Press Briefing

Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

Location Cebu City

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Thank you very much for coming. As you know, this is the first press briefing that I am conducting outside of Manila.

So this is actually a milestone in the workings of the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson. This will be a regular occurrence.

I will have a very strong presence in Cebu. Why? Because my BFF is from Cebu. You don’t go through what we underwent being the lonely three against the whole world on the impeachment of Andy Bautista. Only to be the beneficiaries of divine intervention where the three became 137 ‘no?

So for as long as my BFF is here, I will frequent Cebu and I have actually instructed the RTVM and the PCOO to open a satellite office here in Cebu. So you will see a lot of me here. But for now, we can begin the press briefing.

But before we do the press briefing perhaps a few words from my BFF Deputy Speaker Garcia.

DEPUTY SPEAKER AND CEBU 3RD DISTRICT REP. GWENDOLYN GARCIA: Thank you my BFF. I would wish first and foremost to congratulate Congressman Harry Roque.

I think the President really made the best choice in choosing my BFF Cong. Harry to be his spokesperson. Cong. Harry as I’ve known him is brilliant, eloquent and most of all he speaks from the heart.

He will not give you a nonanswer. You ask him what you want to know and he will just answer with all honesty and truthfulness. That is the person that I have always known him for and that is probably why we gravitated towards each other in the 17th Congress.

You know, we don’t take this term “BFF” very lightly. You see we have been together through a number of battles in Congress. During investigations, we would always make it a point to be seated beside each other because somehow we would always be of the same mind, we would always be of the same position that we would take in controversial issues. Not because we had previously talked about it but as I had said I guess like minds always somehow managed to meet in this journey that we call life.

And so Cong. Harry, congratulations. That’s another feather in your cap. And truly, I know that young as you are, you will be of great service to our country as presidential spokesperson and perhaps even in the near future in another capacity. In whatever position you may be given, I know that you will always serve our people with honesty, with dedication, with passion and most of all with the inimitable Harry Roque brand. Thank you.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Thank you Deputy Speaker. One of the downside of having to move to Malacañang is I will really miss my BFF, Deputy Speaker Garcia.

But as I said, I will see her as often as I could in Cebu. And I hope Deputy Speaker will also visit me as often as she can in Malacañang.

Having said that, let’s begin the press briefing. I am now speaking as spokesperson. Would you like me to do a statement or would you like to fire away.

Q: Statement first.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Well, I guess, the statement that I have for today is I’m happy that the prayer for healing took place today.

As you know, we join the nation in praying for healing. And we do not see the gathering today at EDSA as a threat of any kind.

As I said, the President had made it very clear that his position is that as a lawyer and as a former public prosecutor, he does not countenance murder.

He has ordered the police as I have mentioned over and over again to arrest the individuals, the policemen behind the killing of Kian, which is proof that the statement of the President, the policy of the President is that he will back up the police if the killing is a result of legal engagement and will order their arrest otherwise.

I’m happy that the prayer for healing happened and I’m happy that it occurred peacefully and in a very orderly manner. Okay? Fire away now.

I mean, I don’t mean that literally ha. [laughter] People sometimes take me literally. So… Yes, sir?

Q: [inaudible]

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Hindi naman po they were very clear. The Church was very clear, it is not political and that is why even before today, I issued a statement saying that we join the CBCP in praying for healing in this country.

Q: There were statements read by — read during the rally here in Cebu, statements like from Senator Trillanes… What are your thoughts on that, sir? They said it is not political.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:We have freedom of expression in this country. Senator Trillanes is entitled to express his position.

But as far as the organizers are concerned, they assured the public that it is not political. As in fact, I believe many Catholics went to that gathering knowing that it was a prayer activity and not a political activity.

Q: In one of the statements read during the local activity here earlier, Spokesperson, it was mentioned that the only action made by the Duterte administration in the war against illegal drugs is transferring the mandate of going after illegal drugs from the PNP to the PDEA. So what are the administration’s other thrust in this campaign?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Well, I don’t think that’s the only thrust. To begin with, despite criticisms, the war on drugs has been hugely successful.

I think we are witness to the number of drug personalities that have already been arrested. They now number into the thousands. The price of shabu in particular has skyrocketed, making it unaffordable to many. Proof that supply has been curtailed as the result of the war against drugs.

Anecdotally, I have not been to any place in the Philippines without the residents saying that they are happy over the war against drugs because their communities are now peaceful.

And if you recall, there was also a survey ‘no that 88 percent of the Filipinos support the drug war. [inaudible] around 70 plus believe that there are extra-legal killings ‘no.

To me it’s unfortunate that people know that there are EJKs and despite this knowledge, you know, the support for the war against drugs is still at 88 percent ‘no.

So let us not underestimate the success of the President in the war against drugs. As in fact, other countries now look to us as a model.

Just a few days ago, President Trump himself declared his own version against war. His own war against drugs. And other ASEAN countries ‘no are also sending their observers here to find out exactly what steps we are taking that have led to our success ‘no in this war against drugs.

Now, take note that this is the first time really that we have waged a campaign of this magnitude. And in fact, until the administration of President Duterte came along, we hardly felt that there was any importance ‘no or that they considered the drug problem as a priority.

It’s only under the administration of President Duterte that we have number one, given a priority to this problem; and number two, used the tremendous political will in countering these problems.

Q: Will the PDEA suspend the illegal campaign considering that it is undermanned?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:You know, during the last budget hearing when I was still a member of Congress, I’d brought this matter up. I brought this up because I wanted to commend the PDEA for its lead in the war against drugs and the fact that the deaths attributed to the PDEA were so much lower compared to the deaths attributed to the PNP.

I suggested in fact that they should assert their lawful mandate to implement the anti-drugs law and they were up to the challenge.

Now, the fact that they are undermanned is not really a problem because they can actually accommodate personnel from the PNP and other branches of the government including the military.

But my point during the budget hearing was they could do that. Number one, they should ask for a bigger budget from Congress in the subsequent years; and number two, I prefer in fact that they take the lead because while they could absorb personnel from the other branches of government, they can provide them with the necessary trainings to conduct the war against drugs correctly.

Now, let’s face it, they have the know-how, they have the experience, they have the capacity and they it’s a matter of sharing this capacity with other branches of government.

But I think from now on, we would see a decline in collateral damage if it is true that there are such collateral damage because the problem is we don’t really have a central human rights monitoring body.

So everyone has their own statistics. But I’m sure that with the PDEA now taking the lead, we would have a more professional approach in dealing with the war against drugs because they are far more experienced than the general — than the Philippine National Police.

Q: The PNP has good accomplishments against illegal drugs but why is it withdrawn from that campaign?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Well, number one it’s a legal mandate. And number two, I think it’s — it’s also because we don’t want to be oblivious to public opinion.

So I think by emphasizing that the PDEA will take the lead, the President is only reiterating what the law already provide and number two, it shows that we have a listening President.

Q: Sir, with your appointment as spokesperson, what will happen to your party-list?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Well, the party-list will continue ‘no. We have an internal conflict within the party. There are pending petitions in the Commission on Election.

The pending petition in the House of Representatives, as far as my entitlement to sit has become moot and academic. My eight ethics complaint against my second nominee will continue, and I have asked the House Ethics Committee to expedite the resolution of these cases.

Q: How about the President’s trip in Japan?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:That… It was hugely successful. We came home with six billion worth of investments.

The most important is the commitment to invest in a subway system which is really crucial to solving the traffic problem in Manila.

There’s also a two billion commitment to build a storage facility for liquefied natural gas.

There was an agreement for a currency swap which would enable Filipinos to directly convert their yen into peso without having to convert them first into US dollars. And the commitment to provide us with 30 patrol vessels to improve our maritime capacity.

And this is in addition to the private agreements entered into by 18 of our biggest companies with their counterparts in Japan. Many of which have to do with the energy sector.

We’re leaving on Wednesday for the APEC meeting in Vietnam and we hope to further strengthen the link between the Philippines and the other countries constituting the membership of APEC.

APEC, unlike ASEAN, is not just composed of ASEAN nations. They’re composed even of Western, European, and Latin American countries ‘no.

And it is the objective of APEC, of course, to further strengthen trade and commerce between all countries of the world.

Q: Sir, is there a plan on how to deal with the United Nation’s decision on Spratly Islands?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:There is nothing to be done as far as that decision is concerned.

One difference between domestic law and international law is that in international law, the award itself is its own enforcement.

Arbitral decisions are final and executory and there is no police that can enforce it. We rely only on the principle of good faith that states will comply with their treaty obligations.

And because China has agreed to become a party to UNCLOS, it is duty bound to recognize decisions of the arbitral tribunal since it is also a signatory to the dispute settlement procedure of UNCLOS ‘no.

So our position is contrary to what are critics are saying, there’s nothing to be done. That is the enforcement by itself. And we’ve moved on with our bilateral ties with China.

Q: [inaudible]

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Well, because number one, I love Cebu. Number two, my BFF is in Cebu.

But actually, beyond that, it’s the fact that since I entered, the provincial media has been complaining of sort that they have not been accorded the same kind of attention as the Malacañang Press Corps.

So I realized that not all media outfits have representations in the Malacañang Press Corps. And that’s why on my own initiative but approved by the President, I have decided to bring the Office of the Spokesperson to the different provinces.

Q: So wala rin pala itong kinalaman doon sa 13 percent na pagbagsak ng satisfaction rating ng President dito sa Visayas? ‘Yung pinakamataas.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Regardless of how the surveys — what the result of the surveys are, that’s an initiative that I thought should be done.

Because even on the basis of callers ‘no, telephone callers, I noticed really that the apprehension of the provincial radio stations is now that I’m the Presidential Spokesperson, I may no longer take their calls, which is not true.

My appeal only to the media is for understanding, I only have one cellphone. And so I will answer the phone calls as they come in and I promise I will never discriminate between local stations and national stations.

Q: Clarification, not only in — you’re establishing a satellite office only in Cebu or in other provinces also?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:I will try to establish other provincial offices where there are organized press corps ‘no. But, of course, in Cebu, you’re — the highly organized ‘no.

In fact, last year, I was your guest in the National Press Freedom day here ‘no, sponsored by one of the dailies, ‘no.

So maybe I’ll look forward to guesting in subsequent celebrations of the national — Cebu National Press Freedom Day.

This is the only place where you celebrate press freedom ‘no. Congratulations for that.

Q: Sir, on another topic, there’s a recently released survey result from SWS showing that there are fewer Filipinos who believe that President Duterte can fulfill all or most of his promises. The survey was conducted last September, sir. What do you make of this, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Well, in the same survey, it shows that the President still — was rated “very good” by other respondents.

So I see no reason why we should be concerned. There was, in fact, a 14-point decline nominally on the number of respondents who thought he could not deliver. Again, that’s not a reason to worry, because historically, all Presidents suffered the same decline.

But the point is, I’m not sure what the public had in mind when they said that it’s not likely that he will deliver ‘no because he campaigned on a very simple platform.

He will wage a war against drugs which he has been waging. He will curb corruption, which he has done. No other President has fired individuals in very high positions as this President.

Need I remind you he fired the President of the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte movement for President and his own election spokesperson not because of corruption, proven corruption, but even because of a perception that they were involved in corruption.

So in fairness to the individuals who have been fired, they have not been proven guilty of committing corrupt act, but the mere perception that they are is sufficient basis for the President to fire them, indicating zero tolerance to corruption.

So beyond that, I do not know what else the President promised. He did not promise much. In fact, that’s the reason why he was very effective in getting the mandate ‘no.

He was simple, he had a simple program of action, he was clear and he’s — he, in fact, stuck to the two: war against drugs, good government against corruption.

Q: Are there updates in Yolanda? [inaudible]

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:As you know, he appointed Mr. Wendel Avisado as the Yolanda czar. I believe that Wendel Avisado has been very busy in ensuring that all the projects are finished.

So by way of update, the fact that the President appointed a point person to the rehabilitation of Yolanda means that he acknowledges that because he’s only been in office for a year and a couple of months, that the process of rebuilding is not yet over.

But then again, the issue is “who’s to blame?”, certainly not the President.

But he has learned from the mistakes of Yolanda and that is why for Marawi, he has designated a point person, General del Rosario ‘no, to be the point person for the rehabilitation of Marawi.

And he did not follow the path of Yolanda because the Cabinet recommended the creation of different task force. The President said, “I don’t believe in those.”

I will appoint one person and I order all my Cabinet members to coordinate with General del Rosario towards the rebuilding of Marawi.

And tomorrow, as I formally take my oath, I will be announcing major initiatives of the President on the rebuilding of Marawi. Okay?

Q: Sir, what’s your reaction sa… [inaudible]

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:That’s sourgraping. Because that colleague of mine lost in the Supreme Court when he represented Teddy Baguilat on the issue of who the true minority leader is.

I cannot masquerade as being the deputy minority leader because I have a Supreme Court decision saying that we are the true minority in the House. So I take it in that context.

Better luck next time in our next case.

Q: They say, Secretary, Malacañang is a “snake pit.” How would you deal with that, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Well, what can I say other than I’m a boa constrictor? [laughter] I’m probably the biggest one. [laughter]

Okay, thank you very much and I think they have also arranged dinner for you ‘no. Thank you very much and I hope to see you again in the next briefing.

REP. GARCIA: No just… If I may, I would really wish to thank Secretary Harry Roque for deciding to come to Cebu as often as he can.

This is a recognition of how important Cebu is to him and to the country. So thank you, Secretary Harry. And thank you because I’ll be seeing still a lot of you even though you are now Malacañang’s Spokesperson.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Well, you are one reason why I will come to Cebu. But even before my friendship with Deputy Speaker, I’ve considered Cebu as my second home. In fact, I spent many summer vacations here as a child and I got married in Cebu by choice.

So I was married here in Civil Rights in City Hall before an MTC because I told my wife, “I just love Cebu and I want to get married here”. And we also created our first child in Cebu. [laughs]

REP. GARCIA: We should make you an adopted Cebuano.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE:Yes. Whether you like it or not, I claim to be a Cebuano, okay? [laughs] Thank you very much.