Press Briefing

Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

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


Good morning everyone and Viva Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno!

Let’s start with two good news. Mastercard Asia-Pacific Consumer Confidence Survey showed that the Philippines has the highest optimism level among its Asian neighbors. It gathered 94.5 points, the country bested China and Cambodia, which both earned 92.2.

According to the survey, the high level of optimism in emerging markets is driven by infrastructure investments that will generate more job opportunities and push for greater inclusive economic growth.

The survey indicates the confidence of the business community with the country’s economic resurgence. This confidence can also be attributed to the recently enacted TRAIN that will fund the country’s Build Build Build Program and other social welfare services.

Meanwhile, consumer confidence is driven by the higher net take home pay due to the tax exemption or lower tax rates for low wage earners. This, in turn, creates bigger purchasing power and larger consumer base.

A second good news. Grant Thornton International Business Report on Filipino businessmen

We welcome the Grant Thornton International Business Report showing an overwhelmingly positive outlook of Filipino business leaders for 2018 which is reflected in their 86 percent optimism level in the last quarter of 2017.

Our Filipino business leaders’ optimism is the fourth highest among the 36 countries surveyed. That optimism is backed by solid macro and micro economic indicators that make the Philippines one of the top performing countries in the world.

We remain confident that the country’s economy will continue to thrive under the Duterte administration, especially with the enactment and implementation of the TRAIN and other tax packages to further improve our growth.

The PSE, a third good news was named as the Best Stock Exchange in Southeast Asia

We welcome the recognition of the Philippine Stock Exchange, Inc. (PSE) as the Best Stock Exchange in Southeast Asia by institutional investment magazine Alpha Southeast Asia. This is the fourth time in five years that the PSE won this award.

Alpha Southeast Asia’s Marquee Awards cited the PSE’s initiatives on tech development, product launches, and investment literacy.

These initiatives contribute to the strategy to foster capital market development through the promotion of efficiency in trading, settlement and delivery of securities. This strategy supports the goal of fostering a resilient and inclusive financial and monetary system, which ultimately helps create more entrepreneurs and jobs.

A bit of a briefing on some matters discussed in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. The President stated that he will continue with the process of cleansing the bureaucracy and that he will now turn more of his attention to local government units including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The President also indicated that he will push for Congress to enact a law that will ban all firecrackers and pyrotechnics — pyro — [tama ba ‘yon?] firecrackers and pyrotechnics gadgets ‘no.

Now, he realizes that there will be about 75,000 individuals who are working in this industry. He instructed the Department of Trade and Industry to look for alternative livelihood for the would be displaced workers.

He wants Congress to enact this law at the soonest time possible so that the public debate on the banning of fireworks and pyrotechnics could begin as early as possible.

Now, the President also in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting affirmed that he will rebuild Marawi. General Del Rosario reported that the cost of rebuilding Marawi will be more or less 50 billion. He committed that he will find funding sources for this P50 billion although in the 2018 budget, 20 billion is already appropriated for this purpose.

He also said, and this is upon recommendation of Secretary Dominguez, that the terms of reference for the proponent that would rebuild the most affected area that these terms of reference should be provided by government and not by the proponent.

The President also ordered several logging concessions in Zamboanga Peninsula to be suspended. This after he was apprised of concerns of indigenous populations that they have been displaced by logging operations of some companies. And he also observed that it is widespread logging that is responsible for the flashfloods that Mindanao experienced only this month of December with two typhoons.

Also, the President rejected the idea of regional PNPs even in the context of federalism. He said that he wants the PNP to still be under the Philippine National Police at least until such time that we have gotten rid of regional warlords ‘no.

Now, in connection with the second tax reform package, the President also stated that with the second tax reform package, he has instructed DBM and all other agencies to find means to increase the salary of teachers after the initial doubling of salaries for the AFP and the police. So the teachers will be next.

There was also a revocation of the agreement between the Department of Labor and Employment and PEZA on the monitoring compliance with labor safety standards. Obviously this revocation is borne by the fact that at least two PEZA establishments recently had man-made tragedies and part of the tragedies was traced to failure to comply with labor safety standards including the recent tragedy in Davao involving the NCCC Mall.

And also, he instructed the Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Affairs, TESDA, the Presidential Adviser on OFW to study ways and means to conscript into the AFP and the PNP at least 4,000 Maranaos affected by the fighting in Marawi and other areas where the Maranaos have settled.

Okay. Questions?


Leila Salaverria (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Good morning, sir. On the firecracker ban, was this because of the recommendation of the DOH or was this prompted by the results of the limited use of firecrackers during the recent holidays?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: The President has always banned firecrackers in Davao City as a mayor. So I don’t think it’s a result of a recommendation of any other than it’s a result of his own prognosis that firecrackers and pyrotechnics are inimical to human health and safety.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, will there be any consultation with the industry?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Yes, in fact that’s why he wants Congress to enact the law, begin hearing on the proposed bill that would ban firecrackers as early as possible to afford stakeholders to be consulted.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, doon sa focus on LGUs in the anti-corruption drive. What triggered this? Were there any new complaints submitted to him?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: None but he just said that he will also focus not just on presidential appointees but also on local government officials including the ARMM.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, last na lang on the anti-corruption drive. What has happened to the Anti-Graft — Presidential Anti-Graft Commission he was supposed to form?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: It’s been established but it hasn’t been constituted. But the President has not waited for its constitution before he has started actually the purging of corrupt officials in government.

As you know, even without the commission, he has gone ahead and fired many of his presidential appointees.

Ms. Salaverria: But can we expect the commission to still be formed?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: It believes so. But he is not waiting for its constitution before he moves against corruption.

He has shown that with or without it, he has a firm resolve against corruption and he will implement it.

Ms. Salaverria: Thank you.

Rose Novenario (Hataw): Sir, sa interview kay OIC Año ng DILG, sabi po niya ‘yung narco-list daw po na hawak ni Presidente ire-revalidate daw po ng PNP. ‘Yun po bang paglilinis ng LGU eh may kaugnayan dito sa narco politics po na sinasabi dati pa ni Presidente?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I’m sure it’s all connected. But I guess the President mentioned in the Cabinet meeting his resolve also to clean up the ranks of the local government executives to highlight that it’s not just presidential appointees that would be subject to this campaign to promote public accountability but includes everyone in government.

Ms. Novenario: Suportado po ni Presidente ‘yung sinabi po ni General Año na posibleng matanggal sa kamay ng mga mayors ang kontrol sa pulisya pag napatunayan during the revalidation of the narco-list na sangkot sila sa drugs?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, the President has deprived actually some mayors of this police power and he is acting within his powers as Chief Executive to do so.

Pia Ranada (Rappler): Sir, on the increase on the salary of teachers. Did the President specify by how much he would want their salaries increased? Is it also a doubling like for the military?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, he hasn’t… He did not say how much but he says that they will have to be tangible results of any implementation of the second tax reform package and he said that that should be the increase in teachers’ salary.

But judging by what he wanted for the PNP and the AFP, it could be that he is also aiming to double the entry salary for teachers.

Ms. Ranada: And, sir, just on the closure of the logging concessions. Because we also got from Secretary —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: It’s not a closure, it’s a suspension.

Ms. Ranada: I’m sorry, a suspension that si Environment Secretary Cimatu committed to a probe of the — of these allegations. So does the President want the suspension right away or the probe first? Will he get the side of the logging concessions to validate the accusations of the indigenous peoples?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: He has ordered the suspension without prejudice to the probe. But meanwhile, it should be suspended.

JP Bencito (Manila Standard): Hi sir, good morning. Sir, on federalism. Sir, meron na po bang tumanggap doon sa previous offer ni PRRD to form a 25-member Constitutional Commission to possibly serve as an advisory body to draft a new charter? May updates na po ba dito, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I have no updates other than they know for a fact that Congress did not wait for the creation of the 25-man committee and went ahead and divided its members into committees to make proposals for the revisions of the ’87 Constitution.

So in other words, with or without it, Congress nonetheless organized and came up with proposals on how to revise the Constitution.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, the proposed committee was supposed to submit recommendations to the President and the President was supposed to submit this to Congress. Since wala nang committee, will the Palace be sharing its input or participating in any way in the Charter change process?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Two things, this is without prejudice to the President still committing — creating this commission ‘no.

All I’m saying is what I do know is that Congress meanwhile did not wait for the creation of that commission before it studied proposals on how to revise the Constitution. So it’s going ahead.

And of course, since the leadership of both Houses have agreed on Constitutional Assembly as a mode for revising the Constitution, it’s really up to Congress on what provisions they want to propose to the people for amendments and revisions.

Ms. Salaverria: But sir, since the President has also been a major advocate of federalism, will he or the Palace in any way try to participate or contribute to the effort?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I do know that PDP-Laban, the President’s official party, has proposed specific revisions of the Constitution ‘no.

So there are proposals emanating from the allies of the President, including his own political party.

Tricia Zafra (GMA): Hi, sir. Still on the issue of federalism. Sir yesterday, some of our congressmen expressed their agreement with the idea of postponing the 2019 elections to give way to a transitory government in preparation for federalism. Sir, how open is the President to this idea of postponing the 2019 elections?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: In fact, the President discussed this issue again in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. He reiterated he is against no-el.

He wants to push through with the elections in 2019 and has committed to give us the most honest and the most credible elections in 2019.

Ms. Zafra: Sir, but some lawmakers are saying that a transitory government would not be doable if the elections will not be postponed in 2019. How does the President assess the situation?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: As I said, if they are able to amend the Constitution and have the people ratify it before 2019, that’s the only possibility of the postponement of the elections.

But unless the Constitution is actually ratified by the people and the President calling for the transitory provisions, the elections will push through.

Ms. Zafra: Sir, on another matter po. Going back to the high optimism level of the country based on two surveys, sir. Today, the SWS also released its survey on net personal optimism and net optimism on Philippine economy and the ratings were excellent. Sir, do you also attribute this to the recently enacted tax reform law and how does the government plan to use these numbers in — this year?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I think it’s not just the TRAIN. It’s the fact that the President has shown that he has political will to make changes as he promised in the elections ‘no.

He has conducted a successful anti-drug campaign; he has conducted a successful anti-corruption campaign; he has pushed for the first tax reform package; he will push for further tax reform measures in Congress.

And in turn, the people know that all the directions taken by the President are towards the right direction and that they seem to be benefiting from initiatives undertaken by the President. I don’t think it can be attributed solely to TRAIN.

Of course, TRAIN helps because the TRAIN will enable us to embark on the ambitious Build, Build, Build program that is expected to create more jobs and economic opportunities for our people.

Ms. Zafra: Sir, after the enactment of the TRAIN law, some critics of the law, of course, have emerged ‘no. Do you think these ratings and numbers will change after the first quarter once the tax reform has already been implemented, and of course, with the emergence of the critics of the TRAIN law?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: I think the surveys indicate that even with TRAIN, the people support the direction being taken by the President and that they are very, very optimistic about their future even with TRAIN having been passed and enacted into law.

Ms. Zafra: Sir, last na po on TRAIN. Sir, may mechanisms ba itong TRAIN law to address the problem of our self-employed professionals who do not pay the right taxes?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, of course, the issue of better tax administration is separate from the TRAIN itself.

Although the fact that more people are exempt from paying income tax every year truly helped ‘no because it will encourage people to actually pay taxes now that they know that the tax base is a lot lower compared to the past.

Tina Mendez (Philippine Star): Good morning, sir. Sir, while there’s so much optimism based on the survey? How will you… How is the government translating it sa masa? Sir, kasi with the TRAIN implementation and even with the explanation of Malacañang na wala pa dapat mataas na pasahe o presyo ng gasoline, nararamdaman na ng masa, ng tao na may sumasakay ng tricycle, from P45, P50 na ngayon, ‘yung isang kilong isda, nadagdagan na ng P50, dati lesser than that. Tumataas na ang presyo ng mga bilihin. Nararamdaman ng pangkaraniwang tao. Pero anong ginagawa ng gobyerno?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Unang-una hindi naman ganun katas as shown by Secretary Dominguez yesterday ‘no. Hindi po malaki ang impact ng TRAIN sa pagtaas ng mga presyo ng bilihin.

Ang sabi nga po nila wala pang one percent ang magiging contribution ng TRAIN sa overall inflation. So hindi po ganun kataas para maramdaman talaga ng taong bayan.

Pangalawa, eh kaya naman po sila umaasa pa rin nang mas mabuting kinabukasan eh alam naman nila na ‘yung additional na makokolekta ng gobyerno eh mapupunta sa proyekto na — magkakaroon sila ng pakinabang, unang-una, at pangalawa, mga proyekto na magbibigay din ng economic stimulus na magre-resulta sa mas maraming trabaho at oportunidad para sa lahat. Kaya po merong optimism.

Arjay Balinbin (BusinessWorld): Sir, one of the priority measures which will be tackled in the Senate once session resume is the death penalty. Does President Duterte expect to sign it this year or before his term ends?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: He leaves it to Congress ‘no. He has of course identified it as a administration measure and he respects the Senate when it will pass it, if it does so.

Mr. Balinbin: Okay, sir. Thank you.

Nestor Corrales ( Good morning, Spox. Latest aerial shots of the Kagitingan Reef released by the Chinese state media showed it was transformed into a airbase complete with military facilities and hospital. So what will be the government’s move this time? Will we continue to rely on China’s good faith?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: You know, that’s a misplaced question. When we say we are relying on China’s good faith, it is because China has committed not to embark on new reclamations.

Now, you mentioned — Saang island ito?

Mr. Corrales: Kagitingan Reef, sir.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Kagitingan is one of the islands that it had already reclaimed. And this is also one of the islands subject of the arbitral tribunal’s decision that it is within the Philippine economic zone ‘no.

So when China — when we invoke the good faith of China, it is against making further reclamations and not making further works on islands that it had already reclaimed.

So I hope that is very clear. So the good faith we’re relying on is the commitment of China not to embark on new reclamations. Okay?

Mr. Corrales: Defense Secretary Lorenzana yesterday said that if this will be proven true, they will be filing a diplomatic protest against China. What’s the —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Of course, that’s the proper remedy ‘no. But that’s something that the Department of Foreign Affairs will have to address.

But all I’m saying is that there is still no breach of the good faith obligation for as long as China has not embarked on new reclamations. Okay?

Philip Tubeza (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Sir, good morning. So does it mean if the Chinese militarize these islands, it will be okay for the Philippines?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Certainly not okay because, of course, it constitutes a further threat to peace and security in the area ‘no. But the point is, has there been a breach of Chinese commitment not to reclaim any new islands or shoals in the area?

For as long as there is none, then we continue to respect that they are true to their commitment not to do so. But for I think, from the very beginning China, we knew, was militarizing the area by reclaiming these areas and by using them as military bases.

So the fact that they are actually using it now as military bases, as far as I’m concerned, is not new, new. It’s not news. Because we’ve always been against the militarization of the area. But the good faith commitment is not to reclaim new islands. I hope that’s very clear.

Mr. Tubeza: Chinese state media is also reporting that there is a plan to deploy nuclear platforms before 2020 in Chinese-controlled islands in the South China Sea. These platforms will provide electricity to the islands. Would this be okay to the Philippine government if these nuclear platforms are deployed within the exclusive economic zone of the country?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Well, the tribunal says that if these infrastructures are within our EEZ, only the coastal state, the Philippines, has the right to make these installations in these artificial islands.

So I think, without doing anything, the tribunal already articulated the correct legal position of the country and the correct legal principle ‘no that it is the Philippines as a coastal state that should exercise sovereign rights within its exclusive economic zone.

Mr. Tubeza: So it’s a no?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: That would be probably the subject of a separate protest as contrary to the sovereign rights of the Philippines.

Mr. Tubeza: Thank you.

Pia Gutierrez (ABS-CBN): Hi, sir. Sir, is there a plan down the line by the Philippine government to recover these islands already controlled by China or do we already consider it too late na because of the many developments that they’ve already finished there?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: We have plans which we can’t discussed.

Ms. Gutierrez: But, sir, it’s not in the near future pa? Or is still —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: We have plans. We can’t discuss it. It’s a traditional exception to freedom of information. Military secrets and diplomatic matters.

Ms. Gutierrez: Thank you, sir.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ROQUE: Thank you. Enjoy your day without Internet. Wala, I have no signal. I’ve none.

[overlapping voices]

— END —

Source: PCOO-PND (Presidential News Desk)