Media Interview with Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano
Hanoi, Vietnam
29 September 2016

SEC. ANDANAR: Welcome to the press briefing. We are on the latter part of the President’s official visit.

So Secretary Mon Lopez will speak about the bilateral trade meetings, business meetings. Secretary Jun Yasay will speak about the bilateral meeting that happened earlier at the Presidential Palace.

And we also have Senator Cayetano who will join us in this press briefing. So siguro we can start with the questions?

Si, Rocky, will moderate the questions.

Pia Ranada (Rappler): Sec. Yasay, I just want to ask what the Vietnamese Prime Minister and the officials raised about how the Philippines will use or will handle the West Philippine Sea issue especially when dealing with China? Did they give any suggestions or inputs?

SEC. YASAY: The Vietnamese and Philippine position on the handling of the dispute on the South China Sea are convergent. There is no conflict. We have agreed to — like the other ASEAN members of which the Philippines and Vietnam are members is to respect the rule of law, international law and the 1982 UNCLOS.

And to ensure that we pursue the legal and diplomatic processes in the peaceful settlement of disputes, we should be more restraint in our deportment, in our actions to make sure that we do not do any provocative acts that would undermine the peaceful settlement of these disputes.

And, we, together agreed to fully implement the Declaration of Conduct that was already approved and signed by all ASEAN members in 2002 and to proceed on a fast-track basis with the coming out of a code of conduct.

So very clearly, the position of Vietnam and China and the Philippines is solidly in line with the ASEAN’s position on the matter.

Having said that, we also agreed that insofar as the merits of our claims are concerned we cannot be involved or be partial about it. Even the rest of the international community that had — one way or the other — supported Vietnam, supported us or supported China have always just simply supported our adherence to the rule of law of which China and the rest of the international community that have expressed support for that are signatories including signatories to the UNCLOS. So, this is what we have agreed to proceed.

Bilateral engagements with China is necessary with this respect because the arbitral tribunal’s decision has no enforcement [what do you call this?] capability or mechanisms on its own. The enforcement and implementation of the arbitral tribunal’s decision will have to be pursued and made by the claimants themselves to their own agreements.

Our…Philippine position is quite clear that we will at one point in time, maybe this time is not right for it, but at one point in time, we will begin bilateral talks with China insofar as coming up with a solution for the peaceful settlement of this dispute in the South China Sea. It must be within the context of the decision of the arbitral tribunal.

Incidentally, we also said that the decision of the arbitral tribunal is our contribution to the jurisprudence insofar as the maritime law and the interpretation of the provisions of the UNCLOS is concerned.

Vietnam that has not filed a case against China before the arbitral tribunal but if they so decide, they can certainly use the arbitral tribunal’s decision as a precedent in supporting their legal claims and strengthening their legal claims.

Jona Viray (Asahi Shimbun): Sir, last night the President mentioned suspending joint military exercise with the United States. Do we now consider joint military exercises as a sort of action that — that would provoke a negative reaction from China? And was that topic discussed or mentioned during the bilaterals with Vietnam?

SEC. YASAY: Okay, you will have to see this in the context of the environment and which the President made that statement. He said it in the context of the settlement of our disputes in the South China Sea.

So…And he specifically pointed out on two particular actions: One, is engaging in joint patrols with the United States, for instance, in the South China Sea that is outside our territorial boundaries, outside the 12 mile territorial limit where he said that, there should be no joint patrols in these areas if we are trying to protect ourselves from encroachments in our exclusive economic zone or in our entitlements under the EEZ because these are actions that are provocative and this will in fact just heightened the tensions between China and the Philippines and it will impede the peaceful settlements of these disputes.

And the President has always been consistent since day one on this matter. There can be no joint patrols involving gray ships, if I remember very distinctly, this is what he said and he explained what gray ships imply, these are military vessels as compared to white ships, the sea ships which involves civilian or Coast Guard vessels.

So, that’s one thing that he has explained. He also mentioned about joint exercises with the United States. Now again, even as he mentioned joint exercises and explained that there will be no further joint exercises, he said it in the context of the South China Sea disputes.

But then, if we look at the processes that we have insofar as the joint exercises are concerned, we have what is known as a joint military or Mutual Defense Board that really evaluates on a yearly basis the need to pursue joint exercises in accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Especially so that because the Mutual Defense Treaty has not come into play insofar as this dispute is concerned, then there is need as determined by the Mutual Defense Board on whether or not we should be conducting these joint exercises to always keep up ready in defending our territory in the context of the MDT.

But since the President said it in the context of the SCS, which is not involved in this particular thing, you must understand it in that context.

Maybe when a review of the Mutual Defense Board during the presidency of President Duterte will come about, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, he will make a decision at that time whether or not to continue — to allow joint military exercise.

But that has not yet come into play. In fact, as I understand it, the Mutual Defense Board had made recommendation to the previous president to undertake joint military exercises for 2017 and in my understanding that will take place because that has already been decided upon.

Hannah Sancho (Sonshine Radio): So are you saying, sir, na walang Balikatan exercises sa area na malapit sa territorial dispute sa South China Sea pero pwede pa rin mag-Balikatan exercises sa ibang lugar sa Pilipinas?

SEC. YASAY: Yeah, walang problema iyon kasi sinabi naman ni Presidente maliwanag eh, in his inaugural speech, he will respect all our treaty arrangements and agreements with the United States, EDCA, particularly, Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Doris Bigornia (ABS-CBN): Clarify ko lang. Talking about ‘yung context because you were saying to understand the President’s pronouncement on the context of the joint patrols, and the MDT and all of that. But I reviewed the tape, when before he said the — not only the suspension but the termination “last na ito” sabi niya. He was talking about America and that America knew the magnitude of the drug problem in the country and yet instead of helping the country, he went on a rampage of criticisms against them. And then after that, he said, “I am visiting China to establish — to open the doors for investment lahat ng ganyan. Then he goes, “So I am serving notice now to the Americans. So hindi pa…Iyong sabi niyo po na joint patrols sa dulo ho niya iyon sinabi although he said “I am not terminating the military alliance with the US, last na ito because China…” Ah sabi niya, “You are holding military exercises which China doesn’t want.

SEC. YASAY: Again, my suggestion would be, contextually, we should also understand that even as you claim that the President said that…As I told you last night, I did not hear him say that really ‘no. Maybe I was too sleepy because of the jet lag that I am going through.

But I never said…I never heard him say that. But if you say that he said that, you must always understand it in the context also of the fact that our Mutual Defense Treaty arrangement, our EDCA, Visiting Forces Agreement does not have any coverage on these mutual or joint military exercises.

This is just simply a decision that is being recommended by the Mutual Defense Board pursuant to the Mutual Defense Treaty.

So when he says, when the President says that there will no longer be any joint exercises, it does not mean any cancellation of any agreement or any cancellation of any treaty with the United States.

It only means that when the Mutual Defense Board in the future will make that recommendation, he will most likely on the basis of what he said now, assuming that the same conditions obtained now as it will obtain then probably not allow joint military exercises.

But you should not take this as something that is breaking away from our close friendship with the United States or breaking away from our commitments and treaty arrangements with the United States.

SEC. ANDANAR: Alright, we have seven minutes left. Maybe you can also ask questions about bilateral economic trade with Vietnam. Next.

Genalyn Kabiling (Manila Bulletin): Were there agreements on intensified maritime cooperation and the law enforcement with the Vietnamese counterparts?

SEC. YASAY: No, but as I understand it, there are presently even before the bilateral talks held today, engagement with our military people, officials in how we can assist each other insofar as maritime cooperations are concerned. But if you are talking about specific agreements, there is none.

Ms. Kabiling: Sir, what did they talk about — the President and the Vietnamese President?

SEC. YASAY: Yes, simply to make sure that insofar as maritime cooperation is concerned there will be — we will pursue bilateral negotiations to see what kind of an agreement we can pursue in the mutual interest of both countries.

Incidentally, when we say maritime cooperation, it also includes among other things, you know, making sure that the maritime environment and health is protected in the light of certain destructions that have been made.

This is an interest not only between Vietnam and the Philippines but an interest of concern of the entire international community. But this is something that Vietnam and the Philippines also agreed to pursue among other things.

SENATOR CAYETANO: After Sec. Lopez give the details, I will tell you the framework at kung paano pupunta doon.

Tina Mendez (The Philippine Star): Sir, how about on agriculture ‘yung rice importation?

SEC. LOPEZ: So sa agriculture, we basically ask for — and we thanked also Vietnam for providing us a stable, a quality source of rice. And the President has indicated that ‘yung gratitude for Vietnam being a reliable source.

As you know, Vietnam is a source of about 48 percent of our rice imports. So at least we have an assurance that Vietnam will continue to help us with the supply — and walang agreement na pinirmahan but, I think, for the next two years, there is a mutual understanding that rice requirements that we would have can be supplied also from Vietnam.

More than that, the good thing here is that both sides — the Presidents of both countries, Philippines and Vietnam, have agreed to really level up the trade that we have.

In other words, increase the trade numbers that we have essentially since the Philippines still has a lot of products that have great potential in the Vietnam market.

The President himself asked for cooperation from the Vietnam people to consider importing products from Philippines as we import rice from Vietnam, essentially to improve also the trade balance that we have with Vietnam.

As you know, the potential products that we can export, and this is what the President also mentioned, food and food preparations, add high-value processed agriculture products, I heard furniture, metal fabrication.

In fact, furniture, the President also bragged about the very good find furnitures that we have. So a lot of new potentials for exportation to Vietnam to improve the trade balance.

And the President…We’re happy that the President also mentioned — inviting Vietnamese investors to come to the Philippines. Right now, there are more Filipino investors entering Vietnam. We have…We have the likes of the URC, San Miguel, the Ayala group, Jollibee, Splash, and a couple of other companies.

Now, the President invited in return Vietnamese corporations: Invest in the Philippines, we will protect your investors, your investments, contracts will be honored.

So, essentially, the President providing the assurance that investments will be protected as well as providing a more conducive investment climate in the country. So very good exchange of support.

Another point that the President mentioned, to the extent possible, increase the mutual exchange of experts, scholars in the area of education, agriculture, essentially sharing expertise of one country sharing it to the other country. So very positive ang exchanges during the bilateral meeting.

Ms. Peng Aliño (Radyo ng Bayan): How about po workers from the Philippines to Vietnam?

SEC. LOPEZ: Oh yeah, the President actually thanked the President of Vietnam for really providing a good, you know, a good environment for the Filipino workers here in Vietnam. So nagpasalamat ang ating Presidente din doon.

And of course, ganon din ‘yung gina-guarantee niya sa mga pupunta rin sa bansa natin.

Siguro last lang Senator, isang pahabol lang: In the area of food safety, ito maganda. The President also mentioned possible mutual recognition of mga food safety requirements especially in agriculture, aquaculture, fishing, marine resources. So kung ano ‘yung ina-apply sa atin, i-a-apply nila and vice versa. Thank you.

SEN. CAYETANO: You were asking about the specific agreements. Can I start off with the basics? So if two countries have diplomatic relationship, kumbaga sa tao, ‘yun ang mga friends. But with Vietnam, we have a strategic partnership agreement. So kumbaga sa tao, ‘yun yung best, di ba? Naghahanap ka ng may best friend ka.

So two countries have previously agreed on a six-year strategic plan. So 2017 to 2022. So the agreements you were asking about, diyan malalaman ‘yan. So, for example, sa atin, ang interest natin ‘yung supply ng rice, quality at mas mura, of course also the agricultural learning so that we can also be sufficient sa rice. Sa kanila naman, they are into construction, oil and gas exploration and then the countries with the industry na may cruise cannot survive na isang bansa lang.

So if you look at Singapore di ba, ang ruta nila, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, balik ng Singapore. So the DFA and the previous administration has been negotiating dito sa maritime safety and security because they are also looking at the industry doon sa pag-cruise.

As to the approach, as our DFA Secretary has said without going into the confidential matters ‘no, our President basically expressed the need for solidarity among ASEAN countries and ang kanyang appeal, is kung problema natin, baka kaya natin i-solve na tayo-tayo.

We think and we respect ‘di ba, foreign powers, world powers but isn’t it better if we open doors and start talking? Very very well ang — very very good ang response ng Vietnam at ang sinabi nga ng Vietnam, we should do this through the principles of ASEAN and we should have the multilaterals and the bilaterals through the ASEAN.

But I’d like everyone to take note that although we cannot talk about the bilateral and the confidential meetings, it seems that the President is a natural born one-on-one diplomat.

So if there [are] criticisms of how he speaks in general or how he rattles some diplomatic relations through press cons or speeches, the individual leaders that he has one-on-one continuously praises him for the candidness, truthfulness, openness so I think in much less time, much more are being done.

So a lot of that cannot be revealed at this time because it’s still being negotiated but many of the things that you have mentioned, napag-usapan so anong nangyayari?

Iyong one-on-one with the leader, dapat maikli ‘yun. Iyong bilateral na nandun lahat ng Cabinet, military at ‘yung counterpart, ‘yung kami, dapat yun ang mahaba, nababaliktad. Iyong one-on-one napapahaba because napakaganda ng rapport at diretsuhan na sila. So pagdating sa amin, more of formalities and execution and announcement na ang napag-uusapan.

So I think this is a giant step forward and I think the President continues to consolidate ASEAN. Remember, next year Vietnam will host APEC so we extend– the President extended his support dahil tayo nag-host last year and then their President wished us well and extended his support na tayo naman magho-host ng ASEAN. So let me stop there para may time pa kayo mag-question.

Ms. Mendez: Sir, on Senator Miriam?

SEN. CAYETANO: We lost a national treasure. Not only the Senate, the country will not be the same without a Senator Miriam. There is no perfect administration so you will always need someone like her.

This may be her final walkout as she walks out of this world to the next world. But like any other walkout she engaged in, it was always productive, it was always lasting, and it always sent us a message.

So we wish you farewell, we condole with the family but we will not forget the lessons that we learned from the one and only Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Ms. Viray: Can you please send us the dates for the visit to Japan and China?

SEN. CAYETANO: I think the Secretary should answer that but as of last night, they were talking about some details pa.

Ms. Viray: Pero they’re still look at October and it’s China before Japan?

SEN. CAYETANO: I think it will be better for the DFA Secretary to answer your question. Sorry.

Ms. Bigornia: Hindi ba ang Vietnam is not exactly chummy with China because of the West Philippine Sea. So was there any concern raised by the Vietnamese officials on this especially because Digong has been expressing his—he has straightly saying that: “I will go to China, I will open up new alliance with them.”

SEN. CAYETANO: Concern and opportunity because in fact, they have…Sometimes they have a worse relationship in terms of security with China because it has happened that there have been deaths, nagkabarilan na sila over disputed islands.

But on the other side of the coin naman, ‘yung kanilang economic, cultural and diplomatic ties continue despite the security issues. So if you look at the number of tourists, investments, exchanges sa Vietnam, it’s much more than the Philippines when in fact, their security problem with China is also of a higher pitch. Kumbaga sa lagnat, mas mataas ‘yung lagnat.

So ang napag-usapan, we can share the common experience. As the good Secretary Yasay said, may na-gain sa arbitral decision. So I guess, again without talking about anything confidential, would also like to learn from us but we’d like to learn from them. But the context of the ASEAN eh, no one wants any disturbance on peace and order and security in the region because the economy depends on the stability.

So what I heard from the talks is that, in fact, both sides congratulated each other so I think it’s a huge step forward. Both side has their opinion of how to approach it but both sides believes…The President expressed that his bilateral talks with China is a necessity because he has to feel them out first.

Now, may I note, there is a turning of a tide with some writers in the academe, maybe eastern or western on the Philippine approach. Two months ago, all of the criticisms and all of the academics were saying, we will lose everything if we don’t continue the Aquino style of using the arbitral — the award in every forum. But lately, they’ve noticed that the Chinese, on their own, not because of the award, has restrained themselves because of a possible friendship or agreement with the Philippines.

So I think the other ASEAN countries are starting to see there’s more than one way to skin a cat so why don’t we try both approaches—a multilateral and a bilateral.

Of course, the President is praying and hoping that the visit will settle some issues and as he promised in the campaign, he doesn’t want China to move an inch forward. But remember, China also has their own local constituencies and also have to answer to their people on their sovereignty claims. So it’s a good start. Where we will be? Let’s wait after the other visits.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, did Vietnam insist a multilateral approach to the West Philippine Sea?

SEN. CAYETANO: I did not hear any insistence. In fact, even in the other bilateral meeting, there has been…Of the ASEAN countries ha, of the ASEAN countries there have been left and right congratulations, expressions of support.

Some might be cautious but I think they want to give the Duterte approach—the Duterte diplomatic approach a chance.