Press Briefing

Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

OPENING STATEMENT:

Good morning. Let’s begin with the good news today. Good news Thursday.

SWS survey on net personal optimism shows that there has been an increase in net personal optimism from 40 percent in June 2017 to 42 percent in September 2017.

We consider these ratings, classified “excellent” by SWS, consistent with our high economic growth which registered 6.9 percent in the third quarter of the year.

So the figure exceeded market expectations and it is faster than the 6.7 percent growth in the second quarter.

Furthermore, the Asian Development Bank recently raised the Philippine growth forecast for 2017 from 6.5 percent to 6.7 percent from 2018 and from 6.7 percent to 6.8 percent.

Our people have reasons to be optimistic as Marawi is liberated and growth performance of the Philippines is expected to be sustained.

Having said this, we urge businesses and entrepreneurs to continue investing, increasing productivity, improving services, and creating employment opportunities while government does its part in improving business and governance.

Well, we also thank both Houses of Congress for ratifying the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act or the TRAIN bill. As you know, this is very important for the administration because it is a train that will fund the Build, Build, Build program of the government. The Build, Build, Build in turn is our strategy in dealing with poverty in general ‘no.

Now, this measure — this final version of TRAIN, together with the complementary measures to be passed early in 2018, will yield more than P120 billion in revenue ‘no.

We are investing in growth enhancing infrastructure projects not only to ease congestion but also to spur trade and investments.

The administration is a government of “tapang at malasakit”. We will thus ensure that the benefits of tax reform will also be felt by the poor, vulnerable and marginalized through our various social protection programs in health, education and housing.

Now, we also thank Congress for ratifying the 2018 National Budget ‘no. We welcome the decision of Congress to ratify the 2018 National Budget.

The 2018 National Budget is a budget that seeks to reform and transform. And with its approval, we hope to provide sufficient funding for the administration’s thrust and priority programs in reducing inequality, maintaining the foundations for a sustainable development, increasing our growth potential and enhancing the social fabric as part of our continuing agenda of genuine change and positive transformation of our people.

So we assure everyone that we will use people’s money to good use as we thank everyone for working diligently and spending countless hours in planning and crafting this budget until its passage.

Perhaps, let me add that in the last Cabinet meeting, there was already a particular section ‘no where the different departments were made to report on their spending levels as of the last Cabinet meeting.

So the President is not only serious about using the budget as a tool for change but ensuring that the problem of underspending in the past are being addressed today.

Now there is also a new labor survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority which showed that there has been a decline in underemployment rate, which stands today at 15.9 percent. This is the lowest level of underemployment in 10 years.

This shows that our efforts in improving the quality of employment which include enhancing our workers employability and competitiveness and intensifying our employment facilitation services are bearing results.

Now, the same survey though showed that there was a little decrease in — there was a little increase in unemployment rate from 4.7 a year ago to 5 percent today, which we feel though is compensated by the lowest level of underemployment rate in 10 years.

Questions?

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:

Leila Salaverria (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Sir, on federalism. The President said that the Filipino people don’t seem to be accepting the idea. So what is now Malacañang’s plan to — for this push? Is the President still going to insist on this?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, right now, the President did mention that he is inviting media to be his partner in disseminating the benefits of federalism. So there will be intensified dissemination activities to explain to the people the need for federalism.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, what do you think is the reason for this idea not being readily accepted by the people?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Truth to tell is it’s difficult to understand sometimes how the change of government to federalism will address our everyday problem.

I’m a convert, not only because I became a spokesperson. But I’ve had a case pending in the Supreme Court for the longest time, the right of Palawan to its just share of 40 percent gross of the Malampaya profits, Malampaya revenues.

It’s been pending for the past eight years. And of course, under a federal form of government, there would be no debate that local governments would be entitled to revenues derived from natural resources found in their area ‘no.

So to me, that’s the biggest argument for federalism because under the existing Local Government Code, although it provides for local autonomy and fiscal autonomy, it simply is not implemented ‘no.

There’s another case pending in the Supreme Court filed by Governor Dodo Mandanas on a recomputation of the IRA ano because certain taxes are not included in the computation of IRA, which of course affects fiscal autonomy as well ‘no.

So it’s issues like these which would indicate or would stress ‘no the necessity of Charter Change in favor of federal form of government. Because under the existing laws, national government will simply not do it.

Joseph Morong (GMA): Sir, but — okay, doon sa natural resources, maganda ‘yun ‘no. Pero there are criticisms to — on federalism na how about the political dynasties ‘cause basically you will just have several fiefdoms kasi sino ba ang makakatakbo doon sa mga federal states, well those who have money right?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, you know, I guess the problem is only those with money tend to be in politics full stop. Whether it’s unitary or federalist ‘no.

Again, just to share you my personal experience which is not really relevant but I guess it shows why people can change their positions ‘no. The person who really changed my mind on this was no less than the Swiss Ambassador who told me, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me explain to you how we do it in Switzerland.”

And of course in Switzerland, they vote even on infrastructure projects ‘no as a means of fully enforcing and implementing people power governance ‘no, so to speak ‘no.

So, the sad reality is whether be it unitary or federal, the rich tend to be elected. But what we are pushing now is for a system of government where local governments will have access to resources because they are in the best position to address the needs of their local constituencies.

Pia Gutierrez (ABS-CBN): Hi, sir, good morning. Sir, aside from checkpoints and increased visibility of the military, what can the public expect in the one year extension of martial law in Mindanao, specifically now that the President has included the NPA as one of the threats that needs to be checked?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, I think the reality is with the halt of the peace talks there would be more military encounters between the Armed Forces and the New People’s Army ‘no.

So we need to be more vigilant. But I think we have shown for the entire period that martial law has been imposed in Mindanao. That this is not the same martial law that we had in 1972. Courts remain functioning, Congress remains existing, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution is enforced.

So I don’t think there’s been any legal basis for the fears of many that there will be the return of dictatorial rule, neither has there been any systematic or gross violations of human rights so far.

So what else can be done? Well, more of the same. We just need to be able to deal with threats as they happen ‘no.

Something that may not happen unless martial law is around. Because remember, martial law means that for the time being in Mindanao, military takes precedence over civilian rule ‘no.

We are not exactly exploiting that and no local government unit has actually complained even in Marawi ‘no that they fear that their mandates have been violated. Even in Marawi itself, the local government unit continues to exist and the local mayor himself takes the initiative on the rebuilding of Marawi ‘no.

So these are powers that could be used but have not been exploited by government so far.

Ms. Gutierrez: Sir, what about ‘yung recruitment of communist groups in colleges and universities? Meron po bang directive from the President to check or at least to address ‘yung ganitong recruitment, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: There has been no expressed directive from the President. But, of course, under martial law, because the President also suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, individuals could be arrested. And the writ of habeas corpus could be unavailing, ‘no.

But there are other remedies now under the rules of court including the writ of amparo that people can people can resort to. Because precisely the writ of habeas corpus, the privilege of the writ of habeas has been suspended.

Ms. Gutierrez: But now sir that the President has declared the NPA as a terrorist group, what about in Luzon and Mindanao, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, there is no martial law in Luzon and Mindanao [Visayas].

Ms. Gutierrez: But can individuals, ah Luzon, Visayas. But can individuals be arrested for recruiting inside state universities…

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Again…

Ms. Gutierrez: … and colleges for example?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Of course, they can be arrested if with warrant. If without warrant, then the provisions on the Revised Rules of Court on Warrantless Arrest and that is persons that have been arrested must have been seen personally by the law enforcement agency as having been in the commission of a crime will have to be complied with.

Elijah Rosales (Business Mirror): Good morning, Spox. President Duterte last night said martial law nationwide remains to be an option. Why is he considering such an option when his Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana has already said the NPA threat is manageable in Luzon and Visayas?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I will not annotate what the President said. Of course, martial law is always an option because it is one of the three extraordinary powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief.

So, if there’s factual basis then he can impose martial law nationwide ‘no. But that’s what he meant by possibility. It’s there in the Constitution. So it could always be utilized by the Commander-in-Chief.

Mr. Rosales: Sir, what are the factors kung saka — that would force the President?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, the Constitution provides there must be factual and legal basis for the declaration. So if there’s factual and legal basis elsewhere, he would not hesitate.

Mr. Rosales: Sir, third question. Is there a possibility the President will lift martial law without — nang hindi umaabot doon sa expiration niya, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I believe the Executive Secretary and the Deputy Executive Secretary made such a statement yesterday in Congress that if there are no more reasons for the continuance of martial law, they will lift it even before one year.

Mr. Rosales: Sir, the term that was used in the letter was “quell terrorism.” Does this mean sir the complete eradication of the New People’s Army and other groups, meaning as in zero, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Let’s give “quell” its normal meaning under Webster Dictionary. Okay?

Mr. Rosales: Thank you, sir.

Rose Novenario (Hataw): Hi, good morning sir.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Yes, Rose?

Ms. Novenario: Sir, may umiiral pong counter-insurgency program ang AFP, ‘di po ba tulad po noong nakaraang mga administration — Oplan Bantay Laya, Oplan Bayanihan. So, kung umiiral po ‘yung coined program ng AFP bakit po kailangang may espesyal pang kapangyarihan ‘yung Pangulo para sugpuin po ‘yung CPP-NPA?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Because there is factual basis for it.

Ms. Novenario: So hindi na po ito — Ano po, parang bigo po ba ‘yung counter-insurgency program kaya kailangan pa ng martial law?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, alam mo ‘yung martial law naman was in Mindanao. And it’s not just the CPP-NPA.

Ms. Novenario: Opo.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: It’s also five other terrorist groups identified by the request of the President, ‘no. So the NPA is just one of them.

Ms. Novenario: So ano, tawag dito, hindi po pwedeng based lang doon sa counter-insurgency program? Dahil may mga pag-atake rin naman sa Luzon, Visayas eh?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, ‘yung counter-insurgency will have to be implemented against the CPP-NPA in Luzon and Visayas. But for Mindanao it’s a different picture altogether because you have many groups out to oust the Philippine government ‘no.

Ms. Novenario: Isa na lang, last na lang. May mga panawagan po na pagpapatalsik kay Pangulong Duterte nitong mga nakaraang araw ang mga militanteng grupo. So may… kasama po ba ito sa ikinonsider (consider) ng gobyerno sa paghingi ng extra powers para po sa Presidente?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Rose, hindi lang sila nanawagan. May mga armas nga sila at nagpapaputok sila para patalsikin ang gobyerno ng Republika ng Pilipinas.

Ms. Novenario: ‘Yung ano po, ’yung mga legal mass organizations ‘yung binabanggit ko.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, kasama naman ‘yun eh. That’s part and parcel of their struggle. If you read documents of the CPP-NPA, you know about their strategy, right? It’s a well-documented strategy.

Ms. Novenario: Thank you.

Ted Tuvera (Daily Tribune): Secretary, just on the martial law in Mindanao. Are activist groups still allowed to protest during martial law in Mindanao?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, they can protest. And of course, technically speaking, the Bill of Rights — in reality, the Bill of Rights is not suspended. But let me clarify as I told Leila yesterday.

In times of public emergencies where the public safety requires it, the ICCPR, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, allows states to derogate from freedom of expression.

So,freedom of expression is a derogable right under Human Rights Law. Though ‘yung requirement is it must be registered with the UN Human Rights Council. And there must be legal basis for it ‘no.

And of course, the Human Rights Council could review the factual basis for the derogation on freedom of expression.

But so far, I have not had any occasion or I did not know of any occasion where military authorities, where the Secretary of National Defense as administrator of martial law has curtailed freedom expression in any part of Mindanao even if he could.

Mr. Tuvera: Clarify ko lang, Secretary. Hindi po ba kailangan ‘yung mga militant groups humingi ng permit bago sila mag-rally?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Hindi po. Hindi po. Hindi naman po. Ang sinasabi lang diyan for instance ‘no, they can close radio stations if it is using information which may be used by the enemy.

A perfect example is if a radio station will broadcast the whereabouts, physical location of troops of the Armed Forces engaged in gun battle, ‘no.

So, that radio station could be closed.

Mr. Tuvera: Pero sir halimbawa ‘yung mga media na nag-e-engage, say interviews with NPA leaders sa Mindanao, hindi sila — momonitor niyo rin sir? Wala namang pagcu-curtail doon?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, you know, when the ICCPR talks of derogation and talks of notification, there has to be a decision made that we will derogate first on the right of freedom of expression ‘no.

That hasn’t been made. And no notification has been given to the UN Human Rights Council.

Mr. Tuvera: Last on my part, Secretary. How do you react to the allegations coming from military groups from the left saying that there has been a series of human rights violations against lumads and peasant groups in Mindanao throughout martial law?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Again, these groups need to go beyond sloganeering. They need to actually submit evidence so that authorities can investigate and punish the perpetrators.

The nature of human rights law is it is the state which has the obligation to investigate, to punish and prosecute unless they file a complaint, we would not know.

Mr. Tuvera: Thank you, Sec.

Ms. Salaverria: Hi, sir. I said this yesterday, why did the President replace two officials of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board five months before the board’s mandate is about to end?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, you know the issue of appointment is an exclusive prerogative of the President, we can’t rebuke his wisdom in replacing the two members of the Claims Board ‘no.

Having said that, I have it on good authority now, I verified from PMS that there are no new appointments forthcoming for the Claims Board.

So the President only appointed two, and he does not intend to name new commissioners for the Claims Board. Noting that their mandate is only until May of next year and that there’s only four percent of claims to be reviewed by the said commission.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, no reason was given for the replacement of the two?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: He doesn’t have to give any reason. It’s a presidential appointment, that’s an executive prerogative.

Ms. Salaverria: But how about the idea of due process, sir? Does that come in —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: There’s no due process for presidential appointees. It’s reserved at the pleasure of the President.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, how about — what could the Palace say about concerns that this replacement may affect the adjudication of pending claims?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, they’re almost done, 96. I don’t understand how these new appointments can affect the remaining four, considering that there are other members of the board that are still there.

There’s only two new appointments. So I don’t think it will affect the efficiency of the board to rule on the remaining four percent.

Ms. Salaverria: Last na lang, sir. Is the Palace satisfied with the performance of the claims?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I was told that President — the President had an audience with the [Claims Board], and the board, and he had a dialogue with them, he has his reasons for making his two appointments in the board.

But by and large, they have finished processing 96 percent of the claims. I’m sure, as far as the President is concerned, that’s an efficient way of doing their work.

But he has his reasons for making his two appointments.

Ms. Salaverria: Did he give any directive to the board?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I’m not sure ‘no, because I just found out preparatory to today’s press briefing, I had to talk to someone in PMS, but there’s no directive other than they have to finish their mandate by May of next year.

Ms. Salaverria: Thank you.

Mr. Morong: Sir, as we speak, former President Aquino is testifying before the Senate —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I know. I’m intrigued what he probably has to say. [laughter]

Mr. Morong: He has delivered his opening statement but no questions yet. But, your comment on his appearance in the context of what the President said yesterday that he cannot fault government officials if they saw it fit before, at that time to use Dengvaxia. I think he underscored the idea — the point of a good faith?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: You heard him say it yesterday, I wasn’t there, you’re in a better position to appreciate what the President said on the dengue issue.

But from now on, as a Spokesperson, I will have to reiterate his public statement on the dengue vaccine.

He understands why the prior administration implemented the dengue vaccine. Thousands were afflicted with dengue, it’s a deadly disease, there is a vaccine that they knew in good faith would be able to help and they implemented it ‘no.

And the President did say that they implemented it in good faith because it is not certain if the manufacturer, Sanofi, knew about the adverse effects at the time they implemented the vaccination program.

So let’s leave it at that. But my personal view is it shows that the President is really a statesman.

He could have joined other individuals in the process of politicizing this issue, and I think you know that there is that political noise now but he opted to adapt a very sober and very calm response to the controversy, and reason response to the controversy.

Mr. Morong: You did say before that there was material concealment on the part of Sanofi?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Because that’s what the Secretary of Health said ‘no. As Spokesperson, I’m limited to echoing the President’s sentiments either because he said it himself or his alter ego said it ‘no.

So that’s the position of the DOH Secretary. I — I believe that the last time I talked to the DOH Secretary, we’ll have to be strategic in our position and that’s why despite the fact that there was good faith, he would still move for a refund ‘no.

But of course, the President had a later pronouncement, it doesn’t necessarily overturn what the statement of the DOH Secretary was.

I think the President was telling the nation that we’re on top of this issue.

He understands that given the fact that he himself has had dengue and that it is a deadly disease that government could not have — not have implemented the program, knowing that there was a vaccine that could save lives, and it has saved lives.

Mr. Morong: Sir, hindi naman ‘yun — it does — doesn’t it have an effect of absolving the —?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: No, because the President was very clear that investigations will continue, particularly on the issue of whether or not individuals should be held liable for violating graft — violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act or even the plunder law.

Mr. Morong: Thank you, sir.

Ms. Novenario: Hi, good morning uli, sir. Sir, tuloy pa rin po ‘yung paninindigan ng Palasyo na manangot pa rin ‘yung mga nasa likod ng Dengvaxia scam?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Of course. Kung meron ngang pananagutan.

Ms. Novenario: Oo. Hanggang po duma — halimbawang dumat — makarating ito kay Pangu — dating Pangulong Aquino o kay Budget Secretary?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Of course, of course.

Ms. Novenario: So wala pong sisinuhin dito?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Wala po. Basta ang sabi ni Presidente, ituloy ang imbestigasyon ng DOJ, ituloy ang imbestigasyon ng Senado, at kung merong dapat managot, pananagutin niya.

Ms. Novenario: Okay. Thank you po.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: For the time being though, ‘yung introduction ng dengue vaccine, he would have done the same thing.

Because he himself has suffered from dengue and you can’t deprive the people of what they thought would be protection against a deadly disease when it existed.

Chona Yu (Radyo Inquirer): Sir, good morning.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Good morning, Chona.

Ms. Yu: On Terry Ridon’s case, ano ‘yun sir, after nun may — will there be an administrative or criminal charges against him considering na we’re talking here of public funds?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I do not know. What the President said was they’re all fired. [laughter] So —

Ms. Yu: Hanggang dun lang, sir, firing?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I do not know. But it does preclude the filing of criminal charges.

Unfortunately ‘no, for criminal charges it’s really the call of the Ombudsman, not the Chief Executive. Okay?

—END—

Source: PCOO-PND (Presidential News Desk)

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