Press Conference of Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella with Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol
Press Briefing Room, New Executive Bldg, Malacañang
24 October 2016

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Hello, good morning. It’s a very exciting time to be back with you guys. I’d like to welcome back also those who came from China and also those who will be leaving for Japan. Who’s leaving for Japan from the Press Corps? [Someone answers: They left already] They left already. All right.

This morning it’s going to be a very substantial time. We have invited two of the Cabinet secretaries who are deeply, deeply involved in the disaster relief and also in building up of — in the building up especially of certain sectors.

We’d like to begin first with Secretary Judy Taguiwalo. Today’s resource person is a…

Prior to her appointment as a member of President Duterte’s Cabinet, is a retired professor of the Department of Women and Development Studies of Social Work and Community Development in UP Diliman.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers named Sec. Judy, a Makabayang Guro, indeed a well-deserved recognition as she spent her professional life in the sacred halls of her alma mater where she graduated cum laude.

She was also a political prisoner during the Martial Law period and spent over three years in various Philippine prisons for resisting the Marcos dictatorship.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Malacañang Press Corps, let us all give a warm welcome to the DSWD chief: Secretary Ms. Judy Taguiwalo.

SEC. TAGUIWALO: Thank you. Magandang umaga sa ating lahat. I am honored to be here for the first time to have this dialogue with the members of the Malacañang Press. Magandang umaga sa ating lahat.

Kararating lang namin kagabi ano. So kung sa usapin ho ng Lawin, the department has been on red alert together with the other members of the DRRM — DRRMC clusters since October 14 in preparation for the entry of Typhoon Karen and it continued up to this day because of the immediate entry of Lawin, which was then predicted to be more — to be stronger than Yolanda.

So, we sent augmentation team to our field offices in Regions 1,2 and CAR in preparation for Lawin. And when Lawin struck on Thursday, we were there already — and the team was there already, the prepositioned goods were ready in the different municipalities.

I went with OCD Director Ric Jalad on Friday for the aerial inspection of the damage done by Typhoon Lawin and I stayed on behind to go around, to really see what’s happening on the ground, and to find out what are the needs of the communities and people affected in Region 1.

I came back last night together with President Duterte. He came…He came in yesterday morning together with many Cabinet secretaries including DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, DOH Secretary Ubial, DBM Secretary Ben Diokno, NEDA Secretary — Sir Pernia, DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Secretary Manny Piñol of Agriculture was there ahead, Saturday already he was in Region 1, went to Kalinga and then joined us in Region 2.

So, the President distributed…The President listened to the reports of the OCD, talked to the different local government units, the provincial governor of Cagayan, the city mayor of Tuguegarao, then had a dialogue with the people ano.

And I am always happy that he takes the time not only to speak to government officials but to actually meet with the people. And when we talk of the people, we are talking with the working people.

So he also initiated the ceremonial distribution of emergency shelter assistance, which is one of the things that the department has initiated. Instead of waiting for one month to complete the validation, we already came out with a memorandum asking our field offices to distribute within the first two or three weeks an initial amount of P5,000 per individual, per household, whose houses were damaged.

Again, the criteria would be, for the poorest of the poor households, those members of the 4Ps, those who are in our Listahanan and those who are considered poor even if they are not members of the Listahanan or 4Ps. We are doing this in coordination with local government officials.

In Isabela, the President also meet with the provincial governor, the vice governor, the mayor of Ilagan and congressman Rodrigo Albano and Secretary Bello joined us because Secretary Bello is from Ilagan.

Again, he had a dialogue with the people there and distributed the initial amount of P5,000 to several beneficiaries of the DSWD emergency shelter assistance. Secretary Piñol will report on the assistance given by the Department of Agriculture, which was also distributed by the President yesterday not only in Cagayan, Isabela but also in Laoag.

So, I think initially, that is our…We are still continuing with our relief programs. There are still many areas — isolated areas that have to be reached.

We are now particularly concerned with the Kalinga, Kalinga Apayao area. So… And then Central Luzon because the floods have started to come in Central Luzon. We have projected that after going through northern Luzon then the waters would come down to Central Luzon, which has always acted as the catch basin for water coming from the north. So, our field office is also on alert there since October 14.

Two, we are preparing a more intensive assessment and validation so that the emergency shelter assistance can be done immediately.

Tomorrow our teams will be coming back. We are going to have a debriefing meeting assessing our initiatives and then coming out with plans for intensifying our interventions and assistance including, if necessary, providing personnel support to those regions from other regions of the department.

My initial report we got this morning in terms of the magnitude of affected families as of October 24, 4 a.m., it’s Cordillera which has the most number of affected families, 66,875 or a total of 304,796; followed by Region 2 which has 59,319 affected families and a total of 283,953 individuals; Region 1 has 52,655 families, 264,778; Region 3 has 32,498 families [someone interrupts: Ma’am slow down] Ay, slow down, sorry. I thought you [laughs] [someone says: Ma’am pahingi na lang ng copy] Hindi na written pa lang ito because the report is by region. So it’s just coming here that you know let’s prepare it in terms of magnitude of affected families. Okay Region 3, that’s the last one, 32,498 families, 138,657 individuals.

Right now, our report said that only Region 3 and Cordillera still have evacuation areas. In many areas, in Tuguegarao, for example, yesterday the evacuation areas were already emptied.

So, other…


Rose Novenario (Hataw): Good morning, Secretary Judy. Naging viral po yata ‘yung sa social media ‘yung inyong komento tungkol sa foreign aid. Pwede bang maipaliwanag po ninyo para mas malinawan ang publiko ‘yung isyu?

SEC. TAGUIWALO: Okay, pasensiya na kung ang dating ng komento na iyon ay “kaya na natin ito, hindi na natin kailangan ng foreign aid”. Ang paglilinaw ho na ginagawa ko ngayon ay nakayanan natin nitong nakaraan ‘no sa bago dumating at pagdating ng Karen at ng Lawin ang pagtulong — ang maagap na pagtulong sa ating mamamayan.

Sa ngayon ay patuloy ang ating pag-assess ng extent ng damage ‘no at malawakan siya. Nakita namin ito over — sa aerial na view namin kahapon ‘no. Nakailang kwan kami sa coastal, tapos sa Cagayan, Isabela at si Secretary Piñol pati sa Kalinga, Laoag.

Malawakan ho in terms ng damage sa agriculture, sa livestock, sa mga buildings natin including schools and offices ano, and, of course, sa mga bahay ng ating mga mamamayan.

So, ang tingin ko, magkakaroon kami ng assessment bilang National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council at talagang magkaisa. Gaano ba kalawak ang damage? Anong kailangang pinansiya para dito? Alamin din sino ang mga nag-offer ng tulong ‘no.

At sa tingin ko, handa tayong tanggapin ang tulong na ito batay sa ating pangangailangan at batay sa walang kondisyon. Ibig sabihin, bukal na loob na tulong ng mga mamamayan ng mga organisasyon, ng mga pamahalaan sa ibang bansa para tulungan tayong bumangon.

Ito naman ay nakadepende sa extent ng need na kailangan natin. So paglilinaw ho iyon. Hindi ho tayo magsasabi: “kayang-kaya na natin ito”.

Ang sinasabi natin nakayanan natin itong mga nakaraang araw. Patuloy ang pagtatasa natin, pag-assess ng extent ng damage. At nagpapasalamat ho tayo sa mga kaibigan, na mga indibidwal, organisasyon at ibang bayan na nagpaabot na na handa silang tumulong.

Darating din ho kami diyan. Kailangan lang naming magpulong pa para mas maging malinaw anong klaseng tulong ho ang kailangan natin at gaano kalaki ito.

Ina Andolong (CNN Philippines): Hi ma’am. Ma’am, doon din po sa statement ninyo, you men — you said “dahil walang katiwalian at transparent ang ating ipinatutupad na proseso, kitang-kita na may pondong sapat.” It would appear from the statement that you discovered corruption in the previous relief — or how relief supplies were handled previously. Can you tell us more about that?

SEC. TAGUIWALO: No…Well, we have done an assessment of the Yolanda donations, okay. And we are going to make that report I think on or around November 8. This was something requested of us by the people themselves when we first came into office last July.

So, many farmers, fisherfolk talked to us and asked us about their emergency shelter assistance, three years after Yolanda. So, we decided to have an internal assessment of the donations given to the DSWD as well as other funding.

So, we have done it. We are going to make a report. I think, generally, the money has gone to the people but there are cases of irregularities ‘no, non-compliance or non-implementation. But this is a minority. Even then, you know, even if involves only one municipality, for example, that is unacceptable because this is money given to our people.

So, I think, the spirit there is we don’t want any form of irregularity, of any corruption. The President is very clear about it. Our marching orders from Day One is: maagap at mapagkalingang tulong. So prompt and compassionate assistance. Patas na pagtrato sa komunidad. Walang pagkilala sa kulay.

So, you have seen all his… He spoke in Batanes and he said: “I am now the President of the Philippines. It doesn’t matter which political parties you belong to during the elections. So long as your communities, your provinces are affected, the government will be there to help you.” So that’s the second instruction to us ‘no, patas na pagtrato sa…

At pangatlo, serbisyo na walang katiwalian. So we have reiterated to our personnel the need to ensure that the resources, that the aid should go to the people. We work with local government units and they know the President’s position regarding this: patas na pagtrato, walang katiwalian.

He has repeated it in his various visits to the different areas. Iyon din ho ang sinusundan namin ngayon.

Ms. Andolong: Kung okay lang po, ma’am, can you be a bit more specific on the irregularities that you…

SEC. TAGUIWALO: We will…We have submitted the report to the President already of a particular irregularity and we have asked him to initiate the investigation.

So we will come out with that during — by next month — before the Yolanda, the third year of Yolanda. Our team is reporting a more detailed report.

Ang main problem natin with Yolanda is while we have provided more than one million emergency shelter assistance to the victims, there are around 200,000 claimants who expressed the complaint that they were victims of Yolanda in Region 8 and Region 6 but they were not given the assistance needed.

That’s why here in Lawin, we said, emergency shelter assistance should be emergency, not three years, not two years after. So we are doing our best to make sure that the Yolanda experience in terms of delayed provision of emergency shelter assistance should not be repeated.

Ms. Andolong: Huli na lang po sa akin, ma’am. Kasama po ba doon sa assessment ninyo ‘yung aid na napunta sa private… I mean, are you also maybe reaching out to them and to find out if ‘yung ipinadala po or ‘yung aid — foreign aid coursed through these private institutions also reached their intended beneficiaries?

SEC. TAGUIWALO: Hindi na namin nakayanan ‘yan…

Ms. Andolong: Only doon sa DSWD.

SEC. TAGUIWALO: Essentially, only sa DSWD Region 6 and Region 8 at nag-sampling lang kami ng ilang municipalities. So, hindi siya saturated. But even then, I think, the findings would also provide us some idea of how regulations of the DSWD area complied with or not.

For example, before you download money for core shelter assistance, you know, you have to make sure that there is already land for that, okay. Two, the downloading is via tranches. You don’t do it at one stroke. But in the particular area I mentioned, the money was downloaded — the whole amount was downloaded ‘no at one time. And two, it didn’t go on because there were problems with the land. So actually, there was no compliance.

Anyway, those are the kinds of things we are looking at and the idea is not really fault-finding. The idea is how do we safeguard the money? What kind of resolutions? What kind of policies? What kind of guidelines are necessary? So far, one new guidelines we have made is the emergency shelter assistance should be given immediately but we need to protect it, you know. We need to ensure that those who are included are the ones qualified. Otherwise, we’ll have problems of inclusion, exclusion.

But at the same time, we need to shell out the money now even a small amount because if it’s two months after, you know, it will be too late. They need the money now to rebuild the house.

That’s why we agreed on a P5,000 initial assistance so they can start buying the yero or the pader. Then we will do the deeper assessment on validation. So for partially damaged houses, it should be P10,000 and additional P5,000; and totally damaged houses, it should be P30,000, so an additional P25,000, which was the policy before.

What I want to clarify is that this is specifically for the poorest of the poor. While many families have been hit by Lawin, many professionals as well as those relatively rich families, we would like to ask for their support and understanding that our aid will be given to the poorest of the poor. And I hope they understand. Why? The poor has lesser capacities to rebuild on their own and government assistance is necessary.

Joseph Morong (GMA-7): Hi ma’am, good morning po. Ma’am, just a little bit on the Yolanda again. How much fund are we talking about that you investigated?
SEC. TAGUIWALO: Actually, I am not ready for the Yolanda report. But we have the data in the central office. So, I am sorry. And you know when you have senior moments, you don’t have the kind of memory you had when you…

Mr. Morong: You’re a busy person. We understand that…
SEC. TAGUIWALO: When you were an undergraduate student, but we will give you that.

Mr. Morong: Opo.

SEC. TAGUIWALO: We’ll give you that…We’ll text you the amount later on. We’ll get the number.

Mr. Morong: But would you describe, ma’am, the irregularity as widespread? Or is this concentrated in some areas lang?

SEC. TAGUIWALO: Well, the ESA is widespread, you know, the disqualification, the exclusion of emergency shelter assistance for victims of Yolanda is widespread.

We are talking 200,000. Initially, we had 81,000 for Panay and then we still have boxes of claims that some members came to give to us and then you have Region 8, Leyte and Samar. I think that will be also around 100,000. And this is because there were prohibitions regarding providing assistance to those who were in the danger zones but who were also damaged. But you know, they were — and there was no relocation for them.

Two, it was also because…I think…Because some local gov…It went through the local government units and again, you had hindi patas na pagtrato. So, there were people who were victims of Yolanda but who were not part of the political groupings of particular local government officials so they were excluded. We have that a lot.

Rob McBride (Al Jazeera English): Hi, Rob McBride from Al Jazeera English. Ma’am can I ask you, given the severity of this latest typhoon, do you think it’s further evidence of climate change and a more severe weather events here in the Philippines? And if so, how important is it that the Philippines ratifies the Paris accord on climate change, ma’am?

SEC. TAGUIWALO: I think the President already expressed his position yesterday when he spoke in Tuguegarao. He was…He clarified that because we are the gateway of the Pacific, we are always vulnerable to typhoons coming from the Pacific before they go to Asia mainland, mainland Asia. So that’s one, so it’s important.

Two, he also clarified — and he explained it, that’s why I was so impressed because in Tuguegarao, he gave a lecture on global warming and climate change and explaining how it happens to the farmers who were there in words that I think are understandable to them.

He was saying that we are being blamed, you know, for causing so much damage to the environment by rich countries when actually these are the rich countries using so much energy that contribute a lot in global warming. So he said it is victim blaming.

So, I think, that is one of the reasons why he has deep reservations about signing the Paris accord. And, of course, I am a member of his Cabinet, I agree with him in this aspect.

Mr. McBride: What in the Paris accord goes some way to solving the climate problem obviously is not — is not the sole, [unclear] but at least it goes partway, doesn’t it?

SEC. TAGUIWALO: Well, I am sorry to say I am not that familiar with the Paris accord. I’ll tell you later when I have more time to study it.

So, if it helps why not? I mean that’s always my position. If something helps the poorest of the poor and poor countries to their advantage, why not? But if an accord is really to the advantage of rich countries and those who are in power, then I will have strong reservations.

Henry Uri (DZRH): Secretary, how systematic is your agency now comparing to the previous setup of DSWD? I asked you this question because — para ho masiguro natin sa ating mga kababayan na wala ng mabubulok na mga relief goods.

SEC. TAGUIWALO: Okay, I think naman the government bureaucracy is resilient ‘no. Politicians, political appointees come and go but you have a core of dedicated civil service servants. I have learned that in the department. I depend a lot on undersecretaries who have been with the department for decades now and who have been part, for example, of the Yolanda assistance. And I find them dedicated, committed, highly expert and clean, malinis ‘no.

So in terms of our capacity to provide assistance, I think, it is in place. The different field offices, the different policies, the different structures as well as the resources are there.

Now, in terms of safeguarding, protecting our relief goods, we have also policies in place. And what is that? We have to monitor closely the expiration dates of our goods. And three months before their expiration, the field offices should already come out with instructions to distribute these through food-for-work program, bring these to the different centers or institutions where we have vulnerable groups such as abused women and children, the elderly or even bring it as supplemental feeding. So, in terms of policy we have that.

In terms of actual practice, so you must have heard last June 2 we had expired goods in Dumaguete which were buried only on September 2. So that was again a wake up call for me that it is not enough that we have the policies. We have to closely monitor this and I have asked the field offices to report to the central office every month the record of expiring goods and their plans to dispose them productively if these goods are going to expire within three months.

Again, you know, these are good policies but you can’t always say it will work out well. But just keep our fingers [crossed] because I think the people will lynch us if there is another report on damaged rice.

So let’s work closely and we ask the people to help us safeguard our goods, report to us any irregularities that they have found. We have Facebook pages, we have our website and we have 911, they can always report — and 8888 — report to the President whatever irregularities they find regarding my department.

So, maraming salamat.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We’ll allow you to send your text query for that. Okay, ambush, all right.

We have another exciting resource person. He is a very familiar face to us.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol is a seasoned print and broadcast journalist who served as close-in writer of President Fidel Ramos in 1992. He has served as municipal mayor of M’lang and North Cotabato governor and Cotabato vice governor prior to joining President Duterte’s Cabinet on June 30. One of the busiest guys in [laughs]

Ladies and gentlemen of the Malacañang Press Corps, let’s give him a warm welcome, Secretary Piñol. [applause]

SEC. PIÑOL: Thank you, sir. Good morning. We were in China with the President when the first reports of damage to agriculture came in. And I was baffled initially because of the great disparity between the loss of lives and the damage to agriculture.

But when I flew in from Villamor Air Base, Saturday morning, it was then when I understood why there was so much damage to agriculture and there was minimal damage to life.

Government was prepared for this. The only reason why there was so much damage to agriculture was because we could not relocate the palay, we could not relocate the corn fields.

But in far as preparations for the disaster was concerned — were concerned, government really prepared for it. And this was validated by the local government officials I talked with when I arrived Saturday morning and they said that 911, a brainchild of the President, of President Rody Duterte, really helped a lot in preventing loss of lives and protecting our people.

Now, 911 according to them, really helped them ‘no and ‘yung initial advices from the national government from the NDRRMC under Usec. Ric Jalad also helped them a lot.

Sa agriculture, in the field of agriculture, the damage is estimated at about 10.2 billion pesos. That’s not only for Lawin, it also includes Karen ‘no.

I have prepared a detailed report on this matter and copies of this report will be given to you. For Region 2, which the President visited yesterday, the damage was estimated at 6.2 billion pesos. For Region 1, it was estimated at 1.6 billion pesos.

Now, for our quick response, we are ready with P350 million in quick response fund. Part of which was already committed during the visit of the President in Cagayan Valley, Isabela and Ilocos Norte last night. In Cagayan Valley, for example, aside from about 37 million worth of seeds, both corn and palay, and, of course, vegetables, we were able to commit 1,400 bags of rice to the provincial government of Cagayan Valley, which they could use for assistance to farmers and fishermen whose livelihood was affected by the typhoon.

We also turned over 1,000 bags of rice to the province of Isabela and also Ilocos Norte. Yesterday, it was estimated that we were able to turnover about P100 million worth of immediate assistance.

Where are we getting our money? Well, of course, we have the quick reaction fund of P350 million, which is readily available. This could be replenished the moment we are able to expend all of this. And this could be supported by the NDRRMF or the disaster funds and also assistance from the President.

Now, following the visit yesterday, we came up with the listing of immediate and long-term interventions. One, there is a need to immediately provide food assistance to affected subsistence farmers and fisherfolk.

Number two livelihood, because if we — if we depend on replanting, it would take another four months before they could eat. So we have to provide them with livelihood activities that would earn them money right away and enable them to feed their families and send their children to school. For fishermen, we are deploying bancas and nets for the fisherfolk.

But more than the immediate interventions, I actually brought to the attention of the President a greater problem, which, I believe, should be addressed on a long-term basis or else Cagayan Valley may face disaster. As we flew over Cagayan River and Chico River, I found out that there is so much siltation in both rivers. And this has actually caused the water to overflow its banks and this was the reason why the damage was heavy on farming communities located at the banks of the river.

So, there is a proposal right now to conduct a dredging and desiltation of both Chico River and Cagayan River and this was noted by the President yesterday. In fact, in his statement, he said, that there should be deeper study on how to manage Cagayan River because it has been meandering over the years and it has covered a lot of areas already.

So, another thing that was taken up by the President yesterday was his recommendation to change the planting calendar in the region because October — now, because of climate change and the unpredictability of climate — October now has become a typhoon season and rainy season in Cagayan Valley.
So the President yesterday recommended that there should be a review of the planting calendar in view of the realities of climate change. And they should be designed in such a way that we will avoid harvesting our crops during the rainy season or the onset of the typhoon season.

Also, it was proposed yesterday that the crop insurance program of government and the system of crop insurance should be changed from actual damage to index losses, which means that we don’t have to look at how much damage there is actual, physical to the crops of the farmer in determining how much he should receive in the form of insurance coverage.

We are proposing an index loss insurance policy where, for example, if you only expect 10 days of rains during a planting season and the rains will come 15 days, there should already be an insurance coverage to compensate for the index loss expected. If there is an estimated two weeks of sunny days during the planting season and it extends to three weeks, then there should already be a corresponding computation of damage to the crops of the farmer.

So these are the basic things that were discussed by the President yesterday in his visit to Cagayan. But you know, I think, what is remarkable is the way government responded to this calamity. The reason why there is minimal loss of lives in this…Mind you, this typhoon is just as intense as Yolanda. This was in the scale of — the same scale of Yolanda. I saw the tree tops, there were trimmed like, you know, somebody trimmed the trees. I flew over Kalinga Apayao and I saw banana stalks twisted like ropes.

We flew over mountains and even — even the hard woods ‘no, the mountain trees were fallen by the strength of the wind of this typhoon. And, I think, I would like to emphasize once again that the reason why there is minimal damage to life and, of course, kaunti ang nasugatan is because government was prepared for this calamity learning lessons from the tragedy of Yolanda.

I am now ready for you questions.

Weng Dela Fuente (NET-25): Good afternoon, sir. Yesterday, the President also mentioned about the revival of Masagana 99 and Yamang Dagat program of former President Ferdinand Marcos. And he instructed, based on news reports, he instructed you to review and — how do you intend to go about it po?
SEC. PIÑOL: Ma’am actually it was…The statement was not the revival of Masagana 99 because Masagana 99, for your information, was a program — a rice-sufficiency program started by former President Marcos 40 years ago.

The variety of rice used then is no longer available now. I think what the President referred to was the concept of really focusing on self-sufficiency in both our fisheries and our rice production. And this, again, I link to the unpredictability of the climate in view of climate change.

This is now the — actually the battle cry that we have in the Department of Agriculture. We really have to make adjustments ‘no. In fact, in one presentation I made in the Agriculture Ministers’ Conference in Peru, my presentation was subtitled: “Adapt, Adjust or Die.” Because climate change is a reality, it affects agriculture and we really have to make adjustments.

So the focus actually…What the President intended to emphasize yesterday was focused on programs similar to Masagana 99 where government really concentrated on rice self-sufficiency and really devoted its efforts and funds to that program.

In the same manner, Biyayang Dagat was also another outstanding program which could be replicated in current scenarios. So ito po ‘yung ano, hindi niya sinabing i-revive ‘yung Masagana 99 because even if we like to we cannot do it anymore ‘no because iba nga ‘yung variety ng palay na ginamit noong araw, iba din ‘yung reality noong araw. Ninety-nine eh tumatama na po tayo ngayon ng 12, 15 metric tons per hectare with proper support from government.

Ms. Dela Fuente: The previous administration tried to have a rice self-sufficiency but they failed. So under this administration…
SEC. PIÑOL: You know, you don’t achieve rice sufficiency by simply talking about it and praying for it. You have to work for it.

Ms. Dela Fuente: You are working on it now, sir?

SEC. PIÑOL: Well, you know, how can you expect rice sufficiency when you do not expand your irrigated areas? How can you expect rice sufficiency when you do not support your farmers with good seeds, fertilizer and sufficient irrigation water?

I mean, that explains my statement. You don’t just wish for it. You don’t just pray for it. You have to work for it. You want to achieve rice sufficiency, you have to support it. You have to…

There are three things important to food production. Number one is water. You cannot have food without water. Number two, in the context of rice production, you have to have good seeds. You know, the old seeds that our farmers have been using could only produce a maximum of 3.9 metric tons per hectare per harvest, that is our national average. But the hybrids now that some of our outstanding farmers are using could produce 12, 14, 15, 16 metric tons per hectare per harvest. That’s a difference of 8 tons compared to 3.9.

So you have to provide them with water, you have to provide them with goods seeds and you have to provide them fertilizers. If you just wish for this, it’s not gonna come your way. You have to provide these interventions to the farmers for you to realize rice sufficiency and that is what we are doing right now.

Karen Lema (Reuters): Secretary is the damage to palay significant enough that the government might consider additional rice imports? Thank you.
SEC. PIÑOL: As of the moment, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Cagayan Valley actually is one of our major rice production areas. But the good thing is that some of our farmers were able to harvest their palay ahead of the typhoon. And that’s the reason why I agree with the President when he said that there should be a review of the planting calendar. We should adjust our planting season so that it would not come during the rainy season and typhoon season.

Ms. Lema: Sir, just a quick one. Since this is also probably your area. Are you privy to the meeting that the President had with some of Chinese officials because he said yesterday that — he expressed optimism that our Filipino fishermen might able to come back to Scarborough Shoal in the next few days. I was wondering if you have any other information beyond that?

SEC. PIÑOL: I was actually with the President during the bilateral talks, I was a seat away from him. But maybe they discussed that in the one-on-one conversation. It was not discussed during the bilaterals.

But I heard very clearly during the bilateral talks that President Xi Jinping of China emphasized the willingness of the Chinese government to support the Philippine government in its efforts to produce more food for the people.

In fact, he mentioned repeatedly agriculture and I was very, very happy about it because earlier on, when we were in Basilan on October 10 of this year, I mentioned to the President that — for Philippine agriculture and fisheries to be able to really address poverty in the countryside, we must once and for all fast track the establishment of the foundations of good agriculture and fisheries. What do I mean about this?

Look, right now, the Food and Agriculture Organization is telling us that 40 percent of the total fish catch of the country is lost to spoilage because we don’t have cold storage, we don’t have ice-making facilities and we don’t have fish landing.

Sixteen percent of our harvest is lost because of post-harvest losses. So I told the President, “Mr. President…” I said, “if you would allow me to, I’d like to make exploratory talks with the Chinese funding institutions to possibly finance the completion of all farm-to-market roads in the country during your term. The completion of the construction of fish landing cold storage and ice-making facilities over the next five years. And the establishment of post-harvest facilities and the procurement of machineries for agriculture over the next five years. Because I don’t know what the next President’s mindset would be in as far as agriculture is concerned.”

In as far as President Rody Duterte is concerned, I admire his depth — the depth of his understanding of agriculture. In fact, he is one of the very few leaders of this country who campaigned on a battle cry available and affordable food for the Filipino. So I said, “let’s do it once and for all, Mr. President because the longer we prolong the implementation of these projects, the longer we prolong the agony of our farmers and fisherfolks.”

Giovanni Nilles (The Philippine Star): Yes, sir. When we talk of reviving or using Masagana 99 and Biyayang Dagat as model for our food sufficiency program, sir, what mechanisms are we going to use and then what would be our target time to achieve this rice sufficiency in the country?

SEC. PIÑOL: Actually, Masagana 99 was anchored on the introduction of a variety of rice which was producing more than the ordinary rice at that time. And that was the reason why they were targeting 99 ‘no parang iyon ang target nila eh.

And it was also…It also involves focus ‘no — irrigation and fertilization. This was…This was the focus of Masagana 99. The way I understood the President’s statement yesterday was that ang sinasabi niya, let’s focus once more, let’s focus once more.

Kasi ang DA through the years, actually, strayed from its original mandate of really focusing on food production. It was involved on a lot of inconsequential and non-essential activities that did not really contribute directly to food production.

And I think what the President meant when he said that, “let’s take a second look at Masagana 99 and Biyayang Dagat” was that he wanted DA to really focus on the two main things that the Filipino families would need on his table: rice and fish — or bayan, for that matter.

Ted Tuvera (Daily Tribune): Good afternoon, Secretary. Sir, may…Last week ho ata or two weeks ago may issue po na doon sa proposal ni DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano ‘yung moratorium on land conversion na ‘yung mga agricultural lands hindi muna siya pwedeng i-convert into other subdivisions et cetera. Sir, meron pong— iyon nga po, parang pagtatalo sa pagitan ng mga economic adviser ni Presidente at ni — ‘nung assertion nga po ni Secretary Mariano. Sir, ano po ang take natin dito?

SEC. PIÑOL: You know there is no controversy there because, I think — the law is very clear, you cannot convert agricultural land to housing subdivisions. It’s as simple as that. There’s no need for a moratorium. It cannot really be allowed. The law is very clear on that matter.

And in fact, in the Department of Agriculture right now, we are very strict in evaluating a specific area being applied for to be converted into industrial purposes or housing subdivisions because of that law.

So ako I really feel that there is no need for a moratorium. All that we need to do is just strictly implement the law.

Ms. Novenario: Hi, good afternoon, sir. Sir, gaano po katotoo ‘yung ulat na may plano po ang administrasyon na buwagin ‘yung National Food Authority?

SEC. PIÑOL: Well, all of these things actually are discussed during our meetings. Hindi naman siguro bubuwagin. It’s not really dismantling the NFA.

What I heard from Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. was that they were trying to take a second look at NFA and maybe make it just a regulatory agency rather than a procurement agency. Because right now, we have to admit it that the NFA actually could not really function as a price stabilization agency.

You know, the NFA was initially created to buy a certain portion of the produce of the farmers in the hope that by doing that, it would be able to stabilize the price ‘no. Look palay, for example, while the private traders are buying palay for 12, 13, 14, 15 pesos, the NFA is buying it as 17.50 per kilo, dry, 14 percent moisture content.

But the problem is the NFA could only buy five percent of the total national produce. So it could not really make a dent. It could not even threaten the traders. The capacity of NFA to stabilize the price is limited by its lack of funds.

So right now, the thinking of some of the minds in the Cabinet of the President is let’s face this reality. NFA could not function as a price stabilization agency. We might as well just make it a regulatory agency.

NFA has suffered losses in the amount of about P170 billion, that’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of money. And the only way for NFA to survive maybe is to write-off that debt ‘no.

So iyon ‘yung…Kaya napag-usapan ‘yung NFA but hindi ia-abolish kundi i — just maybe reformat NFA into a more functional agency.

Ms. Novenario: So makakaasa po ‘yung mga mahihirap na magkakaroon pa rin ng bigas sa merkado na katulad ‘nung NFA rice? Kasi po ‘yon ‘yung inaasahan ng mahihirap na kayang — ‘yung abot-kayang bigas na kaya nilang anuhin, bilhin.

SEC. PIÑOL: You know, Rose, the problem with the Philippine grains industry right now is that it is under the clutches, in the clutches of the traders. It is the trade who controls the buying price of the palay. It is the trader who controls and dictates the selling price of rice in the market.

You know, we made a computation. If only we could directly sell the rice from the farmer to the end-user under a concept which we now call communal farming — rice farming system where we sell directly to corporate buyers like San Miguel Corporation, or, in fact, the DSWD iyong kanilang 4Ps program, the farmer could actually receive as much as 17.50 per kilo of palay and the government could sell it or the cooperative or the farmer’s association could sell it for as low as 32 to 35 pesos per kilo kung walang intervention ng ano — ng mga middlemen at saka traders.
That’s how big the bite of the traders and the middlemen is to the income of the farmers and the buying price of the end-users. So if we could actually just make this intervention. And we are starting this actually…The President has already given his go-signal for the implementation of the corporate rice farming where we organize our rice farmers into cooperative and associations. Land Bank will finance them for their good seeds, fertilizers and then we will link them directly to the corporate buyers.

In fact, next week when I come back from a trip abroad, we will already meet with the captains of industries because there are corporations now who would like to exercise their social — social — corporate social responsibility, CSR. And they are saying that, San Miguel, for example, San Miguel Corporation, I talked to Mr. Ramon Ang and he said, “we would like to buy directly from the farmers” para mawala na ‘yung traders, ‘yung supply nila sa mga empleyado nila. And so we are encouraging other corporations to do the same thing.

Again, let me bring you back to the thing that President Marcos did. This was done by Marcos during his time when he ordered corporations to plant rice for their employees.

And this is the same concept actually, this is the same concept where farmers now will be provided with support to have access to good seeds, fertilizers, and, of course, good water. And then harvest facilities, milling facilities and they deal directly with the corporations needing rice supply for their employees.

We could even supply soldiers if the President would say that he will give the soldiers an allowance of — rice allowance of one sack every month. That’s a lot of customers for the Filipino rice farmers.

Ms. Novenario: Sir, saan na po kukuha ng rice importation permit kung wala ng NFA?
SEC. PIÑOL: NFA pa rin kasi regulatory body nga sila eh.

Ms. Novenario: Okay, eh ‘yung price stabilization agency po papaano po ‘yung function na iyon ng NFA?

SEC. PIÑOL: Well, as of the moment, we will have to really wait for the final review eh. I cannot jump the gun on those who are reviewing the setup that NFA should be placed under ‘no. Until such time, hindi ko pwedeng i-preempt ‘yung isyu na ‘yan.

We will be distributing this if you need the data. Kumpleto po ito. Everything.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: All right. The President leaves tomorrow for Japan. It will be on time to celebrate also the 60th anniversary of the renewal of ties between Japan and the Philippines.

President Duterte will be discussing security, economic, and defense issues with the Prime Minister during the three-day trip that is seen to continue the Philippines efforts to bolster strategic partnership with its Asian neighbors.

President Duterte also plans to observe the Japanese ship-building process as maritime cooperation continues to prosper said PCO — said PCO Asec. Marie Banaag in a press briefing. There will be at least nine more vessels apparently that are about to be released.

Also, BPO groups are trying to seek an audience with the President. We have not yet — any formal word about the appointment, but the basically it is to — to formally reach out the Office of the President to — and directly discuss the industries — the industry situation from the government.

But, basically, I just like to say that this… Again to reassure the industries that the separation is not severance of relationship of economic ties.

Regarding also — a senior State Department official being in town. And they are trying to seek clarification from the Philippines about the separation remark. When they say it’s unclear to us exactly what that means.

We just like to clarify that it mainly refers now to the exercises. They’re about 25 more small exercises and three major exercises. But the treaties remain in place. The treaty is remain in place.

I’d like to open now to a few questions.

Maricel Halili (TV5): Hello, sir, just to make it clear, so when you say separation of economic ties. You already said that there should be a balance of relationship and more independent foreign policy. But, in a way, how will it affect the American business here in the Philippines as well — well, for some Filipino workers in the US?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Right. Again, let me just clarify, it was not a separation of a… It’s a basically a separation of — from dependency. Basically, it was a declaration of independent…

Again, it’s a restatement of the independent foreign policy that the President has declared again and again. It is a…But there are no ties that are being broken and this…There are no ties that are being broken, okay.

Ms. Halili: So, meaning there is no need of pulling out some businesses in the country?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There is no need to be pulling out any businesses in the country.

Ms. Halili: And our OFWs won’t be affected in US?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Our OFWs will not be affected. But basically we’re just saying that…It’s… Again, it’s, it’s basically what he has been saying it is from an exclusive to a non-exclusive relationship.

Mr. McBride: The President’s visit to Japan tomorrow, what are the prospects that might lead to direct talks between Japan, the Philippines and China over disputes in the South China Sea, as I believe the President has expressed he wants to achieve?


Mr. McBride: What are the prospects that this visit will lead to direct talks between China, Japan and the Philippines over disputes in the South China Sea?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, the main agenda will be more not political but economics. So if it’s… If it’s referred to it will be on the sidelines.

Mr. McBride: But I believe the President has said that he want to see this trilateral talks, is that right?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Basically, as far as we know, at this stage, it is talking between the Philippines and Japan, okay. And if there’s anything at all, it maybe exploratory, but at this stage, it is not part of the official agenda.

Mr. McBride: Does the…The recent statements by President Duterte, does it confuse the relationship between Japan and the Philippines. How would you describe the relationship?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I think at this particular stage, it’s a great appreciation of the President felt from the Japanese side.

The…They seems to…In the same manner apparently that a — somebody described the presence of the President in China is being “electric”. Apparently, there is also a great anticipation of his visit.

Ms. Dela Fuente: Good afternoon, sir. Some embassy officials who made a pre-departure briefing here last week said that Prime Minister Abe would seek explanation from the President about his new policy. Would the Palace see this as another intervention?


Ms. Dela Fuente: With Prime Minister Abe seeking explanation of the President’s new policy? Independent—independent foreign policy.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I believe it is…It is something that they appreciate. It’s something that they well appreciate. It’s a further clarification. It’s not so much an intervention but a clarification.

JP Bencito (Manila Standard): Hi, sir. Sir, on the Scarborough Shoal issue.


Mr. Bencito: Sir, were there any conditions laid out by China during the bilateral talks or during the private meeting with the President — of the President?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Those are two different conversations. During the bilateral talks both part — both nations agreed that there were — contentious issues would not be necessarily be discussed. During that particular time, it could be set aside for — for another period of time. But the main priority were economic talks.

It may be…However, it may have been raised — it may have been raised during the one-on-one as has been referred to by Secretary Manny Piñol, yes.

Mr. Bencito: Sir, can I go to another issue local? Dito po sa Pilipinas?


Mr. Bencito: Sir, there seems to be a juggle between the positions in the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. The President recently appointed SBMA Chair Martin Diño for the position but there seems to be confusion between the ranks because an assistant secretary — an undersecretary or assistant secretary within the department has issued a office memorandum saying that he is the chair of the SMBA or the administrator of the SMBA. Sir, can we get the clarification who really has the authori…And, just to give a background, there has been a court case filed within Olongapo contesting the appointment of Diño?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: All right, we’ll seek clarification regarding the matter and we’ll give you the answer in a few days.

Mr. Bencito: Okay, sir, on another. Sorry. Sir, we just like to confirm one of the agreements that were signed in China was a road segment for the NAIA between the BCDA and a Chinese company, it’s the China Road and Bridge Corporation. Sir, how did a…But during the Senate hearing, sir, the Department of Transportation told Senator Recto that there seems to — there is no contractor that has already been approved for the project. Sir, when did these companies had this green-light to proceed with the constructions or how…Would the construction of the — BRT projects for the…

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: So, your question specifically is about what?

Mr. Bencito: Is there already a green-light, sir, from the DOTR for the new projects, sir?


Mr. Bencito: The bus rapid transit, sir, for the NAIA segment?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Okay, we’ll find out also about that, okay. It is something that has to be cleared with the Department of Transportation.

Mr. Bencito: Sir, last na lang po doon sa ano pong ‘yun. Does it… Iyong China Road and Bridge Corporation, it’s a World Bank blacklisted contractor. So, doesn’t it raise at some — some sort of apprehensions na we’re contracting with so — with a company that has been somehow committing fraudulent practices in the past?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: All of these things will still have to be reviewed and have to go to the right processes. Although, there were agreements that were signed. Thank you.

Mr. Bencito: Thank you, sir.

Joseph Morong (GMA7): Sir, konti lang sa BPO, it seems that they worried ‘no. Is the Palace open to meeting them?


Mr. Morong: Okay, sir, sa foreign aid what the attitude now from sa foreign aid as far as foreign aid goes. Kasi ‘yung sa Lawin we were able to get by pero not naman wishing for it pero if we have another Yolanda, what’s going to be our attitude?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Well, as Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said earlier that…You know…. Just as long as…We are open to naturally — we are open to help, to aid from outside just as long as there’s no strings attached, you know. That’s the way they put it. Thank you.

Mr. Morong: Sir, last si former President Ramos also — again wrote something that, you know, just to paraphrase — paraphrase what he had said that, “less talk is better for the President.”

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: That is the President’s — former President’s opinion. And, of course, he is very free. We consider him a senior statesman. We listen to him. However, we continue to forge ahead. Thank you.

Ms. Lema: Sir, under the previous government Manila and Tokyo began talks on a possible Visiting Forces Agreement that will allow Japan to make use of Philippine military bases to refuel ships and planes. Will this go ahead under the Duterte administration?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I’m sure they…It will be subject to review.

Ms. Lema: It will be subject for review. And how will Manila pursue or will Manila pursue deeper security ties with Japan?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: They will go through all…They will go through all the parts of the relationship between the two nations. I’m sure… I suppose it’s going to be part of the things that will be talked about.

Ms. Lema: Sir, last point nalang. I just wanna get an official response or a response from the Office of the Spokesperson because we’ve heard that US Assistant Secretary of State already speak today and he said — he referred to some of the President’s controversial statements which he said have created confusion. He said other countries, but he didn’t mention who, apart of the United States, are really concerned because of these statements. And he also expressed concern over the loss of lives in the government’s anti-narcotics campaign saying that is not a positive trend and this is bad for business. Can we get a response? Thank you.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: It’s not a new line. It’s something that the US and the Western alignment have referred to again and again.

However, the President already has made, already, his position cleared regarding that. That there’s no state-sanctioned policy regarding this—regarding these alleged extrajudicial killings and even the Senate itself has made reference to that and absolved the President in their own particular investigation of the matter.

And again…Again, we specify that the relationship that the…The Pres…The Philippines will not renege on it’s relation — treaties that have been made with the — with its established allies.

However, we… Like the President has said again and again, that he will continue in his independent foreign policy in other words bringing to inclusion within the ambit of our relationships — other nations and — other nations — other friendly especially Asian nations with whom specifically we share cultural values of non-interference, mutual support and coordination.

And it’s a point that the President particularly refers to that we particularly — we particularly treasure, value relationships along these lines: non-interference, mutual support and cooperation.

Mr. Morong: Sir, ‘yung EO daw po sa Bangsamoro Transition Commission and EO on the expanded powers of OPPAP nasignan (sign) na?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We’ll also check on that and we will get back to you.

Thank you very much.

SOURCE: PND – Transcriber