Press Briefing

Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

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

SEC. ROQUE: Happy Monday, Pilipinas. Happy Monday, Malacañang Press Corps.

Well, as you know, the Special Assistant to the President, SAP Go, appeared today before the Senate. And I think, although the hearing is still ongoing, it’s very clear that no less than former FOIC Mercado cleared SAP Go from any involvement in this frigate deal.

He affirmed before the Senate that SAP Go has not had any opportunity to communicate with him at anytime at all on this frigate deal, which leads us to the question: Where did two media outlets get their information that SAP Go intervened?

I’m sure there are other issues that will be addressed as the Senate continues its investigation. But the primary intention of this hearing was to determine if there was any intervention from SAP Go. And I think it’s very clear, although the hearings are still continuing, it’s very clear that there was no such intervention on the part of SAP Go.

Having said that let me now go to the good news, the Monday good news. On Negosyo Loans for Soldiers, we are pleased to announce that the Department of Trade and Industry has signed last week Equity Loan Agreements with soldiers or families of wounded-in-action or killed-in-action soldiers.

The wounded-in-action/killed-in-action loan program is under the government’s overall Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-asenso or P3 Program. It is a special 50-million loan package of the President where soldiers will be able to borrow a total of 100,000 or less which are interest-free if fully paid within two years. Beyond the two-year term, borrowers will only have a two percent annual interest rate.

DTI has already released loans worth 902,000 to 13 wounded-in-action or killed-in-action beneficiaries as of 9 February.

The loans may also be used for business endeavors such as hog raising, rice trading, food stalls, sari-sari stores.

More good news: scholarship programs for medical students and midwives are now available in three partner schools in Cebu and the Visayas.

According to the Department of Health, for medicine course, two slots are available at the University of Cebu Medical Center in Mandaue City, while four slots at the Southwestern University in Urgello, Cebu City. For midwifery on the other hand, it is offered at the University of Bohol in Tagbilaran City.

Qualified scholars for the medicine scholarship program are entitled to receive more than 30,000 package which include allowances for books, uniform, miscellaneous, transportation, lodging, living subsidy and an annual premium for PhilHealth. Qualified scholars for the midwifery scholarship program are entitled to a book allowance worth 10,000 for every semester, and uniform allowance at 2,500 annually.

For interested applicants, they will have to apply direct to the partner schools which set their own list of requirements.

Finally, response to the headline yesterday in one of the dailies: The Duterte administration has certainly not given up too much, too early, too soon in its relation with China nor has China gained more than us.

On the contrary, we have upheld our national interest, and produced tangible benefits for our people, and pursuing friendly and mutually beneficial ties with China. Our people have been able to resume their right to fish in Scarborough, and there is peace in the region. This is over and above the increased arrivals of Chinese tourists, as well as investments from mainland China.

We have said in a numerous occasions that we will continue to defend our sovereignty and sovereign rights when we discuss our territorial and maritime disputes with China, while maximizing the benefits of our people by promoting economic and other relations with China in which they are no contentious issues between us.

One last point, perhaps, on the hearing. The point was made that at the time of the SOBE (Submission & Opening of Bid Envelopes) or the submission of the bids, there was no difference in the CMS between Tacticos and Hanwha.

However, that offer was good only for 120 days. There was a four-month delay when we entered into the contract, and therefore, the price guarantee – which was good only for 120 days – did not bind the supplier. By the time the contract was signed, there was already confirmed price increase of $7 million each for the two frigates.

Questions please…

VIC SOMINTAC/DZEC: Secretary, good afternoon. Kanina po doon sa hearing sa Senado, halos lahat ng Cabinet officials ay nandoon po, nagbigay ng suporta kay SAP Bong Go. Pinanood ba ni Presidente iyong hearing kanina?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, narito na po si Presidente sa Malacañang. So hindi ko lang po sigurado kung napanood niya from the beginning. But I’m sure he is monitoring.

VIC SOMINTAC/DZEC: Another question, sir. Doon sa hearing kanina, ano bang pinag-uusapan talaga doon na kontrobersyal doon sa deal na iyon? Iyong kabuuan ng presyo ng frigates na dalawa o iyong sa CMS lang?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi po. Ang pinag-uusapan po ay iyong panghihimasok diumano ni SAP Go. So malinaw po si SAP Go, fake news po iyan. At nakalulungkot na dito po sa press room natin lumabas iyan, although nauna daw ang isang online na newspaper na ibalita iyan.

But anyway, it’s very clear that everyone who was involved in the project cleared Bong Go of any involvement in this frigate issue. So sa amin po, lalo na iyong mga taga-Malacañang na colleagues po ni SAP Go, importante po iyon na nalinis naman iyong pangalan ni SAP Go.

Now, ang mga pinag-uusapan po ngayon diyan is iyong CMS, kung bakit ang nilagay ay iyong Korean samantalang ang gusto daw ng mga taga-Navy ay iyong Tacticos. Pero nilinaw naman po iyan, na by the time we entered into the contract, hindi na po magkapareho ang presyo ng Hanwha at saka ng Tacticos. Nag-expire na po iyong guaranteed price na in-offer ng Hyundai. And by the time, we had entered into the contract, they were not bound by the same price because it was only good for 120 days, and we failed to enter into the contract within 120 days.

So nagkaroon na po nang pagtaas ang Tacticos. At ang sabi naman nila, kung gugustuhin ninyo, magbabayad kayo ng seven million more for each, $7 million for each frigate or $14 million additional. And I do not know if you heard, but Secretary Diokno expressed the learned opinion that you cannot do that after the bidding.

So but in any case, the point that they have been stressing is that both CMS were pre-qualified. So ibig sabihin noon, sa bidding naman, hindi nag-i-identify ng brand name. Basta running shoes iyan, ang analogy is … iyong analogy nga ni FOIC kanina was between Adidas and Nike. Basta ang sinabi nila ay rubber shoes sa bidding at hindi naman nag-identify ng brand.

So pareho, we’re pre-qualified. Of course, the Navy could use either. While there is a preference, we’re limited by the reality that by the time we contracted, napaso na po iyong price guarantee that originally offered by the Hyundai.

VIC SOMINTAC/DZEC: One last point on my part, Secretary. Kanina full force po kayo, mayroon po bang instruction si Presidente na mag-full force?

SEC. ROQUE: Wala po. Talaga pong voluntary naman kaming nagpunta! I feel that to give this press briefing is really my main job that’s why I came back to do the briefing. But I’m, going back to show my solidarity with SAP Go.

VANZ FERNANDEZ/POLICE FILES: Sir, if you will be questioned during the Senate hearing, how will you identify SAP Go to them? Describe?

SEC. ROQUE: Describe. Well, I know SAP Go as a person of integrity. His main wish is to serve the President and this country. I think financially, he is very comfortable, coming from a very wealthy background himself. He has no desire to amass material wealth. And in the few months that I have worked with him very closely, what I do know is that he is absolutely loyal to this President. And he is also fearful of this President so he will not try anything.

ROSE NOVENARIO/HATAW: Hi, sir. Good afternoon. Sir, kanina nung bago matapos iyong hearing, may binanggit si SAP Go na parang may pinatutungkulan siya na antayin ninyo iyong inyong panahon, masyado kayong nagmamadali. Bababa kami sa 2020 at uuwi na sa Davao. Sino ho kaya iyong pinatutungkulan niya?

SEC. ROQUE: I’m sure iyong mga gahaman sa kapangyarihan na hindi makaantay sa susunod na eleksyon na gusto nang paalisin ang Presidente samantalang may mandato ang Presidente hanggang 2020.

ROSE NOVENARIO/HATAW: Opposition?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, iyon mga kritiko, iyong mga hindi makapag-antay po. Iyong mga nananaginip ng another people power para makaupo iyong kanilang gustong maging presidente! Hindi po ganoon ang demokrasya sa Pilipinas; may termino po iyan, mag-antay tayo.

CELERINA MONTE/MANILA SHIMBUN: Sir, I think, there was this interview yesterday kay Senator Trillanes, and there was insinuation that it’s not actually SAP Bong Go but it’s with imprimatur of a higher official. So apparently, there was an insinuation, it was really the President who ordered Bong Go to ask DND regarding that frigate issue.

SEC. ROQUE: Ang hamon po kay Senator Trillanes, ilabas ang ebidensya. Nakapagtanong na po siya, wala naman siyang nilabas na ebidensya. Napakadali pong magbato ng ganiyang mga paratang, napakahirap magpruweba. Huwag po nating gamitin sana iyong ating mga opisina sa gobyerno para magpakalat ng mga bagay-bagay na wala namang katotohanan.

Kung may katotohanan po, ilabas ang ebidensiya. Kaya nga po lumabas doon si SAP Go para harapin at sagutin kung may ebidensiya. Wala naman po, puro paratang lamang!

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: Sir, just to belabor the point. That letter, that SND gave—no, from the Palace to SND for the review, what was the nature of that letter?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, kung babasahin ninyo po iyong letter ay nagdya-justify kung bakit Hanwha nga ang gagamitin para sa CMS. Well, hindi po malinaw kung saan nanggaling iyong letter na iyon dahil nga po white paper lang iyon. Pero gayunpaman, lahat naman po iyan ay pinag-aaralan ng PMS.

Alam ninyo naman po, dito, kapag tayo ay nagpe-press conference, kayo nagbabalita, may reklamo laban sa ganyan, ang palaging kong sagot sa inyo, ‘Dahil natanong ninyo na rito sa media, I’m sure pag-aaralan na rin iyan ng PMS.’ Wala naman pong nakakalusot na bagay, na reklamo na hindi napagbibigyan  ng pansin ng ating PMS.

And I think everyone in this room is a witness to that. Kasi may mga opisyales na maski walang formal complaint, dahil lumabas ang complaint sa media, ay napag-aralan naman po at nagkaroon ng desisyon ang ating Presidente.

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: Why is that not or …why is that not an intervention from the Palace’s perspective?

SEC. ROQUE: Because there was already a decision on what CMS to use. It has always been Hanwha. Although there was always a continuing preference for Tacticos, but by which time, it was impossible to supply it without a price increase.

So we could have insisted, except that you needed authority from higher ups for you to deviate from the terms of the bidding.  Kasi parang you’re changing the terms of the bidding after the bid was already conducted. Kaya iyon po ang dahilan na hindi pupuwedeng mabago ang presyo.

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: And as per testimony of the SND, tinuloy lang ‘di ba? They just signed—ano ba ito, ministerial ba iyan?

SEC. ROQUE: Yes. Alam ninyo po, ministerial iyan because the law is very clear. I will read to you the provision of 9184, and unfortunately, none of them were able to read it so I will read it to you now. The provision of 9184 is clear, these are the only instances when you can refuse to sign the contract, and this is Section 41, Reservation clause – The head of the agency reserves the right to reject any and all bids, declare a failure of bidding or not award the contract in the following situation: If there is a prima facie evidence of collusion between appropriate public officers or employees of the procuring entity or between the BAC or any of the bidders — wala naman pong ganyan; If the BAC is found to have failed in following the prescribed bidding procedures – wala naman pong ganyan. Wala ngang nagprotesta. Wala pong protesta rito.

And Number [letter] C: For any justifiable and reasonable ground with award of the contract will not redound to the benefit of the government. And how will it not redound to the government when in the first place, we badly need to beef up our capacity to defend our national territory and areas where we have sovereign rights.

Iyan lang po ang mga dahilan para hindi dapat pirmahan iyong notice of award pagkatapos po na nagkaroon na ng bidding at mayroon nang na-determine na lowest responsive bid.

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: Just one last question, sir. Is Mercado insisting on Tacticos? And why is he insisting as such?

SEC. ROQUE: Yes. I was hoping that I could bring the documents here proving that he has even gone on trips to the office of Tacticos. But I failed to get it because the people in the Navy were still testifying. But perhaps tomorrow, I will get the documentary evidence that his interest in Tacticos goes beyond the reputation of Tacticos, that he has actually made several trips to the corporate headquarters of Tacticos. And of course, we don’t know why he made these trips to the Tacticos’ office.

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: Sir, ‘cause I have somebody … the letter is from Hanwha defending themselves, I think.

SEC. ROQUE: Which one?

JOSEPH MORONG/GMA7: The letter that originated in Malacañang. I think it’s a letter from Hanwha defending itself against—

SEC. ROQUE: No. I do not know where the letter came from, because Secretary Lorenzana was handed that letter in the premises of Malacañang but he is not sure where it came from. But if you the letter, it defends the choice of Hanwha – you’re correct there. But we do not know where the letter came from.

REYMUND TINAZA/ BOMBO RADYO: Sir, sticking to the contract regardless whether this is a fake news or a twisted news. But was there actually a crime or anomaly being consummated or about to be committed with that alleged negotiation or alleged intervention of Secretary Bong Go.

SEC. ROQUE: Wala nga pong intervention.

REYMUND TINAZA/ BOMBO RADYO: No, no, regardless, was there a crime being consummated or a crime of corruption or anomaly?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, sabihin po natin na nagpadala nga ang PMS … nag-refer ang PMS sa bagay na iyan, in-explain naman po ng PMS, trabaho po nila iyan. They get 22,000 communications. And in case of complaint, they have to furnish the line agency.

At ganyan din po ang trabaho ko dito. Kapag may nagpapadala sa akin ng letters, ang dami rin pong nagpapadala sa akin ng letters, I have no choice but to refer it to the line agency because unfortunately, we have no portfolios here.

REYMUND TINAZA/ BOMBO RADYO: So referring or endorsing a complaint or a document with the concerned agency is but a regular?

SEC. ROQUE: It’s not a crime po. In fact, it is in performance of our duty. If we don’t refer It or if we don’t act on it, it will be a crime under the Salonga Law – the Code of Conduct for public officials.

JOPEL PELENIO/DWIZ: Sir, si Senator Grace Poe ay magpapatawag din daw ng next hearing at ipatatawag ang Rappler and Inquirer. Dadalo po ba ang Cabinet officials, especially Sec. Bong Go?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi ko po alam kung mag-iimbenta si Senator Poe. But I have gone on record that if it becomes a law, I will be personally the one to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

Q: [OFF MIC] And resign?

SEC. ROQUE: I will, of course, resign. I cannot sue unless I resign.

Q: [OFF MIC]

SEC. ROQUE: Yes. Kasi the last time, iyong resignation lang ‘no. Hindi ninyo naman sinabi kung ako’y magre-resign so I could sue because, of course, I cannot sue unless I’m a private individual ‘no. But clearly, that law of Senator Poe is, one, which is proscribed by the Constitution – no law shall be passed abridging freedom of expression nor of freedom of the press. That is a law that infringes on freedom of expression.

And number two, nakita ninyo na why there is no basis for distinction na ang pinag-iinitan ay gobyerno lang because in this instance, napatunayan na po ito. Fake news iyon na nanghimasok si SAP Go. ‘Di ba? Bakit kapag ganiyan, kapag peryodista na supposedly propesyonal and should have full commitment to truth, ayaw  niyang parusahan? Eh iyong mga amateurs na hindi nga propesyonal, na wala pang editorial control, iyon ang gusto niyang parusahan. Iyan po ang sinasabi ko kung bakit it violates equal protection clause.

JOPEL PELENIO/DWIZ: Sir, so sinasabi ninyo, sir, na walang intervention na nangyari. Hihingi po ba tayo ng public apology?

SEC. ROQUE: Eh ako nga, iyong aking report sa Benham Rise, wala naman akong apology na nakuha ‘no. Letter to the editor lang. Hello? Aanhin ko naman iyong letter to the editor na iyan. Pinablish (publish) lang nila iyong letter to the editor ko.

You know, it really hurts me when legitimate media does this because as you know, I’m a very fierce advocate of freedom of the press. But it is also because, they are responsibilities. Alam mo, lahat tayo magkakamali! Acknowledge you’re wrong. Ilang beses na akong nag-apologize dito dahil nagkamali ako. Wala namang masama doon eh. Twice pa lang naman.

But anyway, because there’s an effort not to have enemies! It takes twice in three months is acceptable I think. But you know, its—we are all human. Hindi ko maintindihan kung why some press organizations deem it beneath them to apologize when they’re clearly proven to be wrong.

JOPEL PELENIO/DWIZ:  So, sir, no legal action?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi ako naniniwala diyan. Freedom of expression nga ako kaya—

JOPEL PELENIO/DWIZ: Just move on.

SEC. ROQUE: Let’s move on. Ganyan naman po ang paniniwala rin ni Presidente. Ni minsan hindi naman siya nagdemanda for libel. It’s part of the job. Let the public decide.

ACE ROMERO/PHIL STAR: Sec., kanina tinanong ni Senator Escudero, although in jest, sino na daw yung natira sa bahay. Ilang Cabinet members ba iyong um-attend sa hearing?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, all I can say is wala po talagang natira sa Malacañang. Lahat po kaming nasa Malacañang, nandoon sa Senado, and for good reasons. Kami lang naman po ang magkakasama dito. Kami lang ang magkakasama, iyong mga Malacañang-based secretaries. Kami lang naman ang nagkikita rito.  So natural kapag iyong isa ay mayroong pagsusubok, magpapakita ka ng suporta.

ACE ROMERO/PHIL STAR: So halimbawa, mayroon isang Cabinet member, ibang Cabinet member na nagkaroon ng ganoong allegation, ganoon din, full force din po?

SEC. ROQUE:   Well, kasi kami, anim lang kaming magkakasama dito sa Malacañang. So as expected, iyong anim naman, nandoon!

ACE ROMERO/PHIL STAR: Hindi, may mga ibang Cabinet members ba doon, sir?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, may mga iba, konti. Si DOJ Secretary, si SolGen.

Q: [off mic]

SEC. ROQUE: Si?

Q: ERC.

SEC. ROQUE: Sinong ERC?

ACE ROMERO/PHIL STAR: Si SolGen. Sandra Cam.

SEC. ROQUE: Si SolGen. Pero marami ring wala, you know what I’m saying.

Q: [OFF MIC]

SEC. ROQUE: Oo, iyong mga availability rin. Pero ang full attendance talaga, iyong mga kasama dito ni SAP Go sa Malacañang.

ACE ROMERO/PHIL STAR: Okay. So parang expression of support and solidarity iyon?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi lang solidarity. I guess, it’s a manifestation and our way of communicating that we have nothing to hide.

Alam mo kasi, anyone of us subject to this claim, na nanghihimasok kami. When in truth and in fact, because we have no portfolios, talagang magre-refer lang kami sa line agencies. All of us do that. Pero hindi naman ibig sabihin na palibhasa ni-refer namin sa line agencies na nanghihimasok kami. We’re just doing our job because we can’t do anything in relation to the complaint but refer them to the appropriate line agency.

ACE ROMERO/PHIL STAR: So hindi naman po apektado iyong kanilang performance ng duty?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi po. Nagpre-press briefing ako. Ito ang trabaho ko.

ACE ROMERO/PHIL STAR: Hindi, iyong iba, iyong iba.

SEC. ROQUE: Eh political naman iyong iba. Si ES naman, talagang nandoon din naman siya. Si Deputy Executive Secretary with the rank of Cabinet, nandoon din siya. Si Martin Andanar is there. And then si CabSec. Ang absent pala si Presidential Legal Counsel. Baka  naman humabol, baka humabol.

But you know, there’s only six of us seeing each other here.

ACE ROMERO/PHIL STAR: Statement na lang po doon sa pag-expel ng UST sa eight law students na involved doon sa hazing ni Atio Castillo.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, we think it’s the right step forward. Expelling them sends the message that our schools will not tolerate violence on our campuses. Although that’s only the beginning! There will have to be criminal prosecution for violation of the anti-hazing law.

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SOURCE: PCOO – NIB (News and Information Bureau)

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