po ba siyang deadline na sine-set for DICT?

SEC. ROQUE: Wala na po siyang deadline na sinet. Basta ang deadline niya, March, then it was not met, then as soon as possible.

ALVIN: Secretary magandang umaga po. Sir, mukhang nagpa-interview na si dating General Manager Al Bitangcol ng MRT. Hihingi na rin kami ng update tungkol doon sa whistleblower sa MRT at saka iyong mga documents?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi ko pa nakakausap si Al Vitangcol. He is not obviously my whistleblower. As in fact, he says may whistleblowers daw are, I guess, what he says is their testimonies are weak compared to his. I do not know what he has to say. But I am able to confirm that I had a meeting with the Usec for legal for DOTR and we will listen to what Al Vitangcol has to say to corroborate the statements of whistleblowers that have already communicated with me.

JOPEL/DWIZ: So, sir may possibility na baka maging state witness po siya?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi ko pa po alam. I do not know what he has to say. Actually I do not know what he has to say.

Okay, now we have guest. Our guest for today is, from the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, Mr. Jonas George Soriano. He is Deputy Executive Director and Assistant Secretary for Project Performance Management Office. He will share with us updates on the issues regarding the National Food Authority on behalf of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco.

Prior to his appointment, he was a supervising fellow, managing director at the Development Academy of the Philippines, where he led innovative degree programs, trainings certificates and other consultancies of the academy. Ladies and gentlemen of the Malacañang Press Corps, Pilipinas let us all give a warm welcome to Asec. Jonas George Soriano.

ASEC. SORIANO: Maayong buntag sa tanan. Nice to see you again! In behalf of our Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco, Let me read his press statement. I would like to thank Secretary Harry L. Roque for allowing us to present the latest reaffirmations during the NFA Council which met with the President on the 19th of March 2018 and conducted a special NFA Council meeting on the same day. Present during the meeting with the President, with the President are the following: President, of course our President and then Executive Secretary Salvador Campo Medialdea, DTI Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, NEDA—Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, representing DOF Secretary Carlos Dominguez was Undersecretary Bayani H. Agabin and then this included Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Nestor Espenilla, Landbank President Alex Buenaventura, DBP Board Member Attorney Teodoro M. Jumamil and farmer representative Edwin Y. Paraluman.

During and the subsequent special NFA council meeting were its members and Secretary Piñol also was there. So in the interest of transparency, accountability, ensuring rice and food security, and the NFA’s council to safeguard the institution from graft and corruption, the National Food Authority Council (NFA) agreed and discussed the following points: First, even with the sufficient supply of rice for the entire country to date, the NFA management is directed to start the procurement process of the approved standby authority to import 250,000 metric tons to increase the current NFA inventory or buffer stock.

The said rice import is set to arrive May of this year. This is to allow NFA to have enough buffer stock for the upcoming lean months of the year in which the highest harvest is of the lowest. Second, the mode of procurement of the 250,000 metric tons standby authority will be government-to-private importation or open tender in which the terms of reference will be the same as the previous government-to-private procurement of 2017.

The reason of using the same TOR is to ensure immediate procurement of imported rice based on the guidelines of the procurement law. It is worth noting that the TOR includes the following: Standardization of specification of the rice produce to the Philippine Grain Standardization Program, Specifications on the volume in metric tons and expansion of Ports of arrival, ensuring the presence of NFA representative at the discharging point, provision for monitoring adherence to quality specifications among others at the origin and upon arrival.

Third, the NFA Council emphasized the urgency to expedite the amendment of Republic Act number 8178, otherwise known as the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996. The said bill when inducted into law will protect local rice farmers from the lifting of qualitative restrictions on rice imports and we will also provide the country additional income to hire tariffs for imported agricultural products particularly rice and allow for a more equitable supply of rice.

In summary, the bill seeks to prescribe tariff rates for rice importation, strengthen the sector to meet the head challenges of import threats and kick the Philippine—the food secure, provide funds to be allocated to the rice sector based on a rice industry roadmap with the following principles of rice industry competitiveness, farmers profitability and support focusing on the whole value chain and technologies oriented location, situation and farmers specifics supports services. Got that…

It is also worth noting that the proceeds of the tariff will accrue to the government’s agricultural enhancement fund to be used for the farmers in the form of farmer service interventions and appropriate technology machines alike. As such, the Council is again requesting for Congress to pass the bill as the earliest possible time.

Fourth, the NFA Council favors the conduct of a special audit of NFA’s procurement and distribution operations. The audit shall be administered by the Commission on Audit so as to assess the current NFA operations to determine points for improvement, streamline bottlenecks in the agencies pr0curement and distribution processes with the end goal of making NFA cost and operationally efficient.

Fifth, with the continued arrival of imported rice through our commitments to the minimum access volume, the NFA Council has agreed that DTI shall work together with the NFA management to identify and tag rice imports under the minimum access volume, so as to establish and ensure its affordability to the Filipino consumer. It was also agreed that DTI shall step up and intensify price monitoring to ensure unwarranted increases or even price manipulation in rice prices.

Sixth, directed—the Council directed NFA management to increase domestic buying of palay especially during these early days of harvest through creative strategies in the form of incentives or sweeteners for farmers to sell to NFA. The main trust is to buy locally first, prior to considering importation, we must protect the farmers first.

Seventh, through report of the Department of Finance, it is worth noting that NFA continuously incur a net low subsidy because of high interest rates and financial charges. Income from trading cannot cover the interest and financing costs. The same barely covers the other operating cost. As such, DFA is proposing the following: reiterating the immediate passage of the Tariffication Act to encourage private traders to participate in rice importation and allow the inflow of affordable rice to the market; Limit NFA’s role to buffer stocking for emergency and calamities and transfer NFA’s regulatory role to another appropriate body. Henceforth, subsidies to NFA will be limited to buffer stocks only. Aggressively implement measures to reduce the production cost of rice such as mechanization, investment that will also increase yield, among others.

Eight, the Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary Piñol said that the country is raring itself towards rice self-sufficiency. And as laid down, the department plans and actions towards closing the gap through the following initiatives: Improve competitiveness; increase farm income; ensured access to safe and nutritious rice and enhance disaster resiliency for rice farms. This must also include an ensured smooth transition of farmers and workers. The DA Secretary also called for better interagency connectivity between DA and related agencies on rice and agriculture production as well as improving the budget for irrigation.

Let me underscore that these agreements, discussions stated wherein consideration of the necessary projections of the National Rice Inventory, came realities in the rice industry and NFA’s role in providing affordable rice in the country. In furtherance of transparency, the NFA has actually submitted itself to the different government institutions, the latest of which is the Senate.

In this regard, let me thank Senator Cynthia Villar for her efforts at the Senate to look into the situati0n of the rice in the country and we welcome a more extensive inquiry on the rice and the overall operations of NFA.

Again, we would like to assure the public that the NFA Council is keen on ensuring continued supply of affordable rice for Filipino people while working hand in hand with other departments to ensure that the interest of the Filipino farmers and their families as part of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s commitment for a better Philippines and a comfortable life for the Filipinos. Thank you.

ROCKY IGNACIO/PTV4: Sir, basahin ko lang iyong question from Pia Ranada of Rappler. Cabinet Secretary Evasco said, NFA Administrator Jason Aquino wanted amendments to terms of reference. What amendments daw po ito?

ASEC. SORIANO: There are—these amendments, I think—I don’t have the details on hand. So I cannot say specifically which amendments that they are seeking. But the Council still decided to push for the TOR that was already discussed during the 2017 Council meeting. So maybe later I’ll try to provide some of the details of it. The detail that will not have problems in terms of procurement ha, kasi—of course this is—it’s a bid eh. We cannot also reveal all of this, so that we have a more—a very good process for procurement.

BELLA CARIASO/BANDERA: Sir, good morning—

ASEC. SORIANO: Good morning, Ma’am.

BELLA/BANDERA: Ay good afternoon. Sir, whatever happen doon sa plan natin to audit iyong mga warehouses ng mga ano natin—traders? Considering—despite nga na mayroon na tayong plan to import para ma-stabilize iyong ating supply ng rice. Ano na iyong ano—ano na iyong nangyari doon sa plan nating iyon? ‘Di ba iyon iyong sinasabi ni Secretary Evasco noon?

ASEC. SORIANO: There are—the work of the NFA Council is bounded by how it does it work which is policies. It has directed NFA management to do the necessary agreements made by the Council. And to date, we know that NFA Administrator Jason is doing such. I just don’t have the details on what has he done to and which warehouses has he made audited.

BELLA/BANDERA: So wala pong report na isina-submit sa NFA Council ang NFA?

ASEC. SORIANO: To date wala pa. Again, we are reminded that this is part also of what we are trying to do. We have to make sure that as we enact the policy, we all0w also management to do its work in terms of the day to day operations.

ACE ROMERO/PHIL. STAR: Asec., can you elaborate on the audit that you are proposing, the auditing of NFA management operations?

ASEC. SORIANO: Well the idea really is to find out what’s really happening in terms of the different warehouses in procurements on the field. The general idea is we’d like to find out and help NFA management, according to Secretary Evasco, in planning our strategies for procurement. One thing that we are hearing which he has always been proposing is ‘Why don’t we increase the price?’ But our problem is once you increase the price, unlike oil, aut0matically when you increase the price of rice talagang tataas ang mga presyo eh. So what’s being decided upon is how can we help NFA management improve how they procure. Part of it will be looking at where do they buy? How—at what time? During the harvest season, do they buy—do they buy at the end of the season or do they before the start of the season? Kasi there’s a difference when you start buying at the end, normally agawan ng suplay, mauuna talaga ang presyo.

Second, we’d like to also and try to understand the issues that NFA management is also saying, so that when the council comes out with the decision, it not only looks into what the NFA is saying, but looks also of the interest of the other players in the industry.

Q: Is this a cognition that the management is not doing enough to curb, say, iyong hoarding? Kasi nabanggit dati ni Secretary Evasco iyon eh, they need to be more proactive in monitoring warehouses. Is it a recognition na mayroong konti, or kung mayroon man, na pagkukulang iyong management?

ASEC. SORIANO: It’s more a recognition that NFA Council is supposed to be a body that really oversees how things are done. The recognition kasi, if you look at the past and we were looking at how NFA Council was running, it wasn’t as active as today.

And when you look at it—I don’t know, maybe that’s in effect, baka hindi nga sanay na you know, mayroong board na tumitingin or may council. So it’s part of NFA council’s role in trying to help ensure that when decisions are made coming from management, it also has a broader view of things.

Q: Pero why the need to audit? Kasi you don’t audit something kung wala kayong nakikitang problema. Mayroon ba kayong nakikitang problems with the way NFA is performing its tasks?

ASEC. SORIANO: This issue of the lack of NFA rice is really something that both management and the council would really like to look at it together. It’s hard if it comes from us; it’s hard if it comes from management. So what we are saying is, we want a body that both of us will look at. I mean, usually it’s normal in operations to audit.

Q: So kailan mag-uumpisa iyong audit? And when do you expect to come up with the results?

ASEC. SORIANO: Well, we’re hoping that the NFA management can make already the necessary representations, because this is already immediately needed.

We don’t want this issue of procurement to be a monthly occurrence. It’s as if every two or three months, if not me, Secretary Evasco sees you. If not you, NFA Administrator sees you. Because there’s always been this issue!

So what the council wants is further guidance, further elaboration on how things are being done on the field; and it will help if it comes from a third body.

Q: Last na lang para sa akin. So is it safe to say na iyong naging isyu ng supposed… iyong balita na may shortage daw na eventually dini-bunk ninyo naman, nakapag-influence sa Council to recommend that audit? Is it safe to assume that?

ASEC. SORIANO: I don’t know if the word is “If it’s safe to assume.” Basta ang nangyari noong pinag-uusapan iyong issues about how to move forward in terms of procurement, and then pinag-usapan iyong request for pagtaas ng presyo ng palay, part of the decisions that were made were … so that we can look at it more squarely, let’s get a third party to audit operations.

JAH ROSALES/BUSINESS MIRROR: Sir, itatanong ko lang: Ilan na lang po ang buffer stock na available sa NFA ngayon?

ASEC. SORIANO: According to NFA, the buffer stock is 1.15 days. This 1.15 days of buffer stock, meaning, this is the supply of rice that supposed to go to disaster-ridden areas. One point-one five days, so I was looking for the exact translation of this 1.15 days to the number of days that it can actually supply the market.

Alam mo, if you look at rice, if you look at rice inventory, three groups have rice – the household itself, that ones that are selling it and the one from NFA. NFA only manages four percent of the total distribution of rice. So, what is clear to us, assuming that all the rice – the household, the market – there’s no rice, then NFA … and you have remaining 1.15 days of rice. I was told by our friends inside that, well, actually that 1.15 days, we can stretch it to around 20 days because this 1.15 days is the buffer stock and it’s for the whole country in terms of the disaster that is being pushed – ahh not being pushed – in order to save the rice that we need in areas need during disaster.

JAH ROSALES/BUSINESS MIRROR: But, sir, under the LEDAC, the NFA is required to maintain a stockpile of at least 15 days at any given time.

ASEC. SORIANO: Yes. Last year, there was an approved procurement of rice, and this is still ongoing. It’s going to finish hopefully by April and May. And then the approval of the standby importation was already authorized as indicated in my first point.

So hopefully, this will cover even the necessary requirement by LEDAC. Ika nga, I remember iyong sinabi ni Secretary Harry Roque ay ‘watch team’, ‘ika nga sabi ni Pangulo, “Mas maganda laging sobra, huwag lang kulang.”

So we’re really looking into the details of this rice supply, and making sure that by a certain time, we’re assured of that buffer stock. So kailangan iyong natitirang buffer stock, 1.15, it really … it should be used only for the disaster-stricken areas.

JAH ROSALES/BUSINESS MIRROR: So last question, for clarification lang: Sa May na darating iyong 250K or sa May matatapos iyong procurement?

ASEC. SORIANO: It’s going to be a schedule. Ang balak is, dapat by May ay dumating na. Kasi ang problema, if it hits June, July, magkakaproblema na naman tayo sa pricing eh. So ang parang habol, may it come earlier so it doesn’t affect the pricing of palay and rice, and where it’s going to be used again as buffer stock, not again to sell to the market.

JAH ROSALES/BUSINESS MIRROR: Last follow up: Nag-i-expect ba tayo ng bumper harvest ngayong season?

ASEC. SORIANO: Ongoing siya, ongoing siya. In fact, DA was really very static in telling us that they are already closed to that rice self-sufficiency target. But as mentioned nga kanina, they are still moving and putting in some more things so that they can make sure it happens.

GENALYN KABILING/MANILA BULLETIN: Hello, sir. Did the President express his dismay or anger towards NFA Chief Jason Aquino during the meeting for creating the supposed rice shortage?

ASEC. SORIANO: This is the nice thing: That is reserved for him. I cannot speak for the President.

GENALYN KABILING/MANILA BULLETIN: You weren’t there, sir, during the meeting?

ASEC. SORIANO: Well, I know the meeting proceeded accordingly; there was no expression.

GENALYN KABILING/MANILA BULLETIN: So is it safe to assume that NFA Chief Aquino will remain in his post with the President’s trust and confidence?

ASEC. SORIANO: Well, he is still there. I don’t think there’s a problem as of today.

GENALYN KABILING/MANILA BULLETIN: Walang pinagalitan?

ASEC. SORIANO: Wala. Pero ang mas worried talaga siya—maganda iyong statement niya e, “Mabuti pang sobra kaysa kulang, kasi kapag inabutan tayo, problema iyan!”

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: Sir, Napansin din po ni second Spokesperson Manny Piñol—

ASEC. SORIANO: [LAUGHS]

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: Joke lang. Na si Presidente wants to have coffee with the rice traders. Any updates on that? And why did he want to—

ASEC. SORIANO: That, I don’t have ano … again, I cannot speak again for the President about that. I think it’s more again Secretary Harry’s. Kasi during the meeting that was not touched.

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: Okay. Sir, just to simplify, baka mamaya ma-spin and whatever: There is no rice shortage, yes?

ASEC. SORIANO: No, there is no rice shortage.

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: Okay. Kumukuha tayo ng 250 MT just to fatten iyong ating buffer stock na 1.15?

ASEC. SORIANO: Yes, yes.

ROSE NOVENARIO/HATAW: Hi, sir. Trabaho rin po ba ng konseho iyong i-monitor iyong pagtaas ng presyo ng bigas? Kasi po noong nagkaroon ng artificial rice shortage, parang sinamantala po ito ng cartel na diri-diretso silang nagtaas ng presyo dahil wala nga iyong NFA rice.

ASEC. SORIANO: Alam mo, the group that has the main role of that is really DTI. But since DTI is part of the council, there is a … parang tulungan between DTI and NFA about this. But DTI has been doing its work. It’s been monitoring. In fact, when NEDA did its computations, there was no rice price increase initially. It only started happening when all this buzzed about shortage happened. After that—that’s why ang ginagawa ng … we’re always asking DTI to make sure that they continue their work, and they’ve really been doing it in all areas in the Philippines.

ROSE NOVENARIO/HATAW: At may maparusahan po?

ASEC. SORIANO: That’s up to really to DTI, that’s really part of their work.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Rose. Thank you, Asec. Jonas Soriano. Presidential Spokesperson Roque Harry…

SEC. ROQUE: As you can see, Asec. is giving Sal Panelo a run for the title of best dressed executive in the Duterte administration.

If there’s no more question, I would be on leave. Please direct all your questions to our heads up group. The OIC is Asec. Queenie, so Asec. Queenie will address all your requests for statements and clarifications. Senior Deputy Executive Secretary, Secretary Meynard Guevarra will be giving two press briefings on the first week of April. And if you want, there will be a press briefing before we go on Lent holiday with either Asec. Queenie answering your questions or Director Attorney Macel Seno answering your questions…

I will see you on the 8th of—no, hindi na pala because I go with the President to a trip abroad. So I will see you in the second week of April.

Q: [OFF MIC]

SEC. ROQUE: He will be in Davao. Nasa Davao lang po ang ating Presidente pagdating ng Semana Santa, at magkakaroon po siya ng mga trips sa … matapos po ng Semana Santa.

Q: [OFF MIC]

SEC. ROQUE: Alam ninyo po, iyong birthday ng Presidente, ang ginagawa lang talaga niya sa birthday niya ay nagkukulong sa bahay. Pero baka po magkaroon ng pagdiriwang matapos po talaga ang araw ng kaniyang birthday.

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

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