Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella with Assistant Secretary Charles Jose Department of Foreign Affairs
Press Briefing Room, New Executive Building, Malacanang
16 March 2017


PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Good morning. This morning before we proceed with the press briefing… I’m sorry… Proper… [laughs] We had late nights. 

Spokesperson Charles Jose will be giving a briefing on the trip to Myanmar and Thailand. Please.

ASEC. JOSE: Thank you and good morning to everyone.

President Duterte — President Rodrigo Duterte will undertake [an official] visit to Myanmar on March 19 and March 20, to be followed by an official visit to the Kingdom of Thailand on March 20 to 22.

These visits are part of the President’s introductory visits to countries in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar and Thailand are the only two remaining countries in the region that the President has not yet visited.

President Duterte’s state visit to Myanmar is upon the invitation of the President of Myanmar, His Excellency U Htin Kyaw who assumed office also in 2016.

President Duterte is slated to hold bilateral talks with President U Htin Kyaw who will also host a state banquet in honor of President Duterte.

President Duterte is also scheduled to meet other high-level government officials, including State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

As has been the practice, President Duterte will meet with the members of the Filipino community in Nay Pyi Taw, the country’s capital.

During these occasions, the President makes it a point to apprise our countrymen about his administration’s priority programs and developments in the Philippines.

Myanmar is home to approximately 1,800 Filipinos. Data from the embassy show that many of them are employed in foreign firms and international organizations.

Philippines-Myanmar diplomatic relations are over 60 years old with ties formally established in 1956. Our embassy in Rangoon, now Yangon, was opened in 1958.

Myanmar is also a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN, joining the group in 1997 when the organization celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The President had previously travelled to Bangkok, that was in November last year. But the purpose of that trip was to pay his respects to the late Thai monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

In this coming trip to Thailand, the President and Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha are scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting where they are expected to discuss issues of mutual concern, including political, economic, agriculture, energy, education, and defense cooperation.

President Duterte is expected to brief Thai officials on the priorities and programs of the Philippines for its ASEAN Chairmanship this year.

Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Thailand were formally established in June 1949.

The relations have since then steadily expanded and deepened.

The President is likewise scheduled to meet the more than 16,000 Filipinos living and working in Thailand.

The visits to Myanmar and Thailand demonstrate our leaders’ resolve to forge stronger relations with our neighbors and cooperate closely with them in various areas of endeavor.

Thank you. 


Maricel Halili (TV 5): Hi, sir. Good morning. Sir, ano ‘yung mga expected na agreements to be signed if there’s any?

ASEC. JOSE: There are expected agreements to be signed during the visit to Thailand.

Mostly, they’ll be in the areas of agriculture, in science and technology, energy, and I think education. But, these agreements are still being finalized.

Pia Ranada (Rappler): Sir, sorry. Just to clarify, the President will meet with Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar?

ASEC. JOSE: Yes, that’s right.

Ms. Ranada: What will they talk about kaya?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, they will also discuss issues of mutual concern on political cooperation, on economic cooperation, and as well as capacity building. 

Dano Tincungco (GMA-7): Sir, sa Myanmar, just to ask as well, ano ‘yung mga expected agreements to be signed between the President and Myanmar?

ASEC. JOSE: In Myanmar, there are no agreements that are expected to be signed ‘no, only in the visit to Thailand.

Elijah Rosales (Business Mirror): Elijah Rosales from Business Mirror. I would just like to ask what are the specific economic agendas is the President about to discuss with the Thai leaders?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, of course, economic cooperation would include two-way trade and investment, primarily that would also include infrastructure and development cooperation.

These are some of the things that could be included when they discuss about economic cooperation.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, isn’t the President going to meet with the new Thai King?

ASEC. JOSE: In his forthcoming visit, there is no scheduled meeting with the new Thai King.

Ms. Ranada: But, sir, did he meet with the new Thai King the last time in November? Or parang he did not?

ASEC. JOSE: I don’t think he met ‘no the new Thai King when he went to Bangkok the last time to pay respects.

Ms. Ranada: Why is there no meeting with the Thai King, the new Thai King?

ASEC. JOSE: I wouldn’t know.

Ms. Halili: Sir, may we know who will be part of the delegation to Myanmar and to Thailand?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, of course, the delegation will be composed of members of the Cabinet.

But I think maybe Malacañang would be in a better position ‘no to—because I think Malacañang is the one consolidating the final delegation list.

Ace Romero (Philippine Star): Asec, will there be discussions about the South China Sea dispute?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, because ‘yung visits, these will be leaders who will be talking and there are no set agenda items. Leaders are free to raise any question that they would like to raise.

Of course, we are not ruling in or ruling out discussion on the South China Sea. But if ever this will be discussed, I think it will be in the context of reaffirming our position, especially ASEAN’s position on our desire, primarily for the full and effective implementation of the 2002 DOC and for the early conclusion of the negotiations for the COC.

And on the part of the Philippines, I think it will be a reiteration of our commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes and for the — our adherence to the rule of law.

Mr. Romero: But is the topic included in the President’s agenda or will he raise the issue?

ASEC. JOSE: Like I said ‘no, we are not ruling in or ruling out any agenda that either leader would like to raise.

Mr. Romero: Thank you, Asec.

Rosalie Coz (UNTV): Sir, other topic po. Can we get details on the visit of the Vice Premier of China? May details po ba kayo? Ano po ang information?

ASEC. JOSE: Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang will undertake a visit to the Philippines on March 16 to 19.

As the highest Chinese official visiting the Philippines since 2016, Vice Premier Wang will pay a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte.

In Manila, the Vice Premier will attend the following events: one, the official launch of the ASEAN-China Year of Tourism organized by the Department of Tourism; and the other one is the business forum, chartering new heights in the Philippine-China economic relations, SME cross-border trade and investment matching, which is organized by the Department of Trade and Industry.

In Davao, besides his call on the President, he will also meet with the Philippine economic managers. The Vice Premier’s visit will build on the momentum of President Duterte’s State Visit to China in October last year. 

JP Bencito (Manila Standard): Hi, sir, good morning. Sir, may we know what will be the agenda on the visit this week by Foreign Minist —  Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Davao?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is presently in the country.

And this morning he held — she held a meeting with Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo. And I think tomorrow, she’s scheduled to fly to Davao and pay a courtesy call on the President.

I think they will be discussing again ‘no, issues of mutual concern, both bilateral and regional, focusing primarily on political cooperation and economic cooperation.

Mr. Bencito: Sir, is it possible kaya na ma-raise within the meeting ‘yung context ng human rights because if I’m not mistaken, sir, during the campaign, Foreign Minister Bishop has raised concerns over the rape — the rape joke of the President? Do you think this will be raised during the meetings?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, I cannot say what the Australian Foreign Minister will be raising ‘no but I really cannot say if the issue of human rights will be raised during this visit. 

Sweeden Velado (PTV 4): Good morning, sir. About Benham Rise, sir. In a radio interview this morning, Dr. Cesar Villanor, head of Benham Rise Program from DOST said kapag ka may mga research ship po na pumapalaot sa Philippine waters, they usually ask permissions or get permits from the government. When asked if the recent ship dito sa may Benham Rise asked for permit, sabi niya DFA would know better. Do we have any details, sir?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, I think the President has already answered that ‘no when he said that he gave permission.

But I would like to just say ‘no that Secretary Manalo will be giving a press briefing this afternoon at the DFA so I wouldn’t want to really preempt him ‘no by discussing issues now which could very well be asked of him this afternoon.

So maybe — if I may, I would like to maybe end my regular briefing here.

Joseph Morong (GMA-7): Sir, prior to the press conference of the President two days ago, has he been briefed about Benham Rise?

ASEC. JOSE: I wouldn’t know the answer to this question.

Mr. Morong: Why, sir? 

ASEC. JOSE: Well, I’m not privy to the meetings with the President.

Leila Salaverria (Philippine Daily Inquirer): Good morning. Sir, may I get an update on the Philippine government’s invitation to Agnes Callamard? I understand she wrote the government saying that the conditions being imposed on her were inconsistent with her mandate. How did we respond to this and are we going to insist on these conditions?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, I think the conditions set by the President are still standing ‘no. Until and unless she agrees to these conditions, I don’t think the visit will push through.

Ms. Salaverria: Did we formally respond to her last letter, at least that I know of, when she said that the conditions were not compatible with her duties?

ASEC. JOSE: I think discussions are ongoing in Geneva ano and I think we reiterate the conditions set by the Philippine government.

Ms. Salaverria: So we won’t be open to a compromise?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, the President has already given instructions and these are the conditions that he would like to be met for the visit to take place.

Ms. Salaverria: Thank you. 

Mr. Morong: Sir, ‘yung kay Secretar— kay Senator Cayetano, when we asked the President about his possible, you know, appointment to the DFA, mukhang sabi ni Presidente, he has better use in the Senate. From your perspective and from the perspective of the DFA people, is it better that a career official head such a sensitive position as the DFA Secretary? That you know, you need experience, you need in diplomacy and that work and all that.

ASEC. JOSE: Well, the appointment of members of the Cabinet to head the different departments is totally the prerogative of the President. 

Mr. Morong: No advantage whatsoever if a career official is going to head a Cabinet post?

ASEC. JOSE: Well, in the history of the DFA, we only had two career officials who became department heads so… Well, of course, those to be appointed Cabinet secretaries need to have the total trust and confidence of the President. I think that’s the primary consideration.

Mr. Morong: Thank you. 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Good morning. Anyway, we have a few items to update you on.

One, the Mega Bridge in Cagayan Valley is now open to public.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has opened the P631 million worth Lucban Bridge in the Cagayan Province in replacement of the old bridge.

Aside from enhancing the trade and tourism of the regions of Cagayan Valley, Ilocos, and the Cordilleras, the newly constructed 825-meter bridge will also secure the safety and ease of transportation of the motorists.

Next, good news to OFWs. OFWs exemption from the International Passenger Service Charge.

The MIAA (Manila International Airport Authority) has already signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) together with the representatives of air carriers.

The MOA will remove the International Passenger Service Charge (IPSC) or terminal fee of P550 for overseas Filipino workers effective 30th of April.

Also, Bohol farmers have received their CLOAs.

The Department of Agrarian Reform has given Certificates of Land Ownership [Award] – totaling to [41.2495] hectares in Jagna, Alicia and Gatigbian, Bohol – to 44 farmer beneficiaries.

In addition, land acquisition and distribution (LAD) in Bohol has already reached an accomplishment rate of 97 percent, according to Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer Grace B. Fua.

Lastly, personal remittances have increased by 8.5 percent in January 2017.

An 8.5 percent year-on-year increase for January in personal remittances from overseas Filipinos have amounted to US$2.4 billion.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco explained that the 13.5 percent growth in transfers from land-based workers with work contracts of one year or more contributes to the increase in personal remittances.

At the same time, cash remittances of overseas Filipinos also grew by 8.6 percent in January amounting to US$2 billion.

We are open to a few questions.

Ms. Halili: Sir, may we have your reaction about the impeachment complaint filed by a Magdalo Representative against the President?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: First and foremost, no treason, betrayal of trust, bribery, graft and corruption, high crime and culpable violation of the Constitution has been committed.

We reiterated that extra — the so-called extrajudicial [killings] are not state-sponsored and the President has made sure that he will not turn a blind eye to all uniformed personnel who violate and abuse their power.

No one is truly above the law not even the President but the administration upholds due process and is ready for the consequences of its actions that takes consideration above all the interests of the Filipino people.

However, having said that, it does seem like part of a larger scheme of things. 

Ms. Halili: Sir, what do you mean “larger scheme of things?” 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, it just seems rather dramatic that everything seems to be so coordinated at this stage.

Q: [off mic] 


Q: [off mic] 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No, trying to discredit the administration and trying to throw it in doubt. 

Ms. Halili: So, sir, do you see this as a part of the destabilization plot against the government? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: It certainly seems like an outline. 

Ms. Halili: Sir, at least ‘yung mga members ng — or representative of Magdalo na nag-file ng impeachment, do you think meron pa rin silang influence somehow sa military to support their move? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA:  Well, they are trying to make — you know, they are trying to… At this stage, it looks like they are scraping the bottom of the barrel, you know. 

Mr. Morong: Sir, fill in the blanks for us, we don’t it to do that for you. When you say “dramatic”, “coordinated”, what other events do you think are kind of synchronized? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I cannot foresee that, you know. We are simply just look at the outline, what’s happening out there then we observe and we make observations.

Mr. Morong: Sir, you don’t see any connection with the — ‘yung statement ni — video message ni Vice President Robredo in a narcotics group in the UN other things like that? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, are you referring to her state — which statement you… 

Mr. Morong: Video message, sir, I think to the UN body on narcotics? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, at this stage, let’s put it this way. It just seems too well coordinated — events like these are seemed to be too well coordinated as to just be coincidental. 

Hannah Sancho (Sonshine Radio): Sir, do you think makaka-stand po ‘yung impeachment complaint sa… Makaka-stand, makakatayo considering hindi pa naman nakaka-one year ang President na nakaupo sa adminis… 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Hayaan ninyo po silang… You know, hayaan ninyo po silang magsalita at habulin ‘yung gusto nilang mangyari. 

Ms. Sancho: Iyong recent video po ni Vice President, do you think hindi kasama sa destabilization plot ang Vice President?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Wala po akong sinasabing hindi siya kasama, sina… Ang sinasabi lang natin ay mukhang may mga kaganapan na sabay-sabay na nangyayari at hindi naman natin masabi sigurong laging ganyan… Pero mukhang napaka-ano, napakalinis ng mga kaganapan. 

Ms. Sancho: Nakita na po ba ng Pangulo ang video? 


Ms. Sancho: Kasi itatanong ko sana, sir, kung napanood niya kung nagbago ba ‘yung isip niya na hindi kasama ‘yung Bise Presidente doon sa destab plot against him? 


Ms. Coz: Sir, sinabi ninyo po na parang coordinated ‘yung mga pangyayari ano po at meron po itong patutunguhan. So, sa Malakanyang po ba cause of concern na po ito? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Hindi naman cause of concern na natataranta ang mga tao. Hindi. Nakikita lang, napapansin. 

Ms. Coz: So ano po ang atin pong course of action sa mga…

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Patuloy po tayo sa nation building. Huwag po tayong pawawala diyan sa puntong iyan. 

Marami po talagang ingay na nangyayari mula sa gilid pero tuluy-tuloy po ang Presidente na gumagawa. Sabi nga niya — napakaganda po ng pagkakasabi niya: “I have built a city and I am building a nation.”

And I think we should — I think Filipino should start really just, you know, strengthening their backbones and just start doing their part and carrying the weight of nation building.

You know, there’s so much noise coming from the — from the circles, from the outside circles. And it just shows a sign of — you know, lack of unity and stuff like that but it would all help us if we just bear the brunt together. 

I think we should just grow up.

Mr. Morong: Sir, do you think considering that impeachment is number scheme. Do you think it will prosper at the House of Representatives? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Really it’s not our… It’s not for us to be speculating about these things. Let them be. 

Mr. Morong: Do you think that the President will ask his allies in Congress to do something about it?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: The President always allows his allies so-called to act independently of his — of him.

He has never manipulated in that sense. You know, the way political intrigues are usually sown. No. He is an extremely demo… 

Whatever the noise is about the way he makes his choi — he acts, he’s always respected the independence of his so-called colleagues. 

Ms. Halili: Sir, may we have the details about the dinner of the President with some senators? How come that other senators are excluded from — ? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t know about the exclusion but definitely I think the Inquirer should check their copy.

[laughter] Yes, I mean, you said that I described the dinner as “private and lovely”. I said, “lively”. There’s a world of difference between “I” and “O”. 

Ms. Halili: Okay. Sir, what was discussed during the dinner, sir, kasi may — is it a loyalty check? Just to clarify. 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No. I think JV Ejercito — Senator Ejercito was very clear about that. They discussed a number of items. I think he has the same — the same set of information that I have.

Basically, they talked about… You know, legislative issues. There was nothing… It was not called in order to find out, you know, like you said, loyalty check.  It was… It was updating. 

Ms. Sancho: Sir, updating of what po? You said, “updating” not loyalty check? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Hold on. It was basically updating legislative issues that they have been discussing. 

Q: [off mic] 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: [garbled] vital legislative agenda currently pending in the Senate. Among the pending bills they discussed were emergency powers to solve the traffic problem in Metro Manila.

The proposed Comprehensive Tax Reform package seeking to realign the revenue collection of the government, and to boost the available income of the taxpayers while guaranteeing the healthy operation of the government and the country’s inclusive development programs. 

Ms. Sancho: Sir, ‘yung death penalty hindi na-discuss during sa meeting?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: As far as I know, they didn’t talk about it. 

Mr. Morong: Sir, ‘yon pong kahapon na tanong ko. When the President said that there were no incursions and that there was an agreement to allow China to conduct research activities, what area was he referring to? Was it the Benham or the West Philippine Sea? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: That I cannot answer. There was no specific reference to that. But for all it’s worth, the whatev — it was not a formally written agreement. It was it a verba… Well, that would be speculation if I said so.

But basically they just talked about — you know, they were not talking about… The President was still very, very careful that he [was] protecting our sovereign rights over the — over the extended conti — Benham, Benham, yes. 

Mr. Morong: So safe to say, sir, talaga na he was referring to, when he said that he gave the permission, he was referring to the Benham Rise? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: As far as I can… As far as we see from the — it was not named but as far as the way it was described, yes. 

Mr. Morong: Okay, so then we have a little problem because the DND and the DFA did not know about the agreements of the President and why is that so?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Okay. Let me just check. It was not in disagreement but they were simply referring to separate things. Hold on. 

Well, let me just refer you first to the President’s statement where he said that: “There was no incursion because… There was no incursion and the only agreement was research and there was no…” In fact, he said, “Inimbita ko nga ‘yung mga Russian battleships, so walang incursion.” Okay. 

Mr. Morong: So, sir, Benham ‘yan ‘di ba? 


Mr. Morong: So if there was such an agreement, sir, why didn’t the DND and the DFA know about it?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I think the better thing to do would be to refer to Secretary Manalo’s briefing later, okay.

Mr. Morong: Sir…


Mr. Morong: Why didn’t the President, assuming that there was an agreement, this is from the Palace side ‘no, why didn’t the President tell the DND and the SFA that there was such? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Ah, I think you are framing it differently. Okay. I am not going into that frame — that framework, okay.

Whatever the DN… Let me see, [where is that statement?] Hold on.

I have a state… I can give it to you later, I can’t seem to find it. But basically there were… It was not… 

There was no exclusion, there was no conflict, it was just a question of referring to separate matters at the same time.

Mr. Morong: Sir, yeah. But ang question ko, sir, is that if there was such an agreement bakit si Presidente lang ‘yung may alam and shouldn’t the DND and the DFA — ? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: They were both apprised. They were simply referring to different situations.

Mr. Morong: They were apprised, sir — bakit po nagsalita po si SND na bigla siyang… “O may activity ang China doon.” As if he didn’t know that there was such an agreement? Otherwise, he wouldn’t be raising it as an issue.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, he’s simply raising… He raised it as an issue not because he was surprised about it but he was simply stressing a particular point.

Mr. Morong: Which is?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Let me just refer to that statement.

Mr. Morong: I’ll just see that later.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Okay, you can do that. And you can also wait for Manalo’s statement this afternoon. Okay, thank you.

Nestor Corales ( Good morning, Secretary. 


Mr. Corales: Sir, what was the reaction of Palace yesterday House Speaker Alvarez, Arroyo and other anti-penalty death solons were removed from their key positions?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Let me get to that. The — again…  Again, we start from the premise that the legislative is treated as an independent branch from the Executive, okay.

So the ongoing movement in committee chairmanships is left to the discretion of the House leadership.

The majority bloc wants to place colleagues who are supportive of the priority bills of the government. 

And we appreciate and respect that Representative Arroyo remains steadfast in her position to issues that are close to her heart, such as her opposition to the death penalty, but at the same time, is able to throw her support to the President’s drive against drugs, criminality and corruption.

Ms. Sancho: Sir, sorry. Sa Benham ulit, sir, ha. Ah pahabol lang, sir. Is the President open doon sa hinihiling ng ilang mambabatas na gawing black and white kung ano po ‘yung agreement between the President and China? 


Mr. Bencito: Sir, may nagpapatanong lang po. Sir, can we get your reaction on the European lawmakers? They are proposing a draft resolution calling for the immediate release of Senator De Lima who was allegedly on political — ah the charges against her were politically motivated? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: You know, they simply have — simply have a misunderstanding of what’s happening to De Lima.

The lady is being charged with crime not politic — political persuasions. So I think they ought to respect that.

Mr. Bencito: Thank you, sir. 

Mr. Morong: Sir, sa DFA, mukhang si Secretary Manalo enjoys the respect and confidence of the rank and file.


Mr. Morong: And the President, you said, will listen to sectors affecting DFA. Eh mukhang si APC mukhang wala na sa radar screen ng SFA position, sir. Will the President be amenable to appointing a career diplomat to head the DFA? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, the President makes his own decisions. It’s not — it doesn’t have to have any reference to Senator Cayetano or anything like that. 

But he is a pragmatist. He is a realist.