Press Briefing

Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

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


PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

We just concluded our successful hosting of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits.

We’d like to thank everyone, most especially the Filipino people for their support and cooperation inmaking this event peaceful, orderly, fruitful and very much a success.

Also, the President welcomed Premier Li Keqiang of the People’s Republic of China who was here in the Philippines for an official visit where 14 agreements have been signed.

I’m ready to take your questions now.


Pia Ranada (Rappler): Hi, sir. Good morning.


Ms. Ranada: So, sir, the South China Sea code of conduct was a major discussion point during the recently concluded Summit. And there have been talks that the code of conduct might become non-legally binding. I just like to get the position of the President on this. Does he want it to be legally binding or not?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I think the consultations on the code of conduct was rather substantial because the different countries contemplated a code of conduct that would in fact be legally binding ‘no.

I think this was clear from the language also of the framework agreement that they previously entered into ‘no, which signaled the commencement of the talks for the code of conduct.

I think that was a priority of the President because unless it becomes legally binding, we would not achieve the kind of predictability that all the countries want in order to achieve peace and stability in the region.

Ms. Ranada: So, sir, the President wants it to be legally binding?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I think all the parties want it to be somehow legally binding. Otherwise, if it’s merely aspirational, then it will not promote the kind of peace and stability that they arehoping for.

But anyway, we are only about to commence the process of negotiating a code of conduct. So we will see.

Leila Salaverria (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Hi, sir, good morning. Clarification lang. Is that the official position? Because the Foreign Affairs Secretary was earlier quoted as being wary about insisting on the code of conduct being legally binding and China doesn’t want it to be legally binding.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, as I said, they’re only about to commence. I think the aspiration is that it should somehow be binding because that is the key to stability in the region.

But we will see how negotiations go. Since we haven’t been even started with negotiations, we do not know what countries will agree upon.

But as far as we’re concerned, we would want it to be legally binding ‘no. But we will see. As I said, it’s only about to commence. We do not know what they will agree upon.

But it is still a milestone because for the first time, we have an agreement that countries should conduct themselves in a certain manner.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, how much of a factor is China’s opposition to the idea since we’re becoming friendlier with China? Are we going to take that into account when we craft our official position?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I don’t think there is any Chinese opposition because one of the gains achieved from the recent ASEAN Summit is the fact that China has made it clear that they are willing now to commence talks on a code of conduct.

So I don’t think that signifies opposition. On the contrary, I think that signifies a willingness to talk about a code of conduct.

Ms. Salaverria: No, sir, about the conduct being legally binding?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: We don’t know yet, as I said ‘no. We don’t know what they will agree upon because we’re only about to commence. I hope we’re very clear here ‘no.

But from the language of the President, he has put a premium and a lot of importance on the code of conduct because we want to achieve predictability.

Ms. Salaverria: Thank you.

Philip Tubeza (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Sir, good morning. Xinhua, the state news agency of China is quoting President Duterte as promising Xi Jinping during their meeting in Viet Nam that the Philippines will now properly handle maritime issues with China based on bilateral consensus via bilateral channels. Is it correct to say that this is a policy shift on the part of Manila? Since we’re now agreeing with the long-standing Chinese position that maritime disputes should be resolved bilaterally?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I do not know if this is a major shift. But what I do know is President Duterte has been consistent that he is open to bilateral talks as far as resolving the conflict is concerned.

He has said it time and again that he does not see any utility in talking to third parties who are not parties to the conflict ‘no.

And yes I can confirm the report that the President has articulated preference for bilateral talks ratherthan multilateral talks in resolving the dispute.

However, China also raised or also stated that they have very good bilateral relations with all the claimant countries.

So, while they have said that they are pursuing bilateral relations, they have done so with all the other claimant countries. And China assured us that they have excellent bilateral relations with all the claimant countries as of today.

Mr. Tubeza: Where does this leave the arbitral ruling that we got from the — ?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Again, I will state it ‘no, this does not in any way affect the arbitral ruling.

To begin with, the arbitral ruling is only binding on the Philippines and China. That is the effect of arbitral awards. It’s only binding on parties thereto ‘no.

So the arbitral ruling does not promote multilateral solution to the South China Sea because it’s only binding on China and the Philippines.

And secondly, the award itself is self-executory. The Philippines does not have to do anything else to implement that decision. That’s the distinction between international and domestic law.

The statement or the ruling of the arbitral body is completely executory, nothing else is left to be done by anyone.

Mr. Tubeza: Wouldn’t this leave us at a disadvantage since the Philippines is not exactly an emerging, you know, global superpower if we are going to deal with this issue bilaterally?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, as you have seen ‘no, one thing that became very clear in the ASEAN Summit is the tension.

I think there is consensus amongst all claimant countries and amongst Southeast Asian countries that there is now easing of tension as a result of the South China Sea disputes ‘no.

So on the contrary, I think the fact that countries have now adopted their current positions has led to further stability — it’s stability in the region and has led to a tremendous reduction in tension ‘no, as far as claimant countries are concerned.

Mr. Tubeza: Okay thank you, sir.

Pia Gutierrez (ABS-CBN): Hi sir, good morning. Sir, during the last few days, President Duterte had a number of bilateral talks with leaders of many countries. I just want to know if there are other leaders, aside from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who have brought up the issue of human rights in their talks?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I will say it again, as far as the public bilateral talks were concerned, no one expressly raised the issue of human rights.

I verified with the President that in passing Prime Minister Trudeau mentioned the Canadian’s commitment to human rights.

But as far as he went ‘no because the President would not have had it any other way. I think you saw how emphatic he was that he will not tolerate states interfering in what the President perceives as purely domestic affairs.

So I’m confident that beyond stating that Canada is firmly committed to human rights, nothing else was said in the private and very short talk between President Duterte and [Prime Minister] Trudeau and this was immediately before the ASEAN-Canada dialogue.

Ms. Gutierrez: Sir, following up on the bilateral talks. Are there other leaders aside from China and US who have pledged support or financial support for the rehabilitation of Marawi?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Japan has also pledged that ‘no. And I think in general, all the other countries of Southeast Asia acknowledged ‘no that they have an obligation to assist each other in terms of — in times of disasters, whether be it man-made or otherwise.

Ms. Gutierrez: Thank you, sir.

Ina Andolong (CNN Philippines): Sir, going back po doon sa COC. The President said that China is also considering fast tracking the process for the drafting of the COC. Did we get any assurance or an idea from China when — or if indeed ifa-fast track nila and if they said anything about possibly maybe coming up with the final draft during President Duterte’s term?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: There was no timetable mentioned ‘no. Although, they all agreed that they will commence negotiations early next year or 2018.

Ms. Andolong: Did the President as chairman, sir, expressed any desired deadline or timeline?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I think there was a consensus that they should commence and conclude as soon as possible but there was no timeline.

Ms. Andolong: Thank you.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, is the Philippines going to push or insist on the mention of the arbitral ruling in the code of conduct considering that while it’s a case between the Philippines and China, it’s also an interpretation of international law?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I don’t see how it will in fact figure in the code of conduct because code of conduct is what it is ‘no.

And as I said, the arbitral ruling is binding on China and the Philippines only.

Ms. Salaverria: But even as a basis of setting it legally?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, even from my limited engagement in treaty drafting, I don’t see how it can figure actually considering that the code of conduct is going to be applicable to all claimant countries and to all countries in Southeast Asia, including China.

So I don’t see how it can figure other than I anticipate that the general framework by which the code of conduct will be adopted, will be recognizing freedom of navigation and overflight which again was recognized as indispensable and necessary by all the countries of ASEAN and their partners in this latest Summit.

Ms. Salaverra: So the arbitral ruling didn’t set any jurisprudence that’s — ?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, the arbi… Number one, in international law there is no such thing as stare decisis. All decisions of international tribunals are only binding on the parties thereto.

The only — the closest that we have by way of stare decisis is only the need to achieve uniformity in the rulings of international tribunals ‘no.

There is technically speaking no jurisprudence in international law. But because of the need to achieve uniformity and predictability in decisions then they don’t deviate substantially from decisions laid down in these cases ‘no.

But that’s again a major distinction between international and domestic law. There’s no such thing as jurisprudence or stare decisis.

Ms. Salaverra: Okay, thank you.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, so just to clarify, you don’t see ASEAN taking into consideration the arbitral ruling when they craft the code of conduct at all?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Because it’s a code of conduct ‘no. And I guess what they will — what they could possibly adopt are the principles of freedom of navigation and the principles of overflight which are not necessarily forming part of the arbitral decision because the freedom of navigation in high seas and EEZ is a general principle of international law as restated in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

So when they restate the principles of freedom of navigation in the high seas and the EEZ, they’re not actually applying the ruling in the arbitral decision but applying a principle under UNCLOS which is a codification of the state of general international law.

Ms. Ranada: Because the ASEAN always states also in its statements that it will respect the rules of law in the sea. And isn’t this going to be part of the — ?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, you know when we say that —

Ms. Ranada: That body for —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: — we will abide with UNCLOS it’s because all the parties of ASEAN are parties to UNCLOS and UNCLOS is recognized as the — a restatement of customary norms of international law.

Customary norms of international law are binding on everyone. If they are restated in treaties, they bind even states that are not parties of the treaties. That’s why the United States, although it is not a party to UNCLOS, it’s also bound by it ‘no.

But when we say we recognize customary principles of international law, these are the principles that we are referring to — customary norms of international law.

Ms. Ranada: Okay. Sir, just on another issue because Asec. Mocha Uson shared a meme or a post that basically misquoted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as saying that it is impossible to take back the garbage that was illegally dumped here. What does the Palace — is the Palace concerned that a Palace official is misquoting a head of government?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I would rather leave comments on that to Secretary Martin Andanar whose office has jurisdiction over Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson.

Ms. Ranada: But, sir, does this not also affect your work as Presidential Spokesman since you’re dealing here with a head of government trying to establish better relations with Canada and then right after the ASEAN Summit. Are we not going to act on this maybe speak to Mocha Uson about this particular error?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Unfortunately I have no jurisdiction over the PCOO.

I am a completely separate department. And I trust that PCOO will address this matter if at all.

Ms. Ranada: But previously, sir, you said that you would — you would find time to lecture or talk to Asec. Mocha on other issues. Would this not be also a relevant issue to discuss with her?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I think it is better left to the PCOO to address. I will not take on additional job than is necessary for my office.

Ms. Ranada: So, sir, no Palace statement on this error at all?


Ms. Velado: All right. Sir, we have another question related to ASEAN from Llanesca Panti of Manila Times. She is asking, sir, is it time for ASEAN to amend its charter to adopt a policy of going with the majority vote instead of consensus- building as suggested by former Presidents Arroyo and Ramos, counterproductive and restrictive na raw po kasi ang consensus-building since it has been 50 years since ASEAN was founded?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Nako, that’s beyond my pay scale. I can’t speak for the rest of ASEAN.

The states will have to decide on this matter and all decisions adopted by ASEAN country states are adopted on the basis of consensus.

So it’s only up to the different ASEAN states to address that.

Ms. Velado: Sir, another question from JP Bencito of Manila Standard. Why is it taking so long before the Philippines releases Chairman Statement, hinihintay na lang po bang makaalis si Premier Li?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I don’t know why, but I believe it’s been posted. Am I wrong? Oo ‘yun, ‘yun. It’s being uploaded.

So I don’t think there’s substantial delay. Come on ‘no. These people have been working so long for a whole year and take note too that the same people were in charge of APEC and ASEAN ‘no.

So you can imagine the stress and the workload of everyone. So I think it was not an unreasonable delay to release it.

Cedric Castillo (GMA-7): Good morning, sir.


Mr. Castillo: Sir, may I just get your reaction, sir, because some opposition lawmakers are saying that ASEAN Summit was no more than pageantry and that no substantial issues or more important problems were discussed? Sir, can I get the Palace’s reaction on this?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Obviously they did not know what happened beyond closed doors.

I can assure you that the threat of nuclear annihilation is not a matter of pageantry. The need for peace and stability on the South China Sea is not a matter of pageantry. And, of course, the issue of terrorism, the fact that terrorism today knows no territorial boundaries is no pageantry.

So I beg to disagree. And obviously the opposition leaders who said this did not take time out to read the official accounts of how the Summit went through ‘no or the outputs of the Summit.

Mr. Castillo: Sir, they were also zeroing in on issues on human rights and extrajudicial killings, sir, that they were not discussed at all or if at least substantially during ASEAN, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: There were some discussions on the Rohingya issue, so that’s not true again.

Mr. Castillo: Sir, on another matter, sir. I’d like to get your reaction also, earlier this morning during a White House briefing, President Trump mispronounced President Duterte’s name, can I — surname, can I get your reaction, please?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: No slight taken, you know. I think that’s another commonality between the two Presidents, they’ve made mistakes in names.

Mr. Castillo: Thank you, sir.

Shiela Frias (IBC-13): Sir, just for Palace reaction. The Philippine economy grew by 6.9 percent in the third quarter. According to PSA, this is higher than the market consensus of 6.6 percent. With this — ?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: That’s good news. In fact, it was Secretary Dominguez who informed me, they even adjusted the growth rate by .2 percent ‘no, which is very good news.

That makes us the second fastest economy in Southeast Asia, next only to Myanmar ‘no, because Myanmar is hitting seven percent ‘no.

But considering the level of our economy in comparison to Myanmar, I think, ours is still the best performing economy, so far.

Ms. Frias: Sir, where do you think this can be attributed to?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I think it’s a kind of stability that the country is now enjoying.

It’s stability that brings about predictability, which brings out business confidence ‘no, investor’s confidence. And that can be attributed to President Duterte’s administration.

Tuesday Niu (DZBB): Hi, sir. Sa ibang mga statements ni Presidente po, parang lumulutang na may plano ba siyang ibalik ulit sa PNP ‘yung campaign on illegal drugs? Parang ngayon po ganun ‘yung lumalabas?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Hindi ko… Hindi ganun ang basa ko ‘no. Kasi ‘yung last presscon niya after ASEAN ‘no, sinasabi rin niya ipagpapatuloy niya ‘yung laban sa katiwalaan sa PNP ‘no.

So kung naniniwala siya na dapat ibalik na sa PNP, wala na sanang ganung salita ‘no.

Tingin ko, bagong-bago pa lang ‘yung order niya na ibalik sa PDEA ‘yung lead dito sa war against drug at pagbibigyan muna niya at titignan niya kung ito’y magiging epektibo ‘no.

Alam natin na kakaunti lamang ang manpower ng PDEA pero this is without prejudice naman to PDEA recruiting individuals from the police and even from the AFP if necessary.

Ms. Niu: Another thing, sir. ‘Yung sa kaso po ni Kian delos Santos. Nung una po eh nakita natin kung papaano siya na-concern doon sa cases of minors na napapatay with regard to campaign against illegal drugs. Pero recently, sir, parang twice incidents na parang nagpasaring siya na may mababago doon sa takbo ng kaso. Anong ibig niyang sabihin dito, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: ‘Yung sa huli niyang press conference, and I don’t know if you were there ‘no, binanggit nanaman niya si Kian.

At binanggit nanaman niya ‘yan in connection with ‘yung katiwalian ng PNP ‘no.

So I guess wala pong nababago sa paninindigan ng Presidente. Tiwala po siya sa kakayahan ng kapulisan. At by and large, siya po’y naniniwala na pagkakatiwalaan ang PNP.

Gayunman, ang kanyang paninindigan ay meron paring mga bulok sa PNP at hindi niya tatantanan hanggang hindi natatanggal ‘yung mga bulok sa PNP.

Kaya nga po inulit niya ‘yung kaso ni Kian dahil inulit nanaman niya ang polisiya ng ating gobyerno na paninindigan niya at sasagutin niya ang pulis kung ang kanilang ginagawa ay sang-ayon sa batas. Kung ito’y labag sa batas, ipakukulong niya ang mga pulis.

Ms. Niu: Okay, thank you, sir.

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


Ms. Novenario: Sir, bago po nag-ASEAN, meron pong statement si PDEA Executive Director Aaron Aquino na meron daw pong influential government official na di umano’y umaarbor daw po nung sa pagkakaaresto po kay Diane Uy, ‘yung anak po ni Yu Yuk Lai na sinasabing “shabu queen” po sa correctional. Meron po bang report dito si Director Aquino kay Presidente?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Naku, asahan niyo pong talagang — talagang ipu-pursue ito ni Presidente. Aalamin kung sino ‘yung nag-aarbor na ‘yan.

At alam niyo naman ang paninindigan ng Presidente laban sa mga nagtutulak ng ipinagbabawal na gamot.

Iimbestigahan po ito at talagang malalagot kung sinuman itong nang-aarbor dito sa drug queen na ito.

Ms. Novenario: At meron daw pong ano — parang may pagtatangka daw po na isalang sa — para mabigyan ng Presidential pardon si Yu Yuk Lai?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Naku. Ngayon pa lang po ay sinasabi kong malabo po ‘yan considering ‘yung paninindigan talaga ni Presidente laban sa ipinagbabawal na gamot.

Ms. Novenario: Thank you.


Mr. Castillo: Sir, pagkatapos, sir, nung bilateral agreement between Russia and the Philippines on nuclear studies, nuclear energy studies po, there are some sectors already voicing out opposition on nuclear energy particularly the rehabilitation of Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Anyway, sir, kahit wala pa tayong national position on it, what is the President’s personal opinion on nuclear energy, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, since personal ang itinatanong mo ‘no, tatanungin ko siya ‘no.

Pero so far, one year and four, five months na siya sa kanyang katungkulan, eh wala naman siyang ginagawa para buksan muli ‘yung Bataan Nuclear Plant.

In fact, nagkaroon ng initial attempt na buksan na ‘yang BNPP, hindi po nangyari ‘no.

So I suppose the President has not given his conforme in the reopening of the BNPP. But as far as his personal position on nuclear power, I will have to confirm with him what this is.

Ms. Velado: All right. Lastly, sir, may we just know upon your observations, what is your overall assessment on the recently concluded ASEAN, particularly on the security aspect, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: It was a tremendous success. Of course, now that all the guests are gone, there’s a sigh of relief that there was not one untoward incident.

All that could have happened was one explosion, even if no one was hurt or asked to have a major disaster in our hands.

But thanks to the cooperation of the Filipino people, we averted such incidents. And the world community now recognizes not only the fact that the Philippine President is not just the President of the Philippines, a leader of Southeast Asia, but a recognized leader in the international community.

And they have also given notice that the Philippines is able to competently host a bidding, a meeting of this scale and scope.

And the fact that there was no untoward incident proves that the Philippines is safe to visit. Congratulations to the rest of the Filipino people.

Siyempre po merong mga naabala lalong- lalo na doon sa closure ng EDSA, pasensya na po kayo.

Ang naging kapalit naman ay ‘yung paghanga ng buong daigdig sa kakayahan ng bansang Pilipinas.

Ms. Velado: All right. Sir, pahabol nalang. Reaction po sa pagbubuhos ng US ng two million dollars sa anti-drug campaign ni President Duterte? This was announced by the White House yesterday. Question from Bombo Tinaza of — ah Reymund Tinaza of Bombo Radyo.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Sana sinabi na ‘yan ni President Trump doon sa bilateral nila ‘no, eh ‘di tuwang-tuwa talaga lalo si President Trump.

But I’m sure, although it was announced belatedly that the Philippine President or President Duterte will appreciate this commitment to the war against drug.

That proves without doubt that the US President supports the war on drugs. Why would he otherwise give two million dollars to this cause if he thinks it’s not being implemented correctly?

Thank you and good morning to all of you.

— END —

source: PCOO-PND (Presidential News Desk)