Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella and Department of Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno
Press Briefing Room, New Executive Building, Malacañan
03 January 2017

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Good morning. This morning we are fortunate to have for our first press briefing for 2017 one of the President’s economic managers, Dr. Benjamin Diokno.

He is the current Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management. He is also in his third tour of duty as Budget Secretary which he intends to pursue an expansionary fiscal policy to finance investments in human capital development and public infrastructure.

In addition, he seeks for the passage of a Budget Reform Bill to ensure the compliance of future budgets with the pertinent laws of the land. He also aims to reorganize and professionalize the bureaucracy with a Government Rightsizing Act.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno.

SEC. DIOKNO: Thank you very much. Happy New Year. The way I see it, the Duterte government wants to have a growth rate of 7 percent sustained, he needs to do five things.

Of course, the peace and order is a precondition to growth. So that’s a given. Second, we really need to address our infrastructure gap. We have the worst infrastructure in this part of the world, okay?

Second, our biggest asset, I think, is our youth, but that’s both an asset and a liability, okay. We don’t convert the youth into a productive, agile, healthy workforce then we fail, right? So that there’s… So we need to invest in the human resources.

Third, we need to cut the cost of doing business. We are ranked very low in that regard and if we want to attract foreign investors we need to do that.

Fourth, we need to… What’s the fourth one? Lima na ba? Precondition is peace and order, and then you have infra, you have human resource, investment in human resource, cut the cost of doing business, and then the fourth one is we have to have a competitive tax system.

Our tax system compares poorly with our neighbors, okay. We’re lucky that we belong to what they call the fastest growing region in the world which is Asia, okay, and Southeast Asia.

So we, if we manage to grow at 7 percent, we become the fastest growing country in the fastest growing region in the world and that’s an honor, right? And that would be an accomplishment, right?

So 2017 budget is a downpayment for that desire. So for example if you look at the 20117 budget, 5.4 percent of GDP will go to public infrastructure.  That has never been done before in the history of the country.

And we intend to ramp it up so that by the end of President’s… On the final year of President Duterte, that will be something like 7.2, 7.4 percent of GDP.

So I reckon that we should be spending something like 8 to 9 trillion pesos, 8 to 9 trillion pesos for public infrastructure.

This is over and above what we are spending for PPP projects, okay? So we know that’s consistent with the President’s build, build, build, okay?

So unlike before, unlike my previous tour of duties at DBM where I just sit on the desk, wait for the budget request, now I’m actively seeking for good projects all over the country, okay? Palawan, Bohol, Albay, Siargao.

So we’re looking for those projects. We’re planning to link, for example, Matnog to Southern Leyte, Leyte… and then Leyte. Maybe… This is an ambitious project. Maybe link up Leyte with Mindanao, right?

So you can now travel by car from Luzon to Mindanao, okay. That’s an ambitious project and I think we can, we can finance it if we just put our mind to it, okay.

So I’ll stop there and answer questions you may want to ask.

Happy Birthday. Sinong birthday boy?


JP Bencito (Manila Standard): Hi, sir. Good morning.

SEC. DIOKNO: Good morning.

Mr. Bencito: Sir can we discuss… Can we discuss ‘yung kung meron ba talaga, sir, increase on pay of soldiers and policemen as confirmed by some Cabinet secretaries also, sir?

SEC. DIOKNO: Yeah, there will be… We are now on our second tranche of a four-tranche salary adjustment, okay? As you know, we gave the salary increase last year. There will be another round of salary increase this year, both for civilian and military and policemen, all right?

But last last year, we even increased the combat pay of soldiers. I think there’s a 200-percent increase. I think before the end of the day, we’ll distribute to you what a typical soldier or first lieutenant will and receive ‘no, given all the benefits, okay.

And the way I see it, as far as the military is concerned. We would be able to comply with the desire of the President to double their take home pay by January of 2018, okay?

Sooner, if we pass the tax reform, because tax reform would mean reducing the personal income tax rate from a maximum of 32 percent to 25 percent. So in fact your take home pay will—And that’s good for all of you also, right?

Your take home pay will increase if we reduce the take home by — from 32 to 25 percent and we will increase the deductions, right? So, at the latest January 2018 and most likely sometime next year, okay, given the tax reform.

AC Nichols (CNN Philippines): Hi, good morning, sir. Sir, so just to clarify, our policemen have already been given a pay hike since last year, but you’re still increasing it until now?

SEC. DIOKNO: They’re part of the four-tranche system that we are implementing, okay. But let me say this that this would require congressional approval, okay. The bill seeking salary adjustment requires congressional approval and we’re ready.

I have… I have actually submitted to the Office of the President a copy of the bill and this would only require joint — joint resolution from both the Senate and the House. And going by the behavior of Congress, they won’t object to a salary increase, okay, because it’s a popular move.

Tax is more difficult, right? But when you’re giving away, you can bet Congress will agree to provide, okay.

Marlon Ramos (The Philippine Daily Inquirer): Good morning, Secretary.

SEC. DIOKNO: Good morning.

Mr. Ramos: Sa ‘yung ano salary increase, the incremental increase, is that part of the SSL signed by the previous administration?

SEC. DIOKNO: The previous administration had a downpayment 2016. And we are going to honor it and in fact… But you know, there’s some — there’s a maybe a legal defect because it did not go through Congress, it’s just incorporated in the budget.

But the 2017, there’s already an allocation in the 2017 budget for a salary increase, second tranche. But we will go to Congress and ask for authority.

Mr. Ramos: May we know how much you–?

SEC. DIOKNO: I will…Right now I don’t have it but before the end of the day, I think you’ll get a copy.

Mr. Ramos: Sir, I think one of the issues there is how to fund the pension pay of retired soldiers and —?

SEC. DIOKNO: That’s a good — that’s a good issue, right?

As you know, during the time of President Ramos, he had this law which, it says that the pension of the military is tied to the salary of the incumbent, okay.

And you know how — how the longevity of the soldiers, right? They… Look at President Ramos is still around, right? So you retire at 50 and then they receive pension for the next 40 years, that’s tremendous, that’s significant. So that… Unless we fix that, there will come a time when maybe 70 percent of the budget of the military will just go to the pension, okay.

So that’s part of the total solution that we are looking for, that maybe there should be a difference between those who will enter at a given date and those who are already in the system because we are not — we don’t intend to take away the privilege of those who are in the system, right? So that’s been done before internationally, that’s been done. So that is part of the solution.

Mr. Ramos: Do you intend to come up with a legislation to—

SEC. DIOKNO: That requires legislation, okay.

Mr. Ramos: To just limit or — how do you intend to go about it?

SEC. DIOKNO: There will be two types of salary structure for the military. Those who will come in after a certain date and those who are already inside. So that will be the kind of legislation that we have in mind.

Mr. Ramos: May cut off?

SEC. DIOKNO: May cut off. Yeah, oo. Fair na ‘yun ‘di ba? Fair na ‘yun kasi once you give out incentives, you can’t take them away ‘di ba?

Sweeden Velado (PTV 4): Good morning, Secretary. Sir, I understand while we’re working on the fourth tranche of the salary?


Ms. Velado: Third tranche —

SEC. DIOKNO: But the second is already in the budget 2017.

Ms. Velado: Sir, mararamdaman na po ba ‘yun ngayon? Will it be added to their salary already this year?

SEC. DIOKNO: Effective January 1st ‘yan.

Ms. Velado: How much, sir? 

SEC. DIOKNO: I said I don’t have the details, okay.

Ms. Velado: Okay, but, sir… The President has already mentioned in his previous speeches that after the salary hike for cops and military men, teachers and nurses will follow. Matutuloy pa po ba ‘yun, Secretary?

SEC. DIOKNO: They are part of the Salary Standardization. They are part of this tranches, okay. But it does not mean that we will double their salary because right now, the pay of public school teachers are much higher than the pay of private school teachers two to one, okay. That’s the fact, okay. Two to one, based on a survey, okay.

So it would be inappropriate for us to tax the general public just to double the salary of teachers who are in fact, their pay right now is already more than competitive. But they are — all civilian and military employees are part of the Salary Standardization.

Leila Salaverria (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Good morning, sir.

SEC. DIOKNO: Good morning.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, I understand you are one of the economic managers who has concerns about the 2,000 SSS pension hike. Sir, do you have an alternative proposal for the pensioners to enjoy an increase without putting the SSS in danger?

SEC. DIOKNO: You know… To give you a historical perspective. Even during the time of President Marcos, he did not touch SSS, okay, because it is a private pension fund.

You contribute to that fund, okay and when you retire, you get benefits from that fund, okay. So given that perspective, I don’t think it is fair to say use the taxpayers’ money to subsidize the benefits of the pension members, the SSS members, right?

So if there’s any solution, I think they should find it within the system and what we are proposing is a salary — a contribution adjustment, a higher pay but we are not recommending it right now.

What we’re recommending is maybe do it after the tax reform, which means because in the tax reform, you get more money in your pockets and therefore you are now in a position to contribute a small amount for the pension of those who are already receiving pension, so that’s our solution.

It is to me unfair for us to call on everybody to give, to increase the pension of a few, okay. You know, our tax system is such that even the jobless, those who don’t have jobs, they pay taxes, value added tax, right? So why should you burden them to give benefits to a private pension system, okay. So if I’m asked that’s my position, okay.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, I understand from reports, the President is set to meet you to discuss the SSS —

SEC. DIOKNO: No, we already have a position paper. We signed it, the three of us.

Ms. Salaverria: I think the resolution is with him. Are you going to recommend that he veto it?

SEC. DIOKNO: No, no. To me, it’s unfair to give the problem to him. In fact, it’s unfair for Congress to have passed that law, which, as you know, President Aquino vetoed, ano.

It should not have reached the President’s desk. The Board of Trustees should have exercised leadership and say, ‘no, we cannot do it unless we do the following things,’ okay.

And there are many things like they can increase the collection efficiency. I understand some corporations have been indebted to SSS, maybe they could call on them, right. But you know, when you pass the buck and give it to the President, that to me is unfair for the President, okay.

Ace Romero (Philippine Star): Secretary, but now it’s with the President now. We can’t do anything right now so what should he do right now?

SEC. DIOKNO: Well, he could give it back to the SSS Board of Trustees, come up with a solution, okay.

Mr. Romero: Not necessarily i-veto or—

SEC. DIOKNO: Hindi, he doesn’t have to veto or — it is not a bill.

Mr. Romero: It’s not a bill just a resolution?

SEC. DIOKNO:  It’s a — I think it’s a memorandum.

Mr. Romero: Memorandum. So he can give it back to the SSS?

SEC. DIOKNO: He can give it back and say, ‘look, I appointed you there to solve the problem, okay. Come up with a solution.’

Mr. Romero: So you suggest that he does that?

SEC. DIOKNO: I don’t know. I mean, that’s… If I were the President, I would do that, okay. I appointed you there specifically to come up with a solution. You manage a private fund, okay. Manage a private fund.

Mr. Romero: Thank you, Secretary.

Cedric Castillo (GMA 7): Sir, I think you mentioned this already pero i-follow up ko na rin, sir. So you agree, sir, ‘yung ibang recommendation or suggestions to reform ‘yung collection, ‘yung cuts sa bonuses?

SEC. DIOKNO: You know, there are many things that they can do, right. You know, I sympathize with the pension funds right now. As you know, the interest rates are so low, it’s difficult to make money, right. Can you imagine, many years ago the interest rate was around 10 percent, right?

Now, the interest rates would be around maybe 3, 4 percent. It’s difficult to make money so they have to maybe economize or they have to be prudent, et cetera. I think — all right, I think I’ve said enough.

Mr. Castillo: Pwede daw ba…Sir, pwede daw bang mag other matters?


Henry Uri (DZRH): Secretary, good morning. Another topic lang, ‘yung sa… Senator Lacson keeps on saying that there’s still pork barrel. If I may ask, ano ho ba ito? Papaano ba ninyo ito sinasagot? And then, pangalawang tanong ho. Sa 2017 budget, I saw that we have still unprogrammed funds, which was the subject of the criticism of the past. Para saan din po ‘yung unprogrammed funds, Secretary?

SEC. DIOKNO: Well, let me answer the second question. Unprogrammed funds are there to cover some eventuality. Like for example, if you have a loan which is almost complete but it’s not clear yet, then you can put some appropriations there.

And you can use only the unprogrammed fund, which is in the nature of a standby allocation if you have more money than what you originally anticipated, okay.

Now, on the second question, is there a pork barrel? You know, the Supreme Court is very clear. The definition of DAP is that congressman and senators meddle with the implementation of projects. In other words, they would have — as if they have a right to a chunk of money in the budget.

Let’s say merong 200 billion doon, sila ‘yung maga-identify. That’s not allowed and that is not in this budget. As you know, I’m one of the petitioners against DAP and PDAF, okay.

So as I said, this budget and future budgets will be compliant with the two Supreme Court decisions, okay. That’s why I have also filed the Budget Reform Bill so that after us, maybe the next president or next, next presidents will try to honor the Supreme Court decision, okay.

Mr. Castillo: Sir, on ASEAN hosting, sir. There are reports that apparently there was a shortcut on the bidding process on the 2.8 billion ASEAN hosting deal, sir. Your reaction, sir?

SEC. DIOKNO: Thank you, you asked that question. Again before the end of the day, I’ll give you the details of that, right, it’s being typed right now.

You know, ASEAN is this year. So we have to be, we have to act with dispatch, right? And there’s a part of the project — a project which is part of the 15 billion allocation for that has been bidded out, but we complied with all the steps, okay.

Now, only one [inaudible] submitted a bid, this is the same bidder who won the right to provide the service in the 2015 APEC.

Now, EON did not even submit a bid. So I’m surprised that he’s now complaining and he cannot really comply with, because the kind of services that he is providing is very limited.

The total budget for that service that was bid out was 2.9 billion, 2.9 billion. You know how much the winning bidder bid? 1 billion. Ayaw pa ba natin ‘yun? 2.9 nga ‘yung estimate ni Ambassador Paynor, ito nag-bid siya ng 1 billion and the same bid that he submitted two years ago because of the APEC.

So talagang ano, talagang hindi ko maintindihan bakit, bakit, why the press gave him the space ‘no? Eh nagkataon pa naman holiday wala kong matawagang opisina, sarado opisina namin. So it’s really a hassle. Hindi nga siya qualified mag-bid eh. And in fact, he did not bid, all right?

Mr. Castillo: Sir, only one bidder wala pong irregularity sa ganon, sir?

SEC. DIOKNO: Walang bid. There’s a one qualifying bid that’s valid, hindi failure ‘yun.

Mr. Castillo: So the final price is 2.8, ‘yung project?

SEC. DIOKNO: No, no, the estimate is 2.9, 2.88. Ang bid ‘nong nanalo is 1. So sabi ko ngayon, ibigay niyo na, ibigay niyo na.

Kaya lang pala sila — hindi nila ibinigay kasi hinahantay nila ‘yung 2016 budget, which is effective today.

So sabi ko, ibigay mo na. Ignore that EON complaint.

Mr. Castillo: Thank you, sir.

Mr. Bencito: Hi, sir. Sir follow-up lang doon sa ASEAN question. Sir, the company was some kind of insinuating na the reason why the process was shortcuted kasi daw po goods ‘yung dineclare (declare) na PBD, Philippine Bid Documents sa PhilGEPS, when it should be categorized as consulting services which would take a longer time period, sir. What’s your reaction on this?

SEC. DIOKNO: Actually, it’s a combination of goods plus technical, all right — goods plus technical. Ang point ‘nong EON which is a smaller company, is dapat brineak (break) up into five para mag-qualify siya doon sa isa sa technical kasi ano naman ‘yon eh, ano siya, parang party provider lang siya ‘di ba, ganon.

So ang may ayaw — ang may ayaw ‘yung si Ambassador Paynor kasi he doesn’t want to talk to five people ‘di ba? Isa lang dapat. So ‘yun ang, ‘yun…Kasi kung ibe-break up mo ‘yung contract, you break it up into five small projects, magku-qualify ‘yung EON doon sa one of the five.

Sabi ni… Kasi we’re running out of time already, napaka — ano na ‘yung schedule eh. Ngayon na, mangyayari na ‘yan ngayon eh. There will be a meeting na sometime January ‘no. So we really…There’s really a sense of urgency.

So sabi ni ano, we should just have one bidder, I want to talk to one person. So ‘yun ang nangyari doon. Small company lang ‘tong EON eh.

Mr. Bencito: Sir, follow-up lang po doon sa—

SEC. DIOKNO: And there’s a ruling by…You know, the structure there is there is a GPPB, this is the General Procurement Board which sets the policy and there’s the procurement service.

A procurement service is the implementation arm; the GPPB is the policy board ‘no. And sabi ng policy board, meron na siyang decision, pwede ‘yun. Ganon. 

Mr. Bencito: Sir, last na lang po doon sa take home pay. ‘Yung specifics po noon, sir, ‘yung increased is on the basic salary or allowances?

SEC. DIOKNO: Combination, combination.

Mr. Bencito: Combination.

SEC. DIOKNO: Okay, salary and…Because of that [quirk?] na ‘pag itinaas mo ‘yung basic pay ng militar taas lahat, pati ‘yung mga pensioners. Eh ayaw naman natin ‘yun.

Mr. Bencito: So mostly, sir, talaga…

SEC. DIOKNO: There is…But in the case of the soldiers and the policeman combination ‘yun.

Mr. Bencito: Thank you, sir.

Reymund Tinaza (Bombo Radyo): Sir, going back lang doon sa SSS, kasi parang…Please check me if I got the wrong feel from you, na parang sinabi ninyo na hindi dapat bini-burden ang Pangulo with these pension? Pero ang lumalabas ngayon pati—parang sa clamor, sentimiyento is naipangako kasi ng Pangulo mismo eh. So parang nandoon nanggagaling ‘yung parang panunumbat ng iba na, ‘naipangako mo’. So parang ganoon so…

SEC. DIOKNO: Well, ako, hindi naman ako politiko, but I know that there is President Duterte and there is President — President Duterte ‘yung talagang…Iba ‘yung candidate Duterte, sa President Duterte.

When you see that all over, even worldwide iba ‘yung candidate Trump versus President Trump ‘no. May naipapangako ka na, pagka natingnan mo ‘yung datos hindi pala pwede. So ‘yun, ‘yung doon ako nanggagaling ‘no.

Ngayon, but I’m just making a recommendation na—historically hindi talaga ginagawa ‘yun. We don’t burden the taxpayers to support a private fund okay and then.

Mr. Tinaza: Kaya siguro din po nandiyan kayo para at least…

SEC. DIOKNO: Kaya nga eh, I mean I’m just doing my job ‘no. Kung mag-decide siya na otherwise, I have done my job ‘di ba?

Mr. Tinaza: Thank you, sir.

Benjie Liwanag (DZBB): Sir, good morning, on SSS. Sir, is one of your recommendations ‘yung tanggalin  na ‘yung malalaking bonuses, and perks na nakukuha ng mga boss sa SSS? May…Kasama ho ba sa recommendation?

SEC. DIOKNO: Hindi ko nire-recommend ‘yun. I just meant principle lang ‘yun na don’t use taxpayers’ money to support a private fund, okay. Fund ho ninyo ‘yun eh.

Mr. Liwanag: Yes, yes, yeah.

SEC. DIOKNO: Fund ninyo, okay. Why should you use the taxpayers’ money and knowing to those some, some taxpayers na wala nga silang trabaho eh? Hindi ba?

Alam mo ba ‘yung…Doon sa sina-cite ni — I think I overheard si congressman, the former congressman ‘no. Sinasabi niya ito ‘yung workforce ‘no. Hindi niya ba alam na one-third of the work force are farmers and fisher folks? One third. So meron kang 40 million doon, one-third ‘non mga farmers. Mahirap mangolekta dun ha.

And then ang laking part din ng employed workforce walang suweldo po. Ang nakalagay doon “unpaid family workers” ‘yun ang talagang datos eh.

‘Pag nagtrabaho ka sa sari-sari store ng pamilya niyo o  kaya nag-car wash business, wala ka namang suweldo eh. But under the law, under the statistics, employed ka. Kaya ho nami-misnomer ‘yung ganong ang dami-dami namang workers eh dapat mangolekta.

Hindi ho ganong kadali mangolekta ‘no. But you know kaya ho may board ang bawat GSIS, SSS, they should do their job, they should do their job.

Mr. Liwanag: Mahirap na pong mangolekta but ang isa dun sa recommendation niyo eh taasan ‘yung sisingilin dun sa —

SEC. DIOKNO: Eh ‘yung mga formal workers po ito.

Mr. Liwanag: Formal? Like us?

SEC. DIOKNO: Oo, ang ano ho kasi ‘non because of the tax reform mangyayari niyan, you will have more money in your pockets. So konting-konti lang naman ‘yung i-increase ‘nung sa inyo siguro naman ma-a-afford ninyo ‘yon.

Mr. Liwanag: Tatanggalin po ba ‘yun 20 percent discount doon sa mga senior?

SEC. DIOKNO: Bago na ‘yan ha, bagong isyu ‘yan ha. As far as the 20 percent on medicine alam ko protektado ho ‘yon ‘no, protektado ho ‘yon.

And then meron silang dini-device na parang you have to discriminate between these seniors and poor seniors. Meaning, kasi ‘di ba merong hong privileged na 20 percent discount kung whether you are rich or poor ‘di ba? Sino ba naman ang nakaka-afford na pupunta ka sa 5-star hotel mga 20 percent ‘di ba? Mga ganon, so tatargetin na ho ‘yon na kung if you are poor then you’d be given something like a CCT, ‘yung conditional cash transfer, cash talaga ang ibibigay sa inyo in lieu of that privilege ‘no.

Mr. Liwanag: Thank you very much, sir

SEC. DIOKNO: Pero ano po ‘yun ha. Hindi… It will be submitted to Congress, it’s up to Congress to decide.

Celerina Monte (Manila Shimbun): Sir, clarification lang. You have mentioned na ipa-pass if ever doon sa board ng SSS, pero hindi ba ang effect ‘nong joint resolution, it’s like a bill na ‘pag nag-lapse — ‘pag hindi pa inactan (act) ng President, it would lapse into law within 30 days, after 30 days?

SEC. DIOKNO: Ano po ‘yun? Ano ‘yun?

Ms. Monte: ‘Yung joint resolutions para sa SSS hike po.

SEC. DIOKNO: Sinong nagpasa ng joint resolution?

Ms. Monte: It’s the Lower House and the Senate po.

SEC. DIOKNO: Tapos na ho ‘yun, tapos na ho ‘yun eh.

Ms. Monte: Pero ‘di ba it’s with the President already, so you have mentioned–

SEC. DIOKNO: Hindi, ang na kay Presidente is a memo from the Board of Trustees of SSS. Wala, wala pong joint resolution. ‘Yung kay President Duterte?

Ms. Monte: Pero nasan na po ‘yung joint resolution? ‘Di ba ‘yung memo niyo–

SEC. DIOKNO: Na-veto ho ‘yun ni, na-veto ho ni PNoy ‘yun.

Ms. Monte: Yeah, no that was a bill during the time of PNoy. But under the Duterte administration I believe it was — there was this joint resolution na pinass (pass)—

SEC. DIOKNO:  Wala pong joint resolution na na kay President ngayon. Wala pong—

Ms. Monte: Pero, sir, ‘yung nasa press release ng DBM. No, not DBM, DOF, it said, that was last week — it said that the recommendation to increase the contribution of the members is, was based on the joint resolutions of the Senate and House of Representatives and you were one of those who signed that memo.

SEC. DIOKNO: I might be wrong. Alam ko, walang joint resolution ‘yon. Kasi pinag-uusapan pa ‘yun hanggang ngayon sa Congress eh.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Before we go to the Q&A, I just like to refer to a few matters.

The magazine Yazhou Zhoukan, according to Wilson Flores, the Time Magazine of the Chinese-speaking world has granted the President “Person of the Year” award.

In some the press release says that the choice is based on Duterte’s announcement of an independent foreign policy that consists of his distancing away from the US and forging closer ties with China.

The article also praises Duterte’s program of good governance and anti-corruption campaign as a reason for his popularity among the Filipinos.

Yazhou Zhoukan is a weekly. It’s the world’s only Chinese language international affairs magazine. Its circulation is in several major markets, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Also, the Department of Health has provided two updates on firecracker-related injuries. The first update was on December 21, 2016 to January 1, 2017 with 350 cases.  The second update was on December 21, 2016 to January 2, 2017 with 524 cases. 

Dr. Eric Tayag used the whole period for the inquiry use on the figures as of January 2. Dr. Eric Tayag and inquiry use different periods to compare the cases.

We’ll be open to a few questions.

Ms. Monte: Sir, can you confirm report that there’s this… Iyong economic managers natin will be going to China to follow-up on the promises by the Chinese government?


Ms. Salaverria: Sir, good morning. Sir, do you have an update on when the President will appoint the members of the committee that will study Charter change?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Let me see. An Executive Order No. 10 has been signed on 7 December creating a consultative committee to review the 1987 Constitution. But the composition of the committee has yet to be announced. 

So basically the EO has been accomplished. But not the — not the members of the committee yet.

Ms. Salaverria: So do you have an idea, sir, on when the members will be known? Who’s going—Is it the President that’s going to handpick the members or — ?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t know but I supposed that will be discussed during the next Cabinet meeting. 

Mr. Castillo: Sir, can I just get your reaction, sir, on the Inquirer’s report that the government may have spoken too soon — ‘yun, sir, ‘yung sa firecracker incident, sir, that it’s apparently now increasing, ‘yung cases, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Okay. As I just read…Would you like me to read it again? Okay.

Basically, it just says that there were two reports, okay. That there were two updates, okay. So the Inquirer used the December 21 to January 2 update and compared it to the figures of December 21 to January 2.

In other words, there were two updates. They came in installments. So basically, that was it, that there were two installments and that…But, however, the cases were 40 percent lower than the same period last year.

Mr. Ramos: Good morning, sir. Happy New Year po.


Mr. Ramos: Sir, are you aware if the President was briefed regarding the incidents of stray bullets, particularly in Caloocan where a 15-year-old girl fell victim to a stray bullet?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I’m sure he has been briefed on that, I don’t know specifically if and when. However, we don’t have the responses yet from the President.

Mr. Ramos: Sir, does Malacañang really believe that the President’s tough stance against the use of firecrackers during the New Year’s Eve revelries is one of the main reasons why the injuries, firecracker-related injuries went down?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I suppose the fact that there were stricter laws — his stance was stricter. Apparently contributed to the fact that there were lower incidents.

Mr. Ramos: Even before he actually signs an EO regarding the prohibition on the use of firecrackers?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I suppose the way nations take in, Filipinos specifically, the law and the man seem to merge in that sense that they listen to what the President is saying and of course, the EO would be signed, will be considered. But yes, the people do listen to the President.

Mr. Ramos: Sir, just another matter. Secretary Andanar mentioned that there are now about one million Filipinos — one million surrenderers dito sa Oplan Tokhang ng PNP. Sir, are you aware how many of those one million surrenderers are now actually in rehabilitation centers?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We don’t have the actual diagnostics but again, let me just brings us back to the — let us bring us back to algorithm provided by DOH that 90 percent are experiential users, nine percent are heavy users and one percent are hardcore users.

The 90 percent usually are involved in community-based rehabilitation programs or activities while the nine percent — basically it’s the one percent that’s now in actual rehab centers — not rehab center — like for example, the one in Fort Magsaysay.And the heavy users also are engaged in some form of rehab.

Mr. Ramos: Sir, is the government intend to issue a policy on it? I mean a written policy on how to deal with the surrenderers? Because as we speak now, those drug personalities who surrendered to the police are not required or not forced to enter rehabilitation facility.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: For the plain and simple reason that they cannot all be accommodated. Can you imagine a million people?  

You know, this is actually unanticipated. So at best, what they call the mega rehab center can only accommodate 10,000. And well, of course, there are other building — the big businesses helping out. They are proposing also building in Mindanao and in Visayas, here. But that’s only what? If it houses another 10,000, that would only be 30,000 but that would be a great help already. 

Mr. Tinaza: Sir, ‘yung may mga panawagan kasi ‘yung pamilya ng nag-capsize na MV Starlight sa Batangas kasi parang meron silang concern na parang medyo mabagal daw para sa kanila ‘yung rescue operations sa 18 na missing. Karamihan dito mga Ilonggo. So I understand they are listening right now. Siguro assurance from your end kasi parang medyo may pagpapabaya o may feel sila na pagpapabaya sa kanila ng management ng Starlight o parang nababagalan sila doon sa pagresponde nila sa kanilang mga kaanak na missing ngayon, sir.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, regarding Starlight we cannot answer for them. But regarding the position of the government, the government is basically pro-poor. So they understand, the government understands the situation and is looking after it I am sure through the proper agencies.

Mr. Tinaza: At kung lalo may mga sircumstansiya na parang sinisisi nga ‘yung kapitan ng nag-capsize na barko. So kung may pananagutan ‘yung may-ari or even ‘yung MV Starlight ay ‘yung gobyerno ay nakahanda na tutulungan kung sakali maghabol ‘yung mga naging biktima nito.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, I am sure. But everything has to undergo due process.

Ms. Nichols: Hi, sir, just a follow-up on the firecracker issue. Is there a timeline on the EO for the total ban? Can we expect it maybe in the first quarter or by mid-year?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I cannot give you the actual date. However, part of the concern of President is that even those who are in the firecracker industry must also not be displaced you know, unfairly displaced.

So whatever the dates are going to be I am sure it is going to be for the benefit of all. Protecting the children specifically and also those who are engaged in the industry.

Mr. Liwanag: Sir, good morning. With whom did the President spend his New Year?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I think that’s private time. 

Mr. Liwanag: Is he with?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t know. Family and friends.

Mr. Liwanag: Did he spend it in Malacañang or in Davao or —?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I am not entirely sure but I think he spent the latter part of the holidays here in Manila.

Mr. Liwanag: In Manila?


Mr. Liwanag: Not in Cagayan de Oro?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t know, would you know?

Mr. Liwanag: I don’t know. That’s why I am asking, sir.

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA : No, I don’t  know.

Mr. Liwanag: Thank you very much.

Evangeline Fernandez (Police Files): Sir, good morning sir, ‘yung pong pangako po ng ating Pangulong Duterte, regarding this sa mga matatandang mga prisoners na bibigyan daw ng clemency or pardon before the Christmas, pero hindi po natupad. Any reaction on this?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Ang the next round of talks will be this, this month actually. So it will have to be processed during that particular time. Thank you.

Ms. Fernandez: How about the endo that was promise before by the President during his campaign. Any reaction on this?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: As far as I know, the— as I was talking with Sec. Mon, he was saying that the— a new department – a department order has already been issued and it’s already with the President, okay.

And that the…This is going to be beneficial in many ways. There is certain preconditions that are there—but already the ano — the DO which was signed by Sec. Bello is already with the President’s office.

Mr. Castillo: Sir, I forgot to greet you Happy New Year.


Mr. Castillo: Sir, on West Philippines Sea, sir. On the possibility of joint exploration, sir. How do you — with China….How do you supposed, sir…How does the Palace supposed we go about it, sir. Having a joint exploration within the framework of the arbitral ruling if, in the first place, sir, China does not recognized the ruling, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I can read you some of the news, but the basic challenge according to Ambassador Sta. Romana is how to do it whether…Basically the agreements will…As far it is…Whatever exploration there will be, will have to be done not country to country, but with business to business, okay.

So…However it has all, it has all to be…All of these things must be done within constitutional limitations or definitions. So, the President has also said that he is going to open talks with the — with PROC and that they will discuss it.

Mr. Castillo: But, sir, the arbitral ruling, sir, will be taken into consideration, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: As far the President is concerned, yes, definitely. Like he said again and again, if you notice even use the same — he says he will stay within the parameters of the ruling.

Mr. Castillo: Sir, kuha lang ako ng reaction ulit, sir. I think China confirms that they conducting now drills on West Philippine Sea, South China Sea, ‘yung kanilang lone aircraft carrier, sir. Does the Palace have a take on this, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We do not have official statement regarding that matter.

Mr. Castillo: Thank you, sir.


Mr. Bencito: Hi, sir, Happy New Year.


Mr. Bencito: Sir, can we get a parang advancer, what is the Palace doing now in preparation for the January 15 launch of the Philippine Chairmanship for ASEAN?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: It’s all under the auspices of the DFA and Ambassador Paynor, I believe, is supervising that.

Mr. Bencito: Pero, sir, what can we expect in the Philippine hosting?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: What can we expect in Philippine hosting? We don’t have specifics if that’s what you’re asking. But I can — we can always count on, you know…

The Philippines has always come up with something extraordinarily creative and amazing.

Mr. Bencito:  Sir, on another topic lang po ‘yung — the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption is a group allied with the President. They are somehow concerned about the collateral damage that was being — as a result of the drug war of the President. Sir, what are we doing about this collateral damage? Have we instructed the police on anything, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Again and again, the President will say that from Day One, that’s part of their training to minimize that damage.

To make sure that there are — everything is done with regularity. So if you are asking: “Are we doing anything?” It’s already being done, it’s assumed actually. It’s part of the police operations that they are — that they are no, that they are supposed to do things with regularity. Thank you.

Mr. Ramos: In relation to JP’s question, sir. Senator Lacson has suggested for the government to compensate — make available funds for the victims, unintended victims of the government’s anti drug campaign?


I’m sure it’s going to… If it’s not… It’s either going to be done in the level of — on the agency’s level or it may be an issue that will be discussed during the Cabinet meeting.