Press Briefing

Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

Event Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque
Location International Media Center, Da Nang, Vietnam

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the press.

I think the President has proven that he is not just the leader of the Philippine; he’s not just the Chairman of ASEAN but he is a recognized leader for the rest of the developing world when he called that globalization should result in benefits for all ‘no.

He specifically addressed members of the APEC ‘no to seek measures to assist those who have been left behind because of the process of globalization.

That has been the theme of President Duterte’s remarks, not only in the plenary but I think that is the theme for the Philippine position as in general ‘no in this year’s APEC that globalization should benefit all.

Of course, I’m ready to accept questions from members of the media. 

Q: How was the first meeting between President Duterte and President Trump? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: It was a brief meeting. I, myself, was not present in the room but I got the information from Secretary Bong Go, who is the Special Assistant to the President.

Albeit short, it was very warm and cordial and President Trump reportedly told President Duterte that he will see him tomorrow.

That’s because the US President is flying to the Philippines for the ASEAN Summit tomorrow. 

Q: From the Wall Street Journal. I understand that in the latest talks and in the ministerial talks, the US pushed for the laws against language on protectionism, the joint statement, and on issues of multilateral trading agreements. Can you elaborate on the nature of that discussion and the tone of the talks, both the ministerial and the leaders’ level? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, unfortunately, I was not present in the ministerial conference ‘no. One inherent feature of APEC is much of the discussions are held in closed doors ‘no.

I have heard only as much as you have said. But I think we have to await the final statement that will come out. 

Q: Were in you the Leaders’ Meeting? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: No. Again, the APEC Conference is novel because in the Leaders’ Meeting, it’s generally held in closed doors.

And the reason is they want to facilitate candid exchange of opinions and information between leaders of APEC ‘no.

Most of the bilats were also held in closed doors but I was privy to the bilateral talks between President Duterte and President Putin. 

Q: Okay. Just to ask a related question. The ministers’ statement from APEC had a language that was quite different to the statement from last year. I know for instance there was no language on multilateralism, protectionism was addressed differently. Can I ask for the Philippines’ perspective on this? How do you view that shift in rhetoric, from the US-backed multilateral trade to US-backed economic nationalism? What’s the Philippines’ perspective about… 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, I think the President responded to this in his address during his keynote when he said that the United States became the first victim of globalization.

I think although the thrust of the Philippines’ President was that globalization should result in all-inclusive growth for countries, he has noted some of the adverse affects of globalization and he wanted to stress that point by emphasizing that even the United States ‘no has suffered from some of the dire consequences of globalization.

But the point was he was speaking for many developing countries when he said that globalization should not result in countries being left behind ‘no.

And I think he elaborated on that point in the question and answer. He says that while some countries, mostly the rich countries have been promoting free trade, that they appeared to be encouraging restrictions to trade somehow ‘no on some aspects ‘no.

So he therefore stated that for all-inclusive growth, globalization must result to benefits for all, rich and poor countries alike. 

Q: Hi, sir. Could you — Only if you know. I hope you do. Do you have talking points already of the bilateral meeting between President Trump and President Duterte? Will they be discussing the South China Sea? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, I don’t have the talking points yet because the bilateral talks will be held in Manila ‘no. So I don’t have… I don’t have the talking points yet.

And although I would suppose it would be safe to assume that the discussion on West Philippine Sea will take place because in the remark of the US President, he also said that the interest of the United States is to maintain freedom of navigation ‘no in crucial waterways.

 Q: When he does mention, President Trump, the freedom of navigation and its value to the region and given President Duterte’s pivot, so to speak, to… away from the US into China, how do you think will the President respond to such a statement from the US President? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I think the President of the Philippines joins the rest of the world in maintaining that there should be freedom of navigation in a very crucial sea passage, sea lane passage ‘no.

The West Philippine Sea, as you know, is one of the busiest sea routes in the world. And it is to the interest of everyone that countries in the region, including the claimants to the disputed islands and waters of the West Philippine Sea, should recognize the principle of freedom of navigation. 

Q: Thank you.

Q: From The Guardian newspaper. I have two questions. The first one is, could you describe the personal rapport between President Trump and President Duterte? My second question is, as a human rights lawyer, what is it like to work for a man who has been already criticized, including by the European Union and the United Nations, for grave human rights violations? What’s your opinion of that as from a personal and legal perspective? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: The meeting between the two Presidents was short but it was warm and cordial ‘no. There’s a photo posted by the Special Assistant to the President Bong Go.

And it shows that I think, the two leaders were genuinely pleased to have finally met each other in person.

And in your second question, well the Philippine President has had the opportunity to clarify his position ‘no on the alleged killings in the Philippines.

His position is as a lawyer, as a past public prosecutor for 10 years, he will stand by the actions of the state agents, the Philippine National Police in particular, where the killings arise from what he refers to as legal engagements.

But in one instance where the President himself concluded that there was unnecessary use of force leading to the death of a teenager named Kian, he called the Chief of the PNP and ordered the arrest of the responsible policemen.

So that is the latest statement of the President on the matter. He wants to emphasize that as a public prosecutor for 10 years, it is not his intention to violate and commit murders — to violate human rights and to commit murders.

Q: Just a follow up. When there have been so many killings in the Philippines related to drugs, not only by the police but also by vigilantes, with the President been talking openly on a couple of occasions, you know, calling for people to sort of take the law into their own hands, [inaudible] is this something that the President should address in his rhetoric? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, I can only go by his most recent pronouncement on killings ‘no. And the fact that he has since appointed me as his Spokesperson.

One of the reasons, I believe, is he wants to put the — his official communication in the proper legal context, realizing that perhaps the legal context is not very well appreciated if a Spokesperson is not a lawyer.

So as a lawyer now, the position is: The use of force by state agents, of course, is not absolutely prohibited. It can be utilized in valid instances of the exercise of police power.

But that the use of force, in order to be legal, there must be necessity and proportionality and that is the latest pronouncement of the President in this regard. 

Q: Hi, Secretary. I understand one of the reason why the President wasn’t able to attend the event last night was because he was attending to a problem of some Vietnamese sailor being kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf. May we know the latest on this? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, I am able to confirm that Philippine authorities were able to recover four kidnapped victims.

Three of them were recovered alive. Unfortunately, the fourth one was already lifeless when he was recovered.

The Philippine government expresses their condolences and sympathies to family of the fourth Vietnamese fisherman who has been found dead.

But it was important for the Philippine President in fact to supervise the recovery efforts. I can confirm that the fishermen are currently in the custody of the Philippine Navy.

And that they are being debriefed and they will be — they will soon be seen by Vietnamese authorities.

But that’s as far as I’m able to inform the media. 

Q: Any possibility — Or if he has a pronouncement of having a total war or sort of like that to finish that once and for all? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Total war against the Abu Sayyaf? 

Q: Yeah. 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, I think the President has ordered in fact ‘no that state agents should pursue to the full extent of… to the full extent of possible ‘no, to pursue the lawless elements of the Abu Sayyaf Group. Still active particularly in the island province of Sulu. 

Q: Okay. Thank you.

Q: My name is [My?] I’m from Reuters news agency. I have one question. What do you expect out of the special leaders’ meeting between the Philippines and Indonesia and Malaysia tomorrow about Marawi and terrorism? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I’m sorry. Special? [There’s something wrong with the acoustics, I think ‘no.] 

Q: It’s a meeting ahead of the ASEAN Summit meeting next week and Philippines is supposed to meet Indonesia and Malaysia tomorrow to talk about Marawi and terrorism. So what do you expect out of this… that meeting? Thank you. 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, I think as original and founding members of ASEAN and as the immediate nations… immediate neighbors of the Philippines, I think the President would want to discuss shared security issues, particularly relating to modern day terrorism and the threat from ISIS with the leaders from Indonesia and Malaysia.

But it will be very informal. They would have other agenda because in any case, there’s been ongoing communication between these three countries on how to best address what really is an international concern that is modern-day terrorism. 

Q: Just have one more follow up question on the meeting between President Duterte and President Trump. You said you don’t have the main talking points of that meeting or the meeting next week? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Yes because the talking points that I think the reporter from the Philippines asked was the meeting between the Philippine President and President Trump ‘no of the United States.

And I did say that unlike the bilaterals which were held here in Da Nang, at least for the first day where they had available talking points ‘no.

I still have to receive the talking points for the ASEAN meetings. 

Q: Hi, Secretary. Good afternoon. Sir, on two points. Sir, just a reaction. Commission on Human Rights — also on human rights sir.

CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon noted that the President was wrong in saying that President Trump should lay off from talking about human rights in the Philippines. Can we get Malacañang’s reaction on this? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: That’s the opinion of the CHR Chair. As far as Philippine President Duterte is concerned, the war against drug is a domestic police matter.

It is subject to the principle of non-interference ‘no, which is recognized in the UN Charter and in international law. 

Q: Sir, on second topic. There is a Social Weather Stations survey that was conducted last September. Fifty-four percent of Filipinos agreed and 30 percent disagrees that martial law that is being implemented in Mindanao should be exten… should be extended by the President.  

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, we’re certainly thankful that the majority of the Filipino people have shown support for the declaration of martial law ‘no. Note that although only 50 plus responded that they support the declaration of martial law, the undecided is still in two figures ‘no.

So it could be that the number of individuals supporting could still increase.

But we stress that the declaration of martial law was necessary to deal with actual terrorism in Marawi. It was not just a threat. It resulted in actual fighting and it lasted more than 50 days.

So we feel that the declaration was very much justified and we appreciate the support of the people for such a declaration. 

Q: Thank you, sir.

Q: Hi, I’m Karishma from BBC News. Just to pick up on one of the questions earlier about the war on drugs. Are you saying that President Trump and President Duterte will not be talking about that? And given President Duterte’s reaction to former President Obama last year at the ASEAN Summit when he used profanity to describe President Obama, what are you concerned about with regards to Duterte’s reaction to any statement from President Trump on the war on drugs? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I think the Philippine President was very clear in his statement to the Philippine media on our first night here in Da Nang.

He will refuse to pursue any talks relating to a domestic issue, such as his war on drugs.

Now, having said that, I’m confident that President Trump, having endorsed Duterte’s war on drugs, will also see no necessity in bringing it up.

Q: Hello sir, good afternoon. Can you tell us what’s on the agenda when the President meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping today? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, I think again, the Philippine President told Philippine media on our first night here that he will relay to China the need for China to clarify its intentions on the West Philippine Sea, particularly on the issue of freedom of navigation.

He has said that publicly and I am sure he will pursue this issue not only because it’s relevant to the Philippines but as he said, it is relevant to ASEAN in general and as a chairman of ASEAN, he is duty bound to raise the issue.

Q: Yes, sorry. One more. Any expectation on the discussion on North Korea with Donald Trump and President Duterte? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, the President has said ‘no, particularly in his departure statement when he visited Japan, that he joins the concern of the international community on the possible ramifications arising from events happening in North Korea.

He has warned against what he has described as another nuclear holocaust and he has encouraged all states to communicate with each other.

So yes, I confirm that the Philippine President has attached tremendous importance to what will happen in North Korea and has recognized that any resort to the use of force, particularly nuclear weapons, would result in dire consequences to the entire region and would adversely affect the economic development that we are currently achieving in the Philippines.

Q: Sir, in relation to the bilateral meetings between President Xi and President Duterte later, how will the President — will President Duterte be doing a balancing act regarding the issue on South China Sea, noting that China is aggressively against the freedom of navigation operations of the US in the disputed area? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, I think it will have to be in the context of number one, the President has opted for an independent foreign policy, which means that we recognize that our national interest as Filipinos are separate and distinct from any other foreign nations, including the United States.

Number two, he has pivoted to Asia, veered away from traditional political relationship between the Philippines and the United States, the Philippines being the only colony of the United States and has opted to pursue very close and very friendly relations not only with China but also with Japan and Russia ‘no.

And number three, he has said that although he has asked for arms from Russia, he will use the arms in connection with the war against terrorism. It is not to the interest of the Philippines to declare war on any state and it is not to the interest of the Philippines to get involved in any conflict between superpowers.

Q: Sir, just on the rescue of the Vietnamese fishermen. When was this? Was it last night? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: It was… yes, it was yesterday.

Q: Yesterday. Last night. Because the President wasn’t at the Gala ‘no? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Yeah. Yes. So he was being informed already of developments ‘no.

Q: Yeah. What province was this? Sulu? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Sulu. But I think I may have said too much already. I promised to intelligence agencies that I will not go beyond saying that four kidnapped victims were recovered in the province of… island province of Sulu.

Q: Rescued, not ransomed off? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I’m sorry?

Q: Not ransomed? I mean, not… we didn’t pay any ransom for them? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: We have a policy against the payment of any sorts of ransom, okay.

Q: Sir, has the President relayed this development to President Tran Dai Quang on the Vietnamese fishermen? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I’m not aware if he has personally relayed but Vietnamese authorities have been informed.

Q: Thank you, sir. 

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