Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella
Press Briefing Room, New Executive Building, Malacañang
04 April 2017


PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Magandang umaga po. We’d like to give you some updates.

Institutional Investor’s outlook for the Philippines remains strong.

The Philippines under the Duterte administration was given a thumbs-up by the Institutional Investor, a New York-based leading international business publisher.

It stated in its report that investor sentiments for the Philippine economy have remained strong and positive despite the political challenges faced by the Duterte administration.

The report cites that GDP reached 6.6 percent for the Fourth Quarter of 2016 and mentioned the public infrastructure spending which has remained steady.

Furthermore, the recently approved Social Security System pension increase is also seen to boost consumer spending.

Institutional Investor’s outlook is similar to the positive outlooks of Moody’s and Asian Development Bank.

Also, the Quezon Avenue Flood Control and Road Project has now opened.

The Department of Public Works and Highways has finally opened the second, the second additional — the two additional lanes along Timog Avenue to Scout Borromeo in Quezon City. In addition, beneath the newly constructed road is the improved flood control concrete box culvert.

The 522-meter Road Project and the 5.30 meters width by 4.35 meters deep Flood Control Project, totaling to P87.69 million, are expected to ease the flow of traffic along Quezon Avenue – East Bound.

Also, the Bank of China is to bring 150 Chinese investors to the Philippines.

The Bank of China, China’s most internationalized and diversified bank founded in 1912, has expressed its intention in working together with the Philippines.

The 150 Chinese investors invited are expected to attend the 12thASEAN Finance Ministers’ Investors Seminar, which will be held in Cebu this April.

In addition, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, PCCI honorary chairman Sergio Ortiz-Luis has also stated that the Bank of China will be providing three billion to the PCCI intended to aid qualified micro, small and medium enterprises beneficiaries.

We’re open to a few questions.

By the way, before that. All right, now. Just to inform you, if you travelled down EDSA, you might look at the LED billboards. You might notice a few interesting posts, portraying, presenting some of the positions of the President.

It’s interesting. He says, it’s a quote from one of his speeches, he says: “I have built a city, I am building a nation.”

So, something to ease your EDSA time.


Maricel Halili (TV-5): Hi, sir. Good morning.


Ms. Halili: Sir, may we know the details about the Cabinet meeting last night? What happened? What did the President tell Secretary Sueno?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I have posted a statement regarding the matter. Are you familiar with that? Let me just go through it, yes.

Well, in fairness I think we need to just keep it at that level up to this stage.

It was basically a los of confidence, a loss of confidence, a loss of trust and confidence in the — in the man and the position.

But I think, more than the details of the situation, I think we need to take into more serious account the implication of this thing that it was done in a sense publicly in front of all the Cabinet members. And also that the President has allowed a public explanation of the matter.

The President is very serious in restoring trust in the government. You know, he has said this again and again. One of the problems of the Philippines is that the Filipinos have lost trust in the government.

But by addressing it so firmly and so with decisiveness, it’s just go to show how deeply invested the President is in nation building. I think that is of more importance.

Ms. Halili: Sir, what’s the reason for the loss of trust and confidence?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Apparently, the President has done due diligence and so he has checked into the matter and some people — some, you know, and apparently he has taken note of several legally untenable situations.

Ms. Halili: Does it have something to do with the letter of the three undersecretaries of DILG?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I doubt it. I doubt it. It’s more than just the letters. He has apparently some — some insight into the situation.

Ms. Halili: May we know, sir, kung sino ‘yung possible na pumalit?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Wala pa pong nababanggit. I have checked. Wala pa po.

Leila Salaverria (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Sir, did the reason for the firing of Secretary Sueno have anything to do with any public transaction because if public funds are involved, shouldn’t this be made public?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: To some extent, that may be part of the reason.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, which… May we know which particular transaction?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Like I said, let’s keep the details. Let’s keep the details for — set the details aside for whatever actions need to be taken afterwards.

Ms. Salaverria: Can we expect any action actually? Will there be an investigation of these supposedly questionable or legally untenable transactions?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Let us wait for the President to make his subsequent actions.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir ‘yung… Is former Senator Marcos being considered as replacement for — ?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No, there has been no comment, no mention and absolutely no reference to him, as far as I’m concerned and as far as the Cabinet is concerned.

Dexter Ganibe (DZMM): Sec, magandang umaga. Sir, hindi ba ano… Ano ang posisyon ng Malacañang dito sa mga opisyal, mga itinalaga ng Pangulo na nasasangkot sa ganitong mga issue? Kasi, parang lumalabas na kapag sila ay nakagawa ng mali o na-involve sa isang corruption issue ay sisibakin na lang at okay na. Papaano po ‘yung kanilang pananagutan kung meron man?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Hayaan na po natin ang Presidente siya ang sumunod patungkol sa bagay na ‘yan ‘no. But definitely, I think the major implication is that the President will not countenance, as again and again is even put it in a very colorful term, even a whiff of corruption, kahit na may maamoy lang siya.

So, but… I think we have to give him credit and really understand and put in it context that what he’s really actually doing is really restoring trust in the government.

Eh kasi… Apparently for the longest time, the people have become, in a sense, hopeless about the situation. But he is actually empowering the Filipino people once more by giving them a trustworthy government. It’s quite a challenge.

Mr. Ganibe: Yes, sir. Kasi pagdating din kung halimbawa lalabas na dahil kahit whiff of corruption lang. Papaano kung nagamit lang ‘yung pangalan nung isang opisyal at ito ay nasibak at wala namang — hindi naman talaga siya involved, papaano po ‘yung kanyang reputasyon?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: You know, you know the President is a lawyer and you have to give it to him. He does due diligence.

Mr. Ganibe: Hindi… Wala po bang ano na masasampahan ng kaso o imbestigahan?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Iyong patungkol po diyan, ang sinasabi ko po, eh antayin na lang po natin na ano — antayin natin na kumilos siya.

Mr. Ganibe: Sir, Sec, last point. Sir, may mga listahan na o may mga pangalan na po bang lumulutang kung sino ang posibleng ilagay sa posisyon na nabakante ni Secretary Sueno?


Joseph Morong (GMA-7): Sir, si Presidente naman klaro ‘no na he wants, sabi niyo rin na he wants to restore trust in government and ‘yung mga ganitong firing of officials who are thought to be corrupt ginagawa niya publicly ‘no. But I think we’re interested in what happened in the Cabinet meeting yesterday. Was it the first item that the President brought up and what happened during the conversation? How would you describe the interaction between President and Secretary Sueno, former Secretary?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Do you want the human interest? Yeah. Okay. Just to give you a little bit of — just a little picture.

The President was quite open and frank in questioning Secretary. Initially, in fact almost at the beginning of the meetings. However, he set it aside and we finished the meeting which took about several hours actually and then it was only afterwards that he made a closing statement.

Mr. Morong: And what was the closing statement, if you can quote?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA:  You know, for some reason, I just caught the tail end of it but basically he said that he had — that the Secretary was being let go.

Mr. Morong: And what was former Secretary Sueno’s response?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There was a short exchange and then that was it.

Mr. Morong: Meron pang short exchange? Sumagot ba, sir? Hindi naman?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Conversation. Conversation. It was not a heated exchange. It was just a conversation.

Mr. Morong: Sir, in the spirit of transparency, are you willing to release the video of the Cabinet meeting as far as that is concerned, sir, ‘yung issue?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There was no video regarding the matter.

Mr. Morong: Sir, there was, sir? Inupload ‘yung…


Mr. Morong: Hindi sir, ‘yung Cabinet meeting.


Mr. Morong: We caught… I caught a part there that Secretary Sueno was saying it’s not true and then it was — the audio was cut. So I don’t know what he’s denying in that area. So perhaps we can ask for the whole video?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: That I don’t know. That I don’t know. On the other hand, you know, there are certain things that have just to, just… Even if there is a transparency, I think there are certain limits to that.

Mr. Morong: Okay, I understand that. But what is he denying, sir, in that aspect, in that part of the video? Sabi niya, it’s not true.


Mr. Morong: Thank you, sir.

Pia Ranada (Rappler): Sir, can we just get more details on the investigation which the President initiated to prove the claims in this letter which was given to him, which listed daw nga po the accusations against DILG chief Sueno.


Ms. Ranada: More details about the investigation, who conducted it, how long did it take? What’s the proof that convinced the President that the allegations are true? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No. Apparently, here’s what I can tell you. He, the President has — is aware that apparently he checked into a history of — history of activities of the Secretary. And… But that’s about it, that’s about all that I can tell you.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, just to zero in on the Austrian fire trucks allegation. Because the Secretary naman is saying that this was a contract approved the previous administration —


Ms. Ranada: So what is the… What exactly is the accusation being pinned on to the Secretary?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There was no accusation, there were just questioning.

Ms. Ranada: What kind of questions was he asking, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: The President was asking, did the Secretary, good Secretary… Did the Secretary travel abroad to this particular place? And did he know the background of it — of the actual situation? And more or less along that line. He’s… The President seemed to just be interested in establishing whether or not the Secretary had actually engaged in certain activities.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, can we know what activities these are? I think the public deserves to know if this is an issue of —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: They deserve to know in time. Thank you.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, just another on the Cabinet meeting and Sec. Sueno. At the beginning, sir, we also heard that the President, in fact, suggested to meet privately with Sec. Sueno at another moment, at another opportunity to talk about these allegations and then by the end of the meeting, biglang binawi po niya ‘yung invitation, which I think surprised — caught Sec. Sueno off guard. Is this meeting still pushing through? Did he in fact suggest the private meeting?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t know if it will push — if a private meeting will push through. But at the end — but at the end of the meeting apparently, there was none expected.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, was there any other Cabinet official or government official who was berated during the Cabinet meeting?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA:  I don’t think the word is “berated.”

Ms. Ranada: Or, sir, parang he talked about certain issues about them?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: You know, it’s just like, you know, it’s just like comments. It was just… These were just comments.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, about which Cabinet official?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Let’s leave it at that. Thank you.

Ms. Ranada: Ilan?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA:  As far as I know, just one. One other.

Hannah Sancho (Sonshine Radio): Hi, sir.


Ms. Sancho: Recently sa mga speech — sa speech po ng Pangulo, mine-mention niyang may namumuro nga na tatanggalin siya sa pamahalaan. Ito na ba si Secretary Sueno o may iba pa siyang pwedeng tanggalin maliban po kay Secretary Sueno?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I do not know the mind of the President but based on the facts and based on history, this may be the one that he was talking about.

Ms. Sancho: So siya na. May possibility po ba, sir, na meron pang susunod?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, it all depends on how the Cabinet responds.

Ms. Sancho: So it’s a warning. So ibig sabihin kung meron pang —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: To all of us. To all of us. Not just to Cabinet members but especially to those in government.

Ms. Sancho: Sir, other topic po.


Ms. Sancho: Nagbabala po ‘yung mga empleyado po ng Bureau of Immigration ng mass leave and mass resignation ‘pag hindi pa po mangi-alam si Pangulong Duterte doon sa hinihiling po nila. Ngayon, sir, mahaba na po sa NAIA, sir, dahil hindi nga pumapasok ‘yung mga empleyado ng Immigration at marami na pong nagrereklamo doon sa mga bumabyahe lalo na ngayon pabakasyon po, sir. Ano pong gagawin po ng Palasyo or may action na po ba ‘yung pangulo sa Bureau of Immigration?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: You know, part of that was discussed yesterday but I can’t, you know, I can just read a part of the statement that was given by the DBM:

“Last January 5, 2017, the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Immigration agreed to create additional positions to address the concerns of the Bureau of Immigration regarding the salaries of confidential agents and job orders and overtime pay to its personnel as a result of the veto by the President on express lane charges under 2017 GAA.

So on the 30th, the DBM initially approved 49 positions for its Financial and Management Division and Administrative Division. On March 28, after a series of consultations, the DBM, true to its commitment, approved 887 additional Immigration officers and assistant positions to augment its existing 1,203.”

In other words, they acted to add positions, okay. Because they were supposed to be seriously undermanned, and which was apparently the reason why there was so much overtime charges, okay.

“But the creation of new positions will increase the Immigration officer and Immigration assistant positions by 74 percent and will require an estimated personnel service cost of 381 million on top of the amount of overtime pay included in the miscellaneous personnel benefits.”

These are details, okay. But in other words, the whole argument of the DBM is that they did act and they did add.

Now, the bonus, the burden of response is now upon the BOI officials, they have not accepted it. They have… They choose to stick to their guns about overtime pay.

But if they responded, then the queues would really lessen if there were more officials, if there were more officers there in the Immigration. That is the position of the DBM. Mas maraming personnel, mas maraming maseserbisyuhan.

So in other words, the you know, the… I mean the Executive branch is saying, we’ve already offered you, please act on it. However, up to this point, they have not.

JP Bencito (Manila Standard): Sir, follow up on doon sa BI. So does that mean, sir, na some of the officials within the BI erred somehow in deciding for the — what’s good for the agency?


Mr. Bencito: Made a mistake.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Okay. I don’t know if you would call it “made a mistake”. But based on results, by not acting on the suggestion of the DBM, we have these queues that Ms. Hannah was talking about.

So you know, certain decisions have certain results. And certain results, you know, in other words, the pressure is now shared by all these people who have to wait because there are not enough personnel. That is the position.

Mr. Bencito: Sir, what is your call… What is the Palace’s call to BI Commissioner Morente because he’s the one in charge of the BI?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, at this stage, according to the explanation of Sec. Ben Diokno that they have made a proposal and they’re waiting for the BI to make the proper response. It’s as simple as that. In a sense, it’s almost a household accounting job.

Mr. Bencito: Thank you, sir.

Ms. Halili: Sir, just a follow up. Is this a cause of concern especially for the Palace kasi next week, Holy Week na and as expected peak season, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Short term, yes. Definitely, short term, yes. It’s an urgent situation. However, long term we’re referring to a particular aspect of our Filipino character and psyche.

You know we’re referring to actually… We’re referring to something more long standing. It’s about ourselves. But short term, yes, definitely short term.

Ms. Halili: And how do you see, sir, ‘yung possible impact nito doon sa security considering na, well, obviously kulang ‘yung personnel doon sa immigration?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Right, then somebody should be able to accommodate. There should be some form of — I don’t know — I would call it compromise and find a way to resolve the situation.

Because according to… These are both branches of government and we all serve the same client — the Filipino people. We all have the same purpose.

So if people would be willing to stand aside and step aside, and you know make some accommodations then one would think that this would be a better thing to do.

Benjie Liwanag (DZBB): Sir, on Bureau of Immigration, good morning. Sir, ‘yung ano… May legal opinion kasi itong si Secretary ng Department of Justice it is na kukunin po doon sa express lane ‘yung pwedeng ipambayad para doon sa overtime. So ito ho ay isinantabi ng Malacañang, is that right?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Those are details already. But I think the bigger — the larger question goes back to what I just discussed that there actually is a solution. This is a detail the one about were to get the money…

Mr. Liwanag: Yes.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: That is a particular detail and it all depends on how they resolve the bigger question first.

Mr. Liwanag: Okay, next is that they’re going to use other personal aside doon sa mga tao ng Bureau of Immigration…


Mr. Liwanag: Okay, is it legal that to put some military personnel to man the Immigration counter — ah check papasok dito sa…

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t know about the legality of it, I assume it is, but you know if it’s an emergency situation then should be able to respond in the right way.

Mr. Liwanag: In Sueno pwede pa ba?


Mr. Liwanag: Sir, bakit ang tagal yata nung information na inilabas ng Malacañang kagabi pa po ‘yung nangyari kay Secretary Sueno, pero what happened is kanina lang po umaga kayo nakapag-isyu? May hinihintay pa po ba tayo na additional reports coming from the President or something?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We want to come up with firm statements.

Mr. Liwanag: Thank you very much, sir.

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


Ms Novenario: Sir, ‘yung panawagan po kasi ng ano immigration employees sa Malacañang kay Presidente eh pumayag po sa moratorium kasi po ang pagtantsa nila ‘yung pag-create po ng mga bagong position  parang katumbas din po ‘yung budget na ilalaan ‘yung 381 million parang katumbas din po nung kanilang ano, overtime pay. So sila raw po ay dumaan sa mga pagsasanay sa mga training na sila po ‘yung gumastos hindi naman po ‘yung Bureau of Immigration. Ganoon po raw pala ang patakaran doon, eh marami na po silang pinagdaanang training. So tingin po nila mas, mas makakatulong kung—at mapapabilis po lahat ‘yung problemang masolusyunan sa pang—ito short term po ‘yung pinag-uusapan natin. Kung payagan po muna ‘yung moratorium tapos po ‘yung…


Ms. Novenario: Opo, opo. Tapos ituloy po muna ‘yung express lane, ‘yung kanilang overtime pay at ‘yung bureau—meron daw pong naka-pending sa House of Representatives na panukalang batas para amyendahan po ‘yung Immigration Act. Doon po nakalagay daw po roon na ano—na ‘yung sila, sila raw, sila po ay masasakop na nung Salary Standardization Law dahil sa kasalukuyan daw po hindi raw po sila kasama doon. Kaya meron ganoon express lane na ano. Pero kung ma-amyendahan daw po ‘yung batas pwede raw pong wala na ‘yung express lane o overtime pay pero kasali na sila doon sa Salary Standardization Law. So ‘yung kanilang salary increase eh magiging kapareho na po ng mga pangkaraniwang kawani ng gobyerno.


Ms. Novenario: Ang tanong po, kung gaano po… Ano ho ‘yung tsansa na papayagan po ni Presidente ‘yung moratorium sa kasalukuyan po dahil may problema na pong nalikha? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: That should be ano… The response should come from the head of the BOI.

Ms. Novenario: So pinu-push po ni Commissioner Morente ‘yung moratorium?


Ms. Novenario: Thank you.

Reymund Tinaza (Bombo Radyo): Sir, good morning, relatedly sa corruption. Sir, open ba ang Palasyo na ireview,  irevisit ‘yung Bureau of Corrections agreement or deal at malaman kung totoo ba ‘yung alegasyon ni Congressman Pantaleon Alvarez na disadvantages on the part of the government ‘yung naturang deal, sir? Kasi ang DOJ, I understand they are planning also to revisit ‘yung naturang questionable deal?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I talked with the… Apparently this what’s going to… The copy of the query of the Speaker has finally reached the desk of the DOJ and they will form a body just for preliminary inquiries on the infirmities of the contract. And what they will submit an opinion by next week. Okay, iyon lang po.

Ms. Salaverria: Good morning. Sir, I just want to know how is the case of former Secretary Sueno different from that of Cesar Montano because he was — Mr. Montano was also accused of corruption but the President said they should just file a complaint against him and he trust him. So isn’t that an inconsistency in the President’s position?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Not necessarily if the President has made his due diligence on this particular issue. It’s something that he can act on with decisiveness.

I think for one reason… Well, especially for the fact that he was — this particular situation deals with a Cabinet member.

So it’s something that for him is of deep import. So it’s not a question of inequality it’s just that this is something that he has given due diligence to.

Ms. Salaverria: Thank you.

Elijah Rosales (Business Mirror): Good morning, Usec. Two questions lang po. Una, kahapon nanawagan po si DAR Secretary Mariano kay President Duterte na mag-isyu na ng EO on land conversion ban, meron po bang response ang Pangulo regarding dito?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Will have to check with the office of the ES.

Mr. Rosales: And then second question, sir

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA[Can somebody take note of that?] Yes?

Mr. Rosales: And last question, sir, three months na lang mapapaso na po ‘yung quantitative restriction on rice import ng bansa and the Congress and Senate hindi po sila poised na makapagpasa ng batas to resolve that. May ipapatong po ba tayong executive order ulit for that?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I will also have to check on that. Thank you.

Mr. Rosales: Thank you, Usec.

Mr. Morong: Sir, ‘yung sa TADECO ibig sabihin, sir, hindi pa abrogated ‘yung contract?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No, it’s not abrogated but… As reported earlier?

Mr. Morong: Yes, sir.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No, it’s not… But it says that we have… It’s going to be reviewed. It’s going to be reviewed and an opinion will be submitted by next week.

Mr. Morong: Sir, super off-tangent question nagtatanong lang ‘yung Bangsamoro Transition Commission kailan daw ‘yung release ng budget nila because they have a May 18 deadline to meet — ?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I understand. I’m waiting on the DBM to give me the answer.

Mr. Morong: Okay, sir. Thank you.

Henry Uri (DZRH): Hi, Secretary.


Mr. Uri: Umabot na ho ba sa kaalaman ng Pangulo na kinilear (clear) na po ng PDEA Region 6 si Mayor Jed Mabilog sa kaso ng protecting drug lords sa kanyang area? According to Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Region 6, wala daw pong ebidensya na silang nakita na nagli-link kay Mabilog sa illegal drugs?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We don’t have word on that po kung if they… Ang tanong po niyo if it has been relayed to the President?

Mr. Uri: Oho.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We don’t have information on that.

Mr. Uri: Hindi po ito napag-usapan sa maski anong?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Hindi po siya napag-usapan kagabi.

Thank you very much.