Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella and DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III
New Executive Building, Malacañang
31 March 2017

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Good morning. Our guest for today is no stranger to us. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III is the government’s chief negotiator for the ongoing peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF. He’s a lawyer, human rights advocate and public servant.

He will discuss the fourth round of peace talks which will take place from April 2 to 6 in The Netherlands and what is the expected outcome and how to go about it.

Members of the Malacañang Press Corps, please welcome Secretary Bebot Bello.

SEC. BELLO: Thank you, Sec. Ernie, our dear friends in media. The government panel is prepared to hold the fourth round of talks again with the New Democratic Front this time in The Netherlands. And this will be on April 2 to 6.

The panel will continue to traverse the road to peace despite its humps and bumps and curves in order to bring about an enduring peace and to unite our people for nation building.

We continue to be steadfast in our efforts and resolute on our purpose in putting a closure to the armed conflict. We owe this to our people. Our millennials deserve it.

The agenda for this round is to further what we have started during the past three rounds of talks. Mostly, the discussion will be on socio-economic reforms, which we call the heart and soul of the peace process, which is intended to address the root causes of the armed conflict.

And more importantly, we will discuss and hope to arrive at a consensus on a bilateral ceasefire to end the hostilities on the ground.

We expect the discussion in this round of talks to be very, very, very difficult and exacting but we shall be persistent in advancing the cause of peace as inspired by our President’s determination to unite our people.

The President has walked an extra mile for peace and with the initiatives he has taken, the table is laid for achieving a just, inclusive and lasting peace in our country.

Given this, we hope to enlist the support of everyone especially our friends in media to the peace process.

As our peace partners in this journey to peace, we are confident that we can achieve the peace that we are all aspiring for.

Now, I am open to inquiries.


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

SEC. BELLO: Good morning.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, will the government also declare a unilateral ceasefire before the peace talks because the NPA’s unilateral ceasefire is expected to take effect anytime?

SEC. BELLO: Right now, there is no reason to declare a unilateral ceasefire because our President is more interested in obtaining a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, you don’t see this, the government’s refusal to declare a unilateral ceasefire, you don’t see this as an obstacle to the peace talks?

SEC. BELLO: I don’t think so because as a matter of fact, the first agenda item that we will tackle starting April 2 will be the issue of bilateral ceasefire agreement.

So very close, I think we should concentrate more on this more important agreement because this is where we will be assured of the lowering or ending of hostilities.

At the same time, we are assured of the parameters and the terms of reference of the agreement. Kaya mas importante ‘yun, mas mahalaga po ‘yun.

Ms. Salaverria: Thank you.

Pia Ranada (Rappler): Sir, how’s the NDF responded to the conditions presented by President Duterte, for example, he is requiring them to stop the revolutionary tax?

SEC. BELLO: I don’t think that the President has ever imposed that as a condition. He only mentioned this as a possible term in the bilateral ceasefire agreement.

Kasi the President is aware that in these talks, we are governed by The Hague Joint Declaration that is we conduct the peace negotiation without any precondition.

Kaya kung minsan nagsasabi kayo na, ‘O, ‘pag hindi niyo raw palayain ‘yung kanilang mga political prisoners, hindi matutuloy ang talks.’ That is not allowed under our framework.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, do you think that the bilateral ceasefire agreement can be a product of the fourth round or that’s not likely?

SEC. BELLO: Hopefully because it will be the first item on our agenda. And we have already an exchange of drafts as to the terms and conditions and parameters of the agreement.

Pag-uusapan diyan ‘yung mga maseselan na bagay like the definition of buffer zones, the definition of magugustuhan niyo ito – ‘yung collection of revolutionary tax ayan, mapapag-usapan ‘yan.

And then, very important din diyan sa bilateral ceasefire agreement is the choice of the referee. We were for a while under the impression that our third party facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government would be willing to be the referee.

But I think they are mindful of what happened in the FARC–Colombia peace process where they volunteered to be the referee. Mukhang hindi naging maganda ang experience nila so I think they are thinking of other countries who are also interested to be part of the ceasefire agreement. There were some countries already mentioned or are willing and in a very position to act as our referee.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, which countries are these?

SEC. BELLO: Well, na-mention ‘yung Switzerland, Canada, Australia, marami. Maraming gusto.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, is it right to say, sir, that the bilateral ceasefire agreement is a target — is targeted to be finished by the fourth round of talks is over — are over?

SEC. BELLO: Yes, yes, yes.

Ms. Ranada: And, sir, if that’s the case, can we expect President Duterte to somehow participate or make a call? Kasi he said he would try to join in if there’s a significant progress done in the talks. Can we expect?

SEC. BELLO: I will not discount that.

Cedric Castillo (GMA-7): Sir, doon sa March 11 joint statement, na-mention ulit ‘yung political prisoners as listed by the NDFP. I believe ito po ‘yung 400 so alin, sir? Kung demand pa rin siya ng NDFP, paano makakausad, sir, ‘yung peace talks po? I understand iyon ‘yung naging tricky element noon sa ano po, when —

SEC. BELLO: Alam mo ‘yung release of political prisoners on their part and release of mga hostages nila on our part, these are only what we call confidence-building measures to show the sincerity of the parties in the talks. Pero they can never be a condition to the conduct of the peace process.

At saka alam mo ‘yung tungkol sa releases, you have to realize that the President’s power in this issue of releases is not as omnipotent ‘no.

Kasi like for example, if one of the political prisoners whom they would like to be released is still facing trial, the President cannot hand on the political prisoner. He has to go to the judicial process where their lawyer will file for a motion for bail. And the court, upon consultation with prosecution, will allow bail.

So mahabang proseso ‘yan eh and we are not talking of prisoners all in Metro Manila, merong prisoners in Northern Samar, meron in Davao, meron sa Compostela province.

So mahabang proseso ‘yan and we have been telling them and I’m sure they know that, that we have been exerting our effort to address their concern about the political prisoners. And they also know that we are passing through a judicial process.

Mr. Castillo: May indication ba, sir, na medyo nagso-soften sa ganitong demand or sa condition ang NDFP or adamant pa rin sila na hihingin pa rin nila itong 400 prisoners na ito, sir?

SEC. BELLO: I would not say na adamant sila. They are just ano — just dedicated sila but they also understand the process.

In fact, last night they were at the airport and one of the consultants who was recently arrested and then released subsequently, hindi pinayagan ng Immigration na umalis kasi walang clearance. ‘Yung tawag nilang HDO, ‘yung hold departure order.

So very enterprising si Atty. Edre, one of their lawyers, he called me na ‘nandito na kami sa Immigration, hindi pinapayagan si Mr. Arbitrario  na makaalis, please do something.’

So I called up Secretary Aguirre and Aguirre called — Secretary Aguirre called whoever is in the Immigration. After a while, I received a thank you message from Atty. Edre. 

So alam nila ‘yan na… But you know, in the negotiation, you have to learn the art of negotiating. When you negotiate, you ask for the maximum and you will even settle for the less than the minimum.

Like during the time of President Ramos, they would ask for the release of 100 prisoners. When the President releases two, happy na sila. Ganon ang art of negotiation.

Mr. Castillo: Thank you, sir.

SEC. BELLO: Tumatawa si Leila.

Rosalie Coz (UNTV): Good morning po, Secretary.

SEC. BELLO: Good morning, ma’am.

Ms. Coz: Clarify lang po. ‘Yung terms of reference sa bilateral ceasefire agreement draft is tapos na? Tama po?

SEC. BELLO: Tapos na sa amin, tapos na rin sa kanila at I understand there has already been an exchange of draft.

Ms. Coz: Ano po ‘yung nakikita niyo po na pinaka-magkakaroon ng difficulties sa pag-come up ng agreement doon po sa terms of reference?

SEC. BELLO: Alam mo, expertise ito nung mga members ng ceasefire committee, mga puro mga kuwan ‘to, mga heneral at colonel eh.

Pero I can guess na ang pinakamahirap diyan is ‘yung issue of revolutionary tax at saka ‘yung buffer zones, i-define ‘yung buffer zone. Alam niyo, ‘yung buffer zone diyan kung saan pwede, hanggang pwede ‘yung pwersa nila at ‘yung pwersa natin. ‘Yun ang mga very sensitive issues.

Ms. Coz: Pwede ko rin po kunin po ‘yung inyo pong side regarding po sa anytime po magde-declare ng unilateral ceasefire ang CPP para po ipakita ‘yung kanilang pagsuporta sa peace talks. Pero before that, may order po ang CPP sa grounds na i-intensify ‘yung kanilang warfare, i-intensify ‘yung kanilang recruitment. And ngayong linggo po eh ipinapakita nila ‘yung kanilang pwersa, visibility maging dito po sa Metro Manila.

SEC. BELLO: That’s the reality. We are a state of armed conflict and that’s the reason why we are talking to end this armed conflict. Reyalidad ‘yan eh.

At saka ‘yung mga posturing nila na ganyan, understandable ‘yun, part of their propaganda. If you saw the pictures, puro magagandang Melissa girls ang nandoon ‘di ba?

But you should ano, you should… Don’t underestimate those Melissa girls ‘no. They are well trained and most of them are UP students.

Ms. Coz: How do we explain to the public na willingness ‘to na magkaroon ng pangmatagalang kapayapaan sa bansa na ipinapakita nila ‘yung pwersa po nila and pinalalakas nila ‘yung kanilang armed component, sir?

SEC. BELLO: Siyempre we are in a negotiation. When you negotiate, you must negotiate from a position of strength. Kaya ipinapakita nila na meron silang lakas na dapat silang kausapin. Kasi kung wala silang ipinakita na ganong lakas, eh ‘di hindi na natin sila kakausapin.

Ms. Coz: Thank you, sir.  

Hannah Sancho (Sonshine Radio): Good morning, Secretary.

SEC. BELLO: Good morning, ma’am.

Ms. Sancho: Sir, sino po ‘yung makakasama ninyo sa fourth round sa government at counterparts ninyo sa NDF po na pupunta sa Netherlands?

SEC. BELLO: Sa panel namin, we still have as my members, former secretary Nani Braganza, former commissioner Rene Sarmiento, former regional state prosecutor Antonio Arellano and a barangay chairperson, Atty. Angging Librado, the only female but who is the most belligerent in the panel, Atty. Librado.

Ms. Sancho: Hindi na po kasama sina mayor—


Ms. Sancho: Quezon City Mayor Bautista?

SEC. BELLO: Mayor?

Ms. Sancho: Bautista.

SEC. BELLO: Mayor Bautista Herbert of Quezon City is one of our advisers together with Mayor Ed Pamintuan who represent the local government.

We also have other advisers like, for example, from the Senate we have Senate President Koko Pimentel and then from Congress we have Speaker ano — Speaker Bebot Alvarez.

And we have, in fact, observers from Congress, this is headed by the chairman — chairperson of the Committee on Peace and Reconciliation, Congresswoman Ruby Tan Sahali with other congressmen like Congressman Sacdalan, Congressman Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra — ano? Ano apelyido ni kuwan Bai Sandra? Sema, Sema right, right, oo. So meron kaming advisers from the three branches of government.

Ms. Sancho: Sir, ano po daw ang assurance, sir, ipinapatanong lang po na hindi parang junket po ‘yung mga kasama niyo po doon sa Netherlands na may role po talaga sila sa peace talks at hindi po sila nagbabakasyon kasama ninyo sa Netherlands po?

SEC. BELLO: We make sure that anybody who goes there should have some work to do. And not just work, sensitive work. In fact, nagkaroon nga kami ng mahabang diskusyon diyan eh.

Kasi gusto nila dadamihan pa especially on the issue of ceasefire. Humihingi sa akin si Secretary Braganza na kailangan namin mas marami. Sabi ko magtiyaga —pagtiyagaan mo na si Pancho Lara who is the local representative of International Alert. Eh expert ‘yan.

So sabi ko tama na ‘yan ika ko mahirap ‘yung masyadong marami. And then, of course, we are going to discuss CASER now. You know, when we discuss CASER we — I just mentioned that to Secretary Ernie that the CASER is the heart and soul of the peace process.

If we resolve this, we can almost say that we have achieved peace kasi dito mo pag-uusapan ‘yung mga dahilan kung bakit tayo nag-away eh. Social justice, extreme poverty of the people, corruption in government, injustice to our people, ito ang pag-uusapan eh. And we will strive to address these issues to eliminate them in our society.

Raymund Tinaza (Bombo Radyo): Hi sir, good morning.

SEC. BELLO: Hi, Lakay nandito ka pa ah.

Mr. Tinaza: Nandito ka pa rin, sir, eh. Sir, itanong ko lang what could be the guidance sa militar kung hindi tayo mag-deklara ng ceasefire version ng government and pending the bilateral ceasefire agreement so would it be on the defensive or offensive mode while you are doing the talking with your counterparts sa Netherlands?

SEC. BELLO: Right now, since there is no declaration of unilateral ceasefire from the part of government, kailangan normal ang kanilang operation, normal.

They have to do their work as protectors of our people, maintain peace and order, ganon lahat ‘yan. Wala kaming ano — wala munang mga activities beyond that.

Mr. Tinaza: Sir, last point. Sir, are you really confident do you believe na you could actually convince the Communist Party to stop collecting revolutionary taxes considering their hardcore, hardline position that it is a legitimate source — on their end — of their fund?

SEC. BELLO: Yeah, we are aware of that, oo. Alam naman natin na siyempre ‘pag hininto ‘yan gugutumin sila. Pero meron din ano merong ways of addressing that.

Mr. Tinaza: Thank you, sir.

SEC. BELLO: Ay Benjie, long time. Magkasama pa kami sa kuwan eh 1986 pa.

[Marcos years?]

SEC. BELLO: Hindi, hindi naman Cory, Cory, Cory.

Benjie Liwanag (DZBB): Cory na tayo, sir.

SEC. BELLO: Iyong mga kasamahan mo nawala na yata ano?

Mr. Liwanag: Mga ano na sila, sir.

SEC. BELLO: Si [Ness Barrameda?] Buhay pa wala na?

Mr. Liwanag: Wala na, sir.

SEC. BELLO: Iyong girlfriend niya si?

Mr. Liwanag: [Baby Sy?], si [Baby Sy?], sir.

SEC. BELLO: Ano? Iba pala ang girlfriend na kilala mo?

Mr. Liwanag: Hindi, hindi iba kaibigan niyang matalik ‘yon. Sir, did the NDFP assure the government peace panel na hindi na mauulit ‘yung mga pananalakay ng NPA like panununog nung mga equipment intended for government projects at saka ‘yung iba pa? Tapos two days — ay kanina merong lumusob na NPA believed to be supporters of NPA marami po silang pagkilos dito sa Metro Manila, what do you intend to do with this on the part of the government?

SEC. BELLO: Well, as I was saying the reality is that there is a state of armed conflict. So incidents like that should be expected. Now, unless a unilateral ceasefire is declared by them, we should expect incidents like that to happen even while talks are ongoing.

Pero sabi ko nga that is the tactical value of the peace process eh na habang nag-uusap kayo, the level of violence is naturally expected to go down. Iyon ang tactical value of the peace process.

And I don’t know if I already mentioned to you the strategic value of the peace process. Dahil alam niyo ‘yung peace in our country will not be obtained by the signing of a final peace agreement e. Kahit na sampung libong peace agreement ang pipirmahan natin, hangga’t nandiyan ‘yung dahilan kung bakit tayo nag-away, tuloy pa rin ang kaguluhan.

Pero ‘yon na ang value ng ating pag-uusap na habang nag-uusap tayo natatalakay natin kung bakit tayo nag-away. Ang one of the causes, for example, is extreme poverty and that will be address on the issue of socio economic reforms when we talk about genuine land reform, when we talk about social justice, when we talk about national industrialization, maa-address ‘yung issue of poverty. When we talk about, for example, reforms like the one being strongly advocated by President Duterte about the eradication of corruption in government ang laking bagay ‘yan eh.

Kasi one of the main causes of the armed conflict is corruption in government. And then, of course, the issue of injustice. Pagka may injustice pa rin and people especially our poor and helpless countrymen still feel that justice is only for the rich and powerful, kahit na ilang peace agreement ang lalagdaan nandiyan pa rin ang kaguluhan.

Kaya importante ‘yung peace process na para habang nag-uusap tayo ay nakakagawa tayo ng reporma na maaaring maka — magiging dahilan ng pagkawala ng mga root causes na ‘yan.

Mr. Liwanag: Sir, last week naka-meeting ninyo ang Pangulo, meron ba siyang mabigat na message for the government peace panel?

SEC. BELLO: Well, isa lang ang marching order niya, get me a ceasefire agreement.

Mr. Liwanag: That’s it. Thank you, sir.

Dexter Ganibe (DZMM): Hi, Sec., magandang tanghali.

SEC. BELLO: Tanghali na ba? Ay oo nga.

Mr. Ganibe: Sec, kumusta po ang, tawag doon? Ang pagtugon ng Department of Labor and Employment sa isyu ng direct hiring ng mga OFW abroad?

SEC. BELLO: Ah ‘yung direct hiring. Alam mo iyan ang isang problema ko ‘no. Kagabi lang eh there were about I think eight ladies who were literally crying that I should sign ‘yung kanilang OEC. Pero alam ko kasi marami akong naririnig na gawain doon sa POEA na kahit hindi ka qualify ‘pag nangotong ka, nagbigay ka ng such amount, ilalagay nila ang pangalan mo doonk ahit alam nila na madi-disqualify ka dahil you do not fall under the exemptions where you are allowed direct hiring.

So pagpunta sa akin eh siyempre, ‘O, sir, ‘yung eroplano ko aalis na mamayang alas-9 ng gabi. Pakipirma naman.’ Hindi naman qualified. Pero alam mo sinabihan ko sila, alam niyo ika ko ‘pag nagsabi kayo sa akin na magkano ang ibinayad doon sa mga nag-ano, nangotong sa inyo, baka pirmahan ko. Pero in the meantime, I’ll have to investigate this group in the department — in the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. Maraming ganyang eh kaya iniistriktuhan ko.

Mr. Ganibe: Sa tingin ninyo, sir, gaano na ‘yung extent nung problem nitong direct hiring kasi binabanggit, sir, nagsimula daw ito noong lumuwag ‘yung POEA doon sa pagbibigay ng overseas certificate of employment o ‘yung OCE?

SEC. BELLO: Malaki ‘yan, malaki na, malaki na that’s why pagbalik ko, iyan ang una kong atupagin. I will revamp the organizational structure of POEA. Babalasahin ko ‘yang mga nangongotong doon. I already have names kung sino ‘yung mga nangongotong.

Mr. Ganibe: Okay, sir, last nalang, paalala niyo po sa mga Filipino na OFW na may kumukuha for direct hiring or…?

SEC. BELLO: Oo sinasabi ko naman sa kanila eh, sinabi ko sa kanila. Although, generally I would discourage ‘yung direct hiring ng mga — we call them now household service workers. Ayaw na naming gamitin ‘yung domestic helpers masama na ngayon ang connotation niyan.

So sinasabi ko doon sa mga ano—be strict on ‘yung mga household workers, pero ‘yung mga like—like for example, may dumating sa akin na artist, artist magiging artist siya doon sa Malaysia, sabi ko, ‘bakit hindi ka maging artist dito sa Pilipinas?’ Sabi niya, ‘hindi naman appreciated ang talent ko’, sabi niya, ‘okay then go’.

Pero kung household helper medyo iniistriktuhan ko talaga. Pero we try as much as possible try to limit. Kasi ‘yung nga na—meron na akong na-perceive na anong bang tawag diyan? Grupo ‘yan eh, may grupo ‘yan na pinapalabas nila na direct hire, pero actually mga illegal recruiters na ‘yan.

Mr Ganibe: Sir, last nalang balik ako doon sa peace talks. Sir, nabanggit niyo kanina na may nagka-problema doon sa isa mga consultant na paalis ng bansa kagabi?

SEC. BELLO: Oo, si Arbitrario.   

Mr. Ganibe: Opo. Kamusta po ‘yung ano—kasi hindi ba noong ipinatigil ng Pangulo, ipinabawi niya ‘yung JASIG, I mean may ipinalabas siya papano po ‘yung ngayon ‘yung mga consultant ng NDF papano po sila makakabalik, makakalabas ulit ng bansa?

SEC. BELLO: Well, when the President terminated ‘di ba going back to that, when he terminated the peace talks, 30 days after that, JASIG was also terminated.

So wala ng ano—wala na ‘yung free and unhampered — unhampered movement in the country so pwede silang arestuhin.

Pero with the reinstatement of the talks again, na-reinstate din ang effectivity of the JASIG kaya covered na naman sila JASIG.

Mr. Ganibe: Sir, kailan po effective ‘yung JASIG ulit, sir, may…?

SEC. BELLO: Immediately, immediately—that’s why they filed again motion for bail, ayan allowed na naman sila.

Mr. Ganibe: Thank you po.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, this is a question from our labor reporter. Sir, we learned that you have three labor attachés  who are  relatives of Sec. Dureza and Sec. Teo and also your niece. They will be deployed daw po to US, Canada, and Rome. What was the basis of their appointments, sir?


Ms. Ranada: Sir, you have relatives raw po who are — relatives of Sec. Dureza, Sec Teo and also your niece who you’ve appointed as labor attachés. Can you confirm this, sir, and if ever why, why were they appointed? What was the basis?

SEC. BELLO: The niece—no not niece, nephew of Secretary Dureza is a very qualified person. But then unfortunately, I think his deployment was rejected and that was probably my mistake, because I did not know that he was also a dual citizen. Nalaman nila na dual citizen siya.

And I think out of decency he resigned. He did not accept the position.

Now ‘yung, you are referring to probably [Siglot?], [Siglot?] is not my relative. She is I think a distant relative of my wife. But she is not only a nurse, she is also a lawyer. She passed the examinations with honors.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, follow up. Sir, how about, sir, ‘yung required na there should be two years of service before a department deploys them to these kinds of positions?

SEC. BELLO: There should be?

Ms. Ranada: Two years of service in the department.

SEC. BELLO: There’s no requirement like that.

Ms. Ranada: Okay po, ano po ‘yung standing rules regarding deployment of labor attachés right now?

SEC. BELLO: Depending on the necessity of the situation, like for example, ordinarily it’s POLO — POLO means Philippine Overseas Labor Office — is entitled to one labor attaché. But depending on the number of OFWs, I can increase the number of labor attachés.

Like for example in Riyadh, we have almost I think 500,000 OFWs doon. So while they deserve only — under the policy they are entitled to only one labor attaché, I increase it by I think three because there is need to attend to the needs of our OFWs in the Middle East.

Kasi alam niyo naman ang dami kayong naririnig na namamaltrato na mga kababayan natin. In fact, if you recall that was as early as August of last year, we had a problem of about of 11,000 of our overseas workers who were stranded for more than a year in Saudi Arabia.

More than one year, they were stranded there. They were not paid their salaries, they were not paid their end of services. And they were stranded there. When I found out about that, I went there direct—I immediately went there and brought them financial assistance.

And fortunately, the King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman offered to defray their expense in flying back to our country.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, sorry to interrupt, because just on the issue because the labor attachés you supposedly appointed are not appointed in Riyadh naman. They are appointed in US, Canada, and Rome. So are you saying there were also, there was also a need to appoint this—in these three countries?

SEC. BELLO: Yeah, there was. As a matter of fact, the guy whom I appointed there was a replacement of a labor attaché Saul De Vries whom I reassigned to Singapore.

And then in Toronto, I assigned another girl there. Unfortunately, also she was found to have double—dual citizenship. So again, mawawala na naman ‘yun. So we have to look for other labor attachés now whom we can deploy in Toronto because there is an increasing number of — [what’s this?] caregivers in Canada. Ang dami. Oo, they come in batches.

Mr. Castillo: Sir, tanong ko lang, tanong ko lang baka may info kayo anong oras ide-declare ‘yung unilateral ceasefire, kasi 31 na po ngayon eh ng NDFP, sir?

SEC. BELLO: You mean unilateral ceasefire by the NDF?

Mr. Castillo: Yes, sir, yes, sir.

SEC. BELLO: I don’t think they will declare, if we will not declare. Because in fairness the chairman of the NDF panel has been asking me that we should jointly declare a unilateral ceasefire.

But if they feel that we are not prepared to declare one, then I don’t think they will proceed with the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.

Mr. Castillo: Pero, sir, sinabi nila ‘di ba before the 31st which is today, magde-declare sila ng unilateral? Wala naman silang sina – ako, sir, I don’t remember them saying na dapat meron din ang government?

SEC. BELLO: Yeah, ‘yun ang… That’s between him—between chairman Fidel Agcaoili and myself. In fact, as early as March 28 on the occasion ng kanilang ano sana, ‘yung kanilang anibersaryo. Pero sabi ko, it’s still under study.

Mr. Castillo: And since you said, sir, earlier na hindi magde-delcare ng unilateral ceasefire ang government, so we can expect na wala ring ide-declare ang ano…

SEC. BELLO: Maaari, maaring hindi sila magde-declare, oo.

Mr. Castillo: Sir may….

Rocky Ignacio (PTV-4): Sir, still under study, sir, ‘yung proclamation ng government na ceasefire?

SEC. BELLO: Oo under study pa ‘yon, oo.

REPORTER: Sir, good afternoon.

SEC. BELLO: Good afternoon.

REPORTER: Two questions lang, sir. First on the peace talks. How is the government responding to the primary agendas ng CASER ng NDF agrarian reform, ‘yung sa regarding sa employment, regarding sa industrialization, et cetera.

SEC. BELLO: You will be surprised on the issue of agrarian reform. We commissioned the College of Economics. Economics ba ‘yun o…? Yeah, I think of Economics of the University of the Philippines. We commissioned them to draft our government position on socio economic reforms which includes ‘yung genuine land reform. Iyon ang hinihingi nila genuine land reform.

So we are prepared, solidly prepared for that. Imagine harnessing the talents of UP who are not only known to be brilliant but they are also to be left leaning. And so we are prepared for that.

REPORTER: And last sir, may update na po ba tayo regarding sa proposed P125 across-the- board wage hike na sinimulan nating pag-aralan noong September last year?

SEC. BELLO: Alam mo ‘yung ano ‘yung increase ng national minimum wage is not within the authority of Department of Labor.

Ang amin is we live by what we have right now the Regional Wage Board. They are the board that continuously assess the economic situation in their respective areas of responsibility. And it is they who make recommendation on the adjustment of the salaries within the region. Pero pagdating ng minimum wage, national minimum wage, it’s Congress that determines this.

Thank you very much.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: All right. I’d like to greet Benjie Liwanag, Happy Birthday along with Ms. Chona Yu and of course, Sec. Jun Evasco and the President.

Some updates. Mastercard’s study on Filipino consumer’s well being.

We welcome the November-December 2016 survey of Mastercard Well-Being Index which showed that the Philippines ranked No. 2 in terms of consumer’s overall well-being among countries in the Asia Pacific. 

The Philippines got the overall score of 73 on the survey which covered the following: Work and Finances, Safety from Threats, Personal and Work Satisfaction, and Personal Well-Being.

This apparently shows that the Duterte administration will continue to work hard in providing financial security and work opportunities to allow every Filipino to develop their own potential and to achieve personal satisfaction.

Also, the Fitch report. The Fitch report on the investment grade rating of the Philippines. A global leader in credit ratings and research, Fitch Ratings, has given an investment grade of “BBB-“ or “good credit quality” on the Philippines’ capacity to pay for its financial commitments due to the constant drive of the Duterte administration to improve the country’s economic growth. 

This means that the Philippines is able to enter a bigger market for debt offerings and international lenders can be confident in offering loans to the Philippines.

Fitch also noted the Philippines’ strong economic growth, external creditor position and low debt levels. The Philippines could join the global market without much cost.

Also, Moody’s. On Moody’s 6.5 percent forecast on the Philippine GDP.

Despite the political noise, the global debt watcher, Moody’s Investors Service, stated that this year’s Philippine gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to reach 6.5 percent by maintaining domestic demand which includes increasing government expenditures and attracting more foreign direct investments.

It also reported that the Philippine economy has a very low chance of stagnating.

Also, today for women for most sectors, indigenous, urban poor, women with disability, women sectoral leaders from 82 provinces and 144 cities and OFW representatives today will be the culminating activity for the President to spend time with ordinary women who have contributed to nation building.

We are now open to a few questions.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, yesterday the President again made light of extra marital affairs of his appointees mga kabit and girlfriends. But when he talks about Leila de Lima — Senator Leila de Lima and her affair with her driver, he calls it immorality. So, sir, why the double standard? 


Ms. Ranada: Why the double standard coming from the President?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I think it is not a question of being double standard. The fact remains that the relationship of the Senator has something to do with the crime with which she has been accused of.

There seems to be quite a connection. So it’s not a question of morality so much as there is an implication that this particular relationship was part of her — part of the [what do you call it?] her extra… [what do you call it?]

Ms. Ranada: But, sir, the President always also zeroes in on that particular issue separate from the drug charges he calls the specific affair as “immoral”. So why does it — is it that he makes fun of affairs when it’s men but he condemns women if the same crime or sin is committed by a woman? I’m asking this coz it’s women’s month.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t think he is being gender specific. I don’t think he is being gender specific. I think that’s framing it in a different — framing it differently. Thank you, next question please.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, what is the Palace official position on extra marital affairs? I’m asking this kasi it’s women’s month and this is an issue for women.


Ms. Ranada: This is an issue for women.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t think there is a specific statement regarding these matters. I think these matters are left mainly to personal morality.

Ms. Ranada: But, sir, the President talks about it in national television?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Because it involves a public figure. Thank you.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, going back to the fight between Speaker Alvarez and Congressman Floirendo. Morality issues aside, how does the Palace view their feud? Is there a concern that this might affect the legislative agenda of the President?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, let’s put it this way, this is a matter — personal matter between two men. And I think they should be — the Palace will allow them to settle it privately between themselves. 

Ms. Salaverria: But there’s also an allegation of questionable deals coming from Speaker Alvarez.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: In which case it should be made formal. There should be due process regarding those things. 

Ms. Salaverria: But will there be any advice from the Palace or any interference from the Palace?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Interference, no. It is a matter that they should settle between themselves.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, yesterday the President aired his anger at the Inquirer and ABS CBN. Is he going to take any further action, I mean, if he is complaining about a specific report, is he going to file a complaint to do something about what displeased him?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t think he will be filing a formal complaint. But I think what he complains about is the question of fairness in the sense that, for example, some matters are framed in particular way that caricatures his situation or caricatures certain situations.

For example, the way the war on drugs was framed as against a war versus the poor. You know, it seems to imply that he is actually focusing on a particular class which is highly the point. But the way the media, that particular media framed it, insinuates a particular bias, you know, which leans towards malice.

Ms. Salaverria: Yeah, but, sir, if he has a problem with that, why won’t he take further action? I mean other than.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA:  I mean, there are… There are ma… You know, there are matters to — more serious matters to be taken on.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, with regard to ABS-CBN. Will his anger at the Lopezes affect the reappointment of Secretary Gina Lopez as Environment Secretary?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA:  I think those are two separate matters.

Ms. Salaverria: Sir, with regard to ABS-CBN, will his anger at the Lopezes affect the reappointment of Secretary Gina Lopez as Environment Secretary?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I think those are two separate matters.

Ms. Salaverria: So there will be none?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There will be none. As far as we can see, he can be quite objective about these things and he’s able to compartmentalize certain matters.

Ms. Salaverria: So we can expect her to be reappointed?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, if the President so sees fit, then he will.

Mr. Castillo: Sir.


Mr. Castillo: Good afternoon po. Sir, nung campaign pa lang, sinasabi na ni President Duterte, then Mayor Duterte, ‘yung bibigyan niya ng pardon ‘yung mga pulis. No, sir, sorry sir, let me rephrase. Sinabi niya, sir, na meron siyang mga “preposterous” statements, that’s the term he used. ‘Yung pagbibigay ng pardon sir sa mga pulis na mako-convict, would you consider that preposterous, sir, or does he mean it?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA:  Well, let’s put it this — let’s frame it in a different way, okay. His statement cannot, you know, you cannot take it as a condonation, as a blanket condonation of criminal acts.

You know, it is a statement of a superior standing by his own directive regarding specific operations. You know, it’s not a blanket condonation.

On the other hand, the police who otherwise commit criminal acts are going to be underpinned of investigation and, but they will be entitled to their own due process. So legal procedures would be strictly observed without presidential intervention.

Mr. Castillo: To be categorical about it, sir, si, ‘yung Superintendent Marcos, may naka-ready ba na pardon sa kanila in case ma-convict sila, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: That I don’t know but he did say that he will stand by them, right?

Mr. Castillo: Pero ‘pag na-convict po sila, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Then we’ll wait. We’ll wait for that. We’ll wait for the unfolding of the actual process.

Mr. Castillo: Thank you, sir.

Mr. Tinaza: Sir, good afternoon.


Mr. Tinaza: Sir, may mga lumabas — the last interview of Secretary Gina Lopez eh umaalma siya na ‘yung parang ‘yung trabaho niya ay pinapapelan daw ni Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez. So ang sinasabi niya ay hindi naman daw siya ang boss ni Secretary Gina Lopez at dapat daw mag-Presidente muna siya. So ngayon, can you categorically say na who is really should Secretary Gina Lopez consider as boss at who’s calling the shots, Secretary Dominguez or the President?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No, I think the question is framed wrongly. It’s not a question of who’s the boss of which but the fact is there is a healthy debate between two Cabinet secretaries who are engaged in finding out what is best for the public interest.

So at the end of the day, it is… Of course, it is the President who calls the final shots.

Mr. Tinaza: Yeah. Kasi ang sentimiyento ni Secretary Gina Lopez, parang he’s — na parang she’s being headed over by Secretary Dominguez. Eh dapat daw co-equal sila kasi pareho silang secretary. Hindi raw dapat siya diktahan or pakialaman ng trabaho ni Secretary Dominguez.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA:  Well, this is part of the dynamics of a healthy relationship.

Mr. Tinaza: Sir, meron ding lumabas ngayon sa mga pahayagan na si Undersecretary Agabin ng Department of Finance supposedly ay tumatayong lawyer ng mga mining groups or pro-miners na humarang doon sa confirmation ni Secretary Lopez.  So hindi ba ito parang conflict of interest? Kasi tao ni Secretary Dominguez ‘yung mismong parang humaharang or tumutulong sa humaharang sa confirmation ni —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: It’s something that’s subject to verification.

Mr. Tinaza: Okay, sir.

Ms. Coz: Good afternoon, sir.


Ms. Coz: Follow up lang po namin ‘yun pong reappointment sa mga na-bypass na Cabinet members kung ano po ang update?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There are no updates at this stage.

Ms. Coz: Sir, wala po bang nalalabag na rules and regulations sa government since nag-recess po ang House tapos hindi po nag-issue ng reappointment ang President sa mga na-bypass po na Cabinet members?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Wala po kaming update patungkol diyan but we can verify.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, may we just get an update on the meeting of the President with the state-owned companies of China? And who, which exactly, which companies are these exactly? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I’ll find out, okay? Well, no, there were a number of companies that were here, that came, but they’re all part of the… They’re all showing interest — they all showed interest in investing in the Philippines. They all showed interest in wanting to build. However, they will still have to go through the usual accreditation by the Chinese National Development Corporation — Commission. They will still have to be vetted by their own regulatory agency.

Ms. Ranada: Sir, how does the Duterte administration ensure that we’re not entering into a debt trap? Because some analysts are saying that China has a strategy of getting developing countries into a debt trap. Giving them loans that they can’t pay, or requiring the Chinese workers be hired instead of local workers. What does the Duterte— what does the Palace think or what conditions might have the President set to ensure that the deals also favor the Philippines and not unduly favor China?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Let’s put it this way, and this is just from observer’s status. It would be to the best interest of the PROC that they maintain friendly relationships and non-aggressive stance against the Philippines for their own interests.

So for their own particular, for their own point of view, it is best to keep healthy, sound, fair, just relationships with the nation.

Ms. Sancho: Sir, can I get your reaction sa sinabi po ni Senator Lacson na dapat huwag po maging too confident ang PNP sa assurance ni Pangulong Duterte na pardon? Kung i-e-example ‘yung kay, nangyari kay Marcos, baka po matapos na ‘yung termino ng Pangulo, hindi pa siya makakasuhan. So sino po ‘yung magbibigay ng pardon sa kanya?


Ms. Sancho: Reaction po doon sa sinabi ni Senator Lacson.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, you know, I think he also sees the other side of the coin and I think the President, like I said earlier, it is not a blanket condonation of all criminal acts.

It is simply that he will stand on the directives that he has given, specifically for certain operations. So at the end of the day, basically what you’re hearing is that the President is actually taking full responsibility for these matters.

Ms. Sancho: Sir, last. May update na po doon sa EO ng no smoking po? Sa smoking ban po?


Ms. Sancho: Thank you.

Mr. Castillo: Sir, reaction po. Si Senator Trillanes may challenge po kay Pangulo na kasuhan na lang daw siya ng libel kung nagsisinungaling daw ang senador, sir.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, I would see first before I talk about that. You know, the other thing that all this noise is being created for example by the Magdalo representative, it seems to be, you know, it seems to be orchestrated in a sense of, apparently, he’s also wanting to run for senator in place of Trillanes.

Q: [overlapping voices off mic]

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: No. Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. And I’m saying that this, you know, as part of the whole situation, I am saying that all this noise seems to be towards a particular situation.

In other words, what I’m saying is that hindi naman natin kailangan patulan lahat ng mga ganyan eh ‘di ba? So nakikita natin, may kaga — itong mga kaganapan na ito ay mukhang ano, parang konektado sa isa’t-isa so hayaan na po natin silang mag-ingay. Ang sinasabi po natin, nakikita natin na mukhang meron din silang mga — anong tawag doon ay agenda.

Mr. Castillo: Sir, has it ever been considered, sir, na kasuhan ng libel si Senator Trillanes? Kasi iyon ‘yung challenge po niya eh.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I don’t know. That… It all depends on the President but wala namang napag-uusapang ganyan.

Mr. Castillo: Sir, pahabol na lang po, sir. Si dating chair Etta Rosales, sinasabi niya, of course, hindi naman daw aamin ang government na sanctioned dito ‘yung EJK, sir. Palace reaction please, sir? 

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Eh sa totoo naman talaga, hindi naman talaga, wala naman talagang state-sanctioned na ganoon eh hindi ba? So alam niyo ‘yun. So iyon na po ‘yun.