Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella
CNN/The Source by Pinky Webb
25 October 2016

PINKY:  Secretary Abella, thank you for being here.

SEC. ABELLA:   It’s my pleasure and my privilege.

PINKY:  Were you getting a lot of calls after the first statement of the President in China?

SEC. ABELLA:   A number of queries.

PINKY:  How is it to answer it now, after the President’s first statement on the separation both military and economics and then eventually saying that it’s not really a separation but a severance of ties. How would explain that to us, now?

SEC. ABELLA:   Well, basically you know… yeah it sounds complex but it actually is not that difficult. Because as he has, you know, he has said again and again – listen to what I’ve said. In other words he has a history… he is very consistent in his messaging. So basically this particular statement about separation… I was there about on the second or… I was listening to him and he did though, he said, we separating… separation militarily, not socially and economically or it was—

PINKY:  Not social and in economics as well.

SEC. ABELLA:   Yes, economic as well. So basically although—first it sound complex but then again, as we talked about it, you know as we went through it, it’s just became very clear that it was a basically statement of his original position of following an independent foreign policy that we were separating ourselves from dependency and… dependency on the powers or aid, that finding our own way and finding our own track, finding our own particular direction as a nation.

PINKY:  But do you feel that the President should have been more specific about it?

SEC. ABELLA:   Well, there are many wishes I suppose. But be that as it may, he seems to be pretty consistent in his general concepts, general directions.

PINKY:  Okay, there is another part where the President said that it’s the Philippines, China and Russia – all three of us against the world.

SEC. ABELLA:   Right.

PINKY:  Okay. We’ll gonna listen to that statement of the President

(Statement of PRRD)

“America has lost and I realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia”

Secretary, can you respond to that, can you react to that statement of the President?

SEC. ABELLA:   Well, in general, he was saying that he was aligning himself ideologically to the flow of China and Russia. But basically, I would say that it’s still is part of his consistent message that we are in a sense not just being a self-exclusive but opening ourselves up to other parties; but again maintaining our own particular direction and independence.

PINKY:  I’m gonna have to ask to point blank. Sometimes is it difficult to clarify the statement of the President?

SEC. ABELLA:   Yes and no. Yes and no because you know, I got called up [by] a number of people, saying “hey.” And I said use your creative imagination.

PINKY:  That’s quite hard because that’s open to more interpretation.

SEC. ABELLA:   I understand but basically, it’s just learning to connect the dots. Connect the dots and his dots are pretty clear, his dots are pretty clear. So it’s basically… yes it may sound difficult at first, but then you let it just… you know, let it settle a bit and then you understand, look back at the history of his statements and it’s pretty clear.

PINKY:  And is that how you form your reactions to the media when you are asked? You look at the past how the President’s and how he thinks and then you make your conclusion from thereon.

SEC. ABELLA:   Yes. But on the other hands, these are not unfounded conclusions, you know, I tend to—I also bounce it of the pertinent Cabinet secretary. I talk with a number of them and we come to a consensus, but more or less when asked, when he himself is asked, we are pretty much in the same sphere.

PINKY:  When the President made that statement, the first statement, Secretary, there were well member for example of the BPO industry who were possibly restless or had some anxiety or were in shock even because of what the President said. How would you, in any way, appease them or let them know or understand what the President exactly meant?

SEC. ABELLA:   Simply that we are following a course of independent foreign policy. On the other hand, we understand our economic—for example, the people who have invested here economically and business wise, these are not going to be harmed, this are not going to be disturbed. This continues.

PINKY:  So no problem. I mean, wag silang matakot.

SEC. ABELLA:   Wag silang mataranta.

PINKY:  Kasi hindi sila—that’s not imperiled.

SEC. ABELLA:   That’s not imperiled.

PINKY:  Okay, Secretary Yasay also had described it as freeing us from the grip of Americans… from the tight grip rather of the Americans, would you agree?

SEC. ABELLA:   Which one?

PINKY:  With that statement of DFA Secretary Yasay, that it’s really—because when he was asked about the President statement also, he said that this was really just a way of freeing us from the tight grip of the Americans.

SEC. ABELLA:   This is Secretary Yasay’s way of restating President Duterte’s direction.

PINKY:  Okay, the South China Sea, well, dispute. The President said that he didn’t really discuss it. It wasn’t really the time to do it. It was time to befriend China first. But then when he came back, he also said that there was some sort of talk about it and that he is just going to wait for his Chinese counterparts, because our fishermen might be able to fish in Scarborough Shoal. Sir, can you clarify this for us?

SEC. ABELLA:   During the public meetings and we were there in the bilateral talks, one or two times, I think. And they did say that there was—they did say that there was a time and a season to talk about these things. But apparently, according to the President’s statement, later statement I think in Tuguegarao and Isabela, he did say that they had a little private time. And so going by that, apparently they came to some sort of an agreement… based on that, they came to some sort of agreement that the fishermen, just give a little time, may  be able to that, they will be able to fish.

PINKY:  You know Secretary, even when the President was in China there was already talk about that, that there was a possibility that the Filipino fishermen maybe be able to fish again in Scarborough Shoal and even the President, I remember, arrived in Davao City Saturday evening, early Sunday morning.

SEC. ABELLA:   Around midnight, yeah.

PINKY:  Yah. He also said that—our reporter asked him and he said that “napag-usapan namin ng kaunti.” But he was almost like deferring to the Chinese government to possibly make an announcement. So is that something we should wait for?

SEC.  ABELLA:  Going by his statement, yes. It’s something… there is something we can look forward to positively.

PINKY:  But if that happens, Secretary, that will be obviously very good news for our Filipino fishermen.

SEC. ABELLA:   Yes definitely.

PINKY:  What else in terms of trade and investment, what can we look forward to? I know of course billions of pesos promised.

SEC. ABELLA:   Yes. But what’s exciting for me, especially is since I come from the south, is the fact that apparently the fruits are going to be allowed to go in again the tropical fruits – bananas, pineapples and stuff like that. It is gonna be pretty exciting. So it should be in their words, in the words of the President this is spring time in our relationship with, of course of the nation, with China. But then you know, it wasn’t featured but the Premier also said, let us wait for the summer and autumn when everything will come to fruit. So that’s you know it’s all very poetic ways of saying hey we got a progress.

PINKY:  Well, let me just go to another issue that the President raised – the treaties. The treaties we have with the United States. What is really the talk on this, Secretary Abella, is it up for abrogation, is the President wanting to continue the mutual defense treaty and the EDCA or not?

SEC. ABELLA:   Well, let’s put it this way – we’ll finish up what needs to be finish up at this stage. For example, there are no more exercises for this particular year. So still that’s a clear statement. On the other hand, the treaties, whatever treaties that we have, will have to run its cycle of completion.

PINKY:  What do you mean by a cycle of completion?

SEC. ABELLA:   In other words as far as we know, they are not cutting off anything, we honoring whatever has been laid down.

PINKY:  In simple terms, the mutual defense treaty lives on and the EDCA will likewise continue.


PINKY:  All right. Bilateral talks with China. Secretary do you have any idea when this will begin?

SEC. ABELLA:   With China?  I think it all depends on the schedules of the DFA and the other departments.

PINKY:  This is The Source on CNN Philippines. When we come back how will China support our country’s war on drugs and what we can expect from his first official visit to Japan.

(commercial break)

PINKY:  Secretary let’s look at some of the policies of the Duterte administration. Number one, the war on drugs. How is this coming along, sir?

SEC. ABELLA:   Well, let’s put it this way—Let’s frame it in a two phase thing. The first phase of course was to create an awareness, raise the consciousness of the people regarding the depth and the breath of the way the drugs is actually infiltrated the whole nation including about 97% of all barangays. And having said that, having created enough attention, enough awareness about it, we are now entering to the second phase of the drug situation. And it’s now shifted from a national security issue more into a public issue and this  is where the President has shown the repatriation for the support  of  other  countries, like for example, other nation like China who have… from his words instead of criticizing,  we really offered, really offered rehabilitation and part of the—I think, part of the bacon brought home is that some  technologies are being offered regarding drug control, drug management and also rehabilitation programs.    

PINKY:  Isn’t quite strange, it is quite strange for some Secretary that we have China helping us out here, for example with the rehabilitation centers, and yet most of the syndicates or the pushers that have been caught are from China?

SEC. ABELLA:   Well, I supposed—the source apparently comes from China. But then of course we understand it is not the government who ran things, these are people, individuals, criminals. The drug laws in China are pretty harsh, pretty harsh. So but apparently China has found itself in a position where they can help and apparently this is part of what the President has said again and again which he appreciates and the Asian thing, you know, the mutual support, mutual cooperation, mutual respect and well, it’s something that being exercised  at this stage.     

PINKY:  And that is probably why the President is also pushing for the death penalty as well.

SEC. ABELLA:   This has been something that, well like he said… being a lawyer he has referred to it again and again that there is such a thing as law and there such a thing as order. He says law is for making sure that you go by the law, you live by the law, but if you go against it, then you must… there must be retribution or some form of restitution. And so that is why he says that there is a death penalty. He’s always thought about it in those terms.

PINKY:  But war on drugs continues in the same manners, strengths and well conviction? 

SEC. ABELLA:   Well conviction yes, apparently. And also again and again this reiteration that—and the President keeps going back to what he says, this is as question of killing people. You know these situations are, you know, he keep referring to the fact that the whole concept of EJK is misunderstanding of what he really intends that basically there is—you go after the criminals and then make sure that they surrender properly. However, if there is resistance and when you life is in danger, then—

PINKY:  Protect yourself.

SEC. ABELLA:   Protect yourself.

PINKY:  He’s often said that over and over. He makes a statement, pero iyon normally iyong kadugtong noon – that if your life is in danger, parang kailangan kang lumaban.

SEC. ABELLA:   Correct.

PINKY:  But in the same token sir, that we are talking about alleged extra judicial killings… of course, the United States has been critical of that, looking into the possible human rights violations. There is a US senior official who is in town and wants some sort of clarification from the statements made by the President. I believe this would go through Secretary Yasay ‘no. But how would you explain for example a US senior official coming over and wanting an explanation. Although from what I heard this has been planned way back.

SEC. ABELLA:   Assuming that… assuming that it has been planned way back. I believe this—you know, in the beginning especially the media featured some of the State Department officials saying that they were baffled of the statement, stuff like that. But again, even during that particular time when he said it… He said—He did say separation militarily, but not socially and then economically. So even then there already was a space… there was already a space where he was making allowances for not a total separation, in other words the senior officials might address and for everybody else, business people who were thinking about this. Basically, it is just a restatement, it is an important restatement but a restatement of the fact that he intends as a leader to make sure that the Philippines follows an independent foreign policy.

PINKY:  Okay, we have talked about independent foreign policy. Secretary, a lot of people really saying, it’s being you know having a policy with the United States, with China.

SEC. ABELLA:   It’s an expansion.

PINKY:  Yeah, expansion exactly, sir. And possibly would Russia. Is  there and upcoming visit to Russia that you know of?

SEC. ABELLA:   As far as I know, none. As far as I know. But it’s something that… it has been mentioned, you know, the President did mentioned but basically there is nothing official at this stage.

PINKY:  Let’s talk about the upcoming trip to Japan.


PINKY:  Well, the President is set to leave for Japan. What can we expect from that trip, sir?

SEC. ABELLA:   Well, first it’s going to be a celebration of the 60th anniversary of our diplomatic relations with Japan and also, it is interesting because Japan has always been the top donor and also a top trading partner. So we’ve always had, other cause, it’s always been a very beneficial relationship with Japan. And again, if I may put it, the Japanese even the Prime Minister has said that they are pretty excited, pretty excited, the people are pretty excited in the same way that the Chinese people seem to. In fact if I may just gloss on it just a little bit. When we were in China, somebody did mention to me that this is the first time that the atmosphere been so electric with the visit for a particular leader and apparently the same, there is a same effect in Japan. That they are pretty much excited in meeting up with this—

PINKY:  This leader.

SEC. ABELLA:   This leader.

PINKY:  Well, you know we can only—I can just really base it from my readings because obviously I was not in China but, yeah, they rolled out the red carpet for President Rodrigo Duterte.

SEC. ABELLA:   And the marching band.

PINKY:  And a marching band and with kids and the flags. Yeah it was an all out welcome for our President. So you were saying that in a way that’s the kind of reception the President might be also be welcomed in Japan?

SEC. ABELLA:   I am not entirely sure. I cannot speak for the Japanese. But coming from where they are, they seem to be pretty warm, pretty warm.

PINKY:  But in terms of investment opportunities, trade and the likes, sir. What can we look forward to?

ASEC. ABELLA:    There was mentioned, I am not entirely  sure about  the ano, there was mention of aid coming I think,  aid or grants  or something  like that. But again the President usually wants the term it soft loans. It’s kind of stressing and underlining the fact that we are not out to beg and this is exactly what he is saying that we should break the mendicant mindset.

PINKY:  And because he used the word beg, Secretary Abella, in terms of foreign aid for example coming from the United States. I remember the President saying that he, you know he doesn’t have to beg, di ba, in terms of having to get foreign aid, but what about foreign aid let say again from the United States. Is that something we still need, is it welcome?

SEC. ABELLA:   Well, I don’t know if it something that we still need and still welcome in the sense of wanting to go out and seek for it, you know. But I suppose when you know, you don’t turn your back on, this is my opinion and not really, this is not my role to be giving my opinion. But I suppose when aid comes in and it’s something to be welcome.

PINKY:  So let me rephrase that. Do you think that the President will still accept foreign aid coming from the United States?

SEC. ABELLA:   I cannot speak for him in that sense of policy. But I supposed if it’s coming in that is part of the, as part of you know, somethings that have been agreed upon,  why not, yes

PINKY:  Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, sir, thank you so much.

SEC. ABELLA:   Thank you.


source: NIB (News and Information Bureau)