Press Conference of PCO Secretary Martin Andanar and Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella
International Media Center, Vientiane, Laos
07 September 2016

SEC. ANDANAR: Good afternoon, everyone. And for the sake of the Filipinos watching, I will be speaking in Tagalog if you don’t mind. Joking, just joking.

Let me just give you a rundown of what happened during the ASEAN-China meet earlier today. I’d like to mention the countries that spoke according to who spoke first. There was Laos, of course, who moderated the entire event then China and Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and then Philippines spoke, Malaysia, Myanmar and it was closed by His Excellency, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of Lao PDR.

For China, this is what Premier Li Keqiang of China said. He stressed the importance of their contribution and he did say that China was the first country to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia; the readiness to sign the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty. He also stressed that [China was the] first to negotiate an FTA or a Free-Trade Area with ASEAN and the Premier added that there is a political, mutual trust already between ASEAN and China.

It is important to have a more integrated relations between ASEAN and China and a positive perspectives and value friendships and the need to pursue common interests.

As to the South China Sea, the Premier said it should not represent the main relations. The trend is to resolve differences, which is good, there is now positive direction in our relations, and Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea should happen next year after the Framework of the Code of Conduct has been dealt with by the ASEAN region.

Cambodia, they welcomed the new neighborhood relations with ASEAN. Thailand also said that not to allow overlapping maritime issues to affect overall relations.

President Widodo of Indonesia said that there ois a need to contribute peace in the ASEAN-China relations through maritime cooperation, and not allow the SCS or the South China Sea issue to be the platform for power projection.

Vietnam: the need to add substance to the comprehensive partnership and support for the Mekong Regional Cooperation. As for the Philippines, this is what President Rody Duterte explained earlier:

That it is imperative to have people to people exchange, investment relationships should be fostered, tourism growth in the ASEAN region, international disputes should inspire us to work together with adherence to the rule of law and international governing bodies; put words into actions and be on the side of peace.

On the other hand, Malaysia thanked China for the support it has given to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, supporting the ASEAN. The South China Sea issue should be dealt with in a multifaceted character and should be handled constructively.

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi: people-to-people relations in ASEAN and China is very important. She said that governments come and go but people stay.

And finally, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that SCS issue can be turned into our advantage by placing importance to our common goals; there should be a guideline to a Hotline communications established between Foreign Ministers; and a Framework of the Code of Conduct should be initiated this year;
Relations [are] broader than any singular issue in terms of China and the ASEAN and China’s success is important to ASEAN and vice versa.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I’d like to give you a summary of the events that happened the previous— basically about the bilateral meetings with Singapore, Japan and Vietnam.

The bilateral meetings were, in general, very fruitful. The first meeting was with Singapore and with the Prime Minister welcoming President Rodrigo Roa Duterte warmly and he also made mention of recognizing the challenges facing the Philippines, especially regarding illegal drug traffic. He mentioned the stringent approach of Southeast Asian countries towards drugs and he wondered how the Philippines dealt with the issue, seeing that they did not have capital punishment.

He was also asked regarding the SCS, to which the President responded that he was aiming for a soft landing for all and that talks with China were still within the framework of the positive ruling that favored the Philippines.

To which, the Prime Minister responded that while Singapore did not have any claims to the region but there were certain things that were pertinent to him, to them and that is number one, rule of law in matters of settling disputes and freedom of navigation considering that the region, that particular area is important to Singapore in terms of international trade.

The meeting with Japan was equally positive. Prime Minister Abe mentioned how excited he was to meet with the President and how the President was famous in Japan.

SEC. ANDANAR: To add to that, the frigate that Japan donated to our country. The frigate, There are two frigates, one has been delivered to Philippines.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Also, the meeting with Vietnam was equally warm. He reiterated their long-term commitment to providing rice to the Philippines and made a vigorous call for the Philippines to engage in trade and investments in Vietnam.

So the recurring themes for the three countries could be specifically trade, cooperation and tourism.

It seems that the growing popularity of the President in the region signals a positive development of the President as a rising influential leader, especially among fellow Asians who [m]et him.

Regarding the comments of Mr. Duterte with the US: That area of concern has already been appropriately addressed and sufficiently covered.

Given the longstanding US-Philippine relationship, we continue to look forward to a truly productive relationship. Suffice it to say that Mr. Duterte’s overarching concern is national sovereignty of the Philippines. And it is noteworthy that he has shown flexibility in terms of adjusting when necessary. Let us continue to let events unfold. Thank you.


Q: Good afternoon, Secretary Andanar. Just to clarify, how did the issue of South China Sea was raised? Was it originally part of the agenda or voluntarily raised by the individual ASEAN leaders and China?

SEC. ANDANAR: It was voluntarily raised by the heads of state, they all had their own positions but most common position was to work in mutual trust and confidence building and work on the common goals of the ASEAN

Q: So sir, our President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned that the international or the maritime dispute, please correct me if I’m wrong, should inspire us to adhere to international law and put works into action. How did the Chinese Premier reacted to that very clear message on adherence to the international law over the South China Sea?

SEC. ANDANAR: He was stoically listening.

Q: Thank you sir.

Q: Good morning, Sir. I’m Jona from Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. The Defense Department earlier today released photographs of the ships, Chinese ships that were seen on Scarborough Shoal a few days ago. Could we just ask what the purpose was of releasing photographs just before ASEAN met with China?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Basically, its simply to announce that we are aware of any movements in the area.

Q: Was it discussed or mentioned at all during the meetings? No reaction from the Chinese side either?


Q: I’m Ellen Cruz of Tokyo Shimbun. About the Code of Conduct, how was it discussed? Because you said earlier that China wants to have a Code of Conduct or start talking about the Code of Conduct by next year? The elements or the framework has not yet been finalized. So how was the discussion on this?

SEC. ANDANAR: China was vigorously asking to begin with the Code of Conduct as well as Singapore, and our President of the Philippines, President Duterte also expressed his approval of having this framework of Code of Conduct initiated.

Q: From Al Jazeera. I just want to ask again about the images that were released this morning, I’ve seen the images. Can you explain to us what does it show us? How concerned are you?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: As I said earlier, it’s simply to let, to announce that we are aware of any and all movements in the area.

Q: That’s it?


Q: How concerned are you about the movements?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Enough to announce it. Thank you.
Q: Martin from AFP. I just want to follow up on the ships. Have you asked for any clarification from China why the increased number of ships there and why are the ships there?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There are talks but at this stage we allow, we just keep it there.

Q: So there are backchannel talks?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There are backchannel talks.

Q: Jim Gomez of AP. Sir, the President himself said last week I think, that he will ask the Chinese Premier what those Chinese barges are doing in the Scarborough Shoal. And where does the President intend to raise it up with the Chinese Premier in these meetings this week? As a quick follow up, if there is confirmation that Chinese reclamation is underway? How will the Philippines respond?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: At this stage, it is an ongoing conversation so it would be best to leave it there. It’s an ongoing conversation.

Q: The President will, as he said last week pa.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: It’s an ongoing conversation. Thank you.

Q: Sir, follow up. There were two things that were adopted during the China-ASEAN meeting, the CUES and the Ministry Hotline. When will this take effect in the South China Sea? The Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea and the Ministry Hotline?

SEC. ANDANAR: The hotline between the different Foreign Affairs Ministers of the different ASEAN countries should happen as soon as possible.

Q: Ron Calungsod, Kyodo News. Just very quickly sir. The Arbitral Tribunal ruling was never mentioned both in the ASEAN Summit Retreat and in the ASEAN – China Summit? No mention at all, sir? Or specific reference to the Arbitral Tribunal ruling? July 12 ruling?

SEC. ANDANAR: The issue of the South China Sea was mentioned during the ASEAN-China Dialogue just earlier. But what was underlined by the countries like Singapore, the Philippines was the importance of the rule of law and adhering to international bodies that govern this.

Q: No categorical statements like we ask China to comply with the ruling?

SEC. ANDANAR: There’s none.

Q: David from Bloomberg. The Chinese press has just been given a briefing by the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister about the handshake meeting, before the meeting, between Mr. Duterte and Mr. Li Keqiang and they’re painting it as a change in relations, a new hand of friendship coming from the Philippines and the seen change in the relationship between the two countries. Is that how you would characterize that meeting or was it more of a formality in the beginning of the meeting?

SEC. ANDANAR: Our President wants to work on the side of peace. And if you want to work on the side of peace, you shake the hand of the person right next to you.

Q: From Jiji Press. Just to follow up his question. You mentioned that the President is wanting to work on the side of peace. So are we going to see a sort of dialogue or consultation between the Philippines and China happening in the future or right now is there is a backchannel talk right now?

SEC. ANDANAR: Our country has been transparent with the backdoor dialogue between our former President Fidel V. Ramos and China.

Q: Sir, Marlon Ramos, Philippine Daily Inquirer. You mentioned a while ago that Premier Li was stoically listening when President Duterte raised the concern on the adherence to international law. What does it mean to the Philippine government?

SEC. ANDANAR: It’s difficult to speculate, Marlon. But when you say stoically listening, or if a person is stoic, that means that the face does not have any reaction.

Q: Did you feel slighted, insulted by—?

SEC. ANDANAR: No, no. The Chinese Premier was intently listening, that should make everybody feel good inside the conference room.

Q: Did any of the leaders from the Member States bring up the issue of human rights violation not only regarding the Philippines but also other countries in the region?

SEC. ANDANAR: Nobody did.

Q: Hi sir, good afternoon. Sir, what are the next steps of the Philippine government following pictures that were released by the Defense Department? Will there be a diplomatic protest that will be filed by the Philippines against China?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: The conversations are ongoing and things are being clarified.

Q: It’s the only steps sir? So we’re not looking forward to a more concrete plan?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: The conversation proceeds towards a certain goal and that is eventually to be able to settle matters, it’s an ongoing process especially to FVR.

Q: Cliff of Nikkei. Still about the ships that were monitored in the Scarborough Shoal area. When you say that there are discussions. I mean, I’m seeking a clarification, is this ministerial? Is this through formal diplomatic channels? Because I understand the President last week said he will himself ask the Chinese delegation if our reclamation is being undertaken.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: If and when he asked, it hasn’t happened yet as far as we know.

Q: He plans to ask, to you know, clarify by himself?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Whether he asks it himself, whether he asks, let’s say to the Ministerial level, it will be done.

Q: But at this point, the clarification is in what level?


Q: By our diplomats?


Q: How would you describe the mood? Because before, during the previous administration, some diplomats would say that there was tension inside the room during the ASEAN – China dialogue. But this time, how do you characterize the situation inside or the mood?

SEC. ANDANAR: Everyone looked very serious but happy… well, some of them were smiling so… while they were onstage holding hands and having their photo opportunity. After all, it’s the 25th anniversary of the ASEAN and China relationship dialogue. No tension.

Q: Good afternoon, sir. Girlie Linao with DPA, a German news agency. Sir just a follow up on the questions on when President Duterte will bring up this issue. Are there talks about a one-on-one meeting between the President and the Premier?


Q: but are we asking for a meting with them or are they asking a meeting with the President?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Soon. I mean it should happen eventually.

Q: Within the Summit sir?


Q: Regarding the photos released by DND, can we get some details on the ships? I think President Duterte mentioned something that there was a ship, a dredging ship? Can we confirm that from the photos?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Apparently, they look like they were not exactly fishing ships.

Q: And what did they look like, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: They did not look like fishing ships.

Q: Secretary, good afternoon. Until when our government are going to wait for China to heed and listen and respect and abide the decision of the Tribunal in our favor?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: As you very well know, we deal with these matters according to the [inaudible] so we don’t specify timelines but we wait for the—in the words of the President, “in the fullness of time.”

Q: Follow up. But they are very aggressive to put structures the way we see it, with ships moving around. So we don’t have any timeframe for our government to really ask them to respect the Tribunal?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We do have dialogue with them, we talk with them.

Q: But no timeframe, definitely?


Q: Sir, Ron again of Kyodo News. Sir, were you in the Japan Summit sir, ASEAN-Japan Summit?

SEC. ANDANAR: Both of us, we weren’t there but we were briefed by a DFA representative.

Q: I was wondering if during the Japan – ASEAN meeting, since Japan was very vocal in supporting the Philippine position of the Tribunal ruling, the Arbitral Tribunal ruling was brought up in the ASEAN-Japan meeting. Would you know, sir?

SEC. ANDANAR: Ah no, that was not part of the brief. But what was mentioned was how the Prime Minister expressed to our President that our President is very popular in Japan. And also part of the briefing [sino ba ang nag-brief sa atin, si… yeah] that Japan was donating two

Q: [off mic]

SEC. ANDANAR: No, I just arrived, I arrived briefly after the ASEAN-China. So I had to hurry here to talk to you.

Q: Hi Secretary. Can you just clarify the statement of the President during the Filipino Community gathering here in Vientiane? He mentioned that he will eat the Abu Sayyaf members alive.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We do have to understand the language and the context of the President and it’s a way of saying how forceful he can be. It’s a way of forcefully speaking.

Q: Like a hyperbole sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: You could say that. He has a very colorful language.

Q: Sir, you mentioned that the President is like a rising influential leader in ASEAN. Can you expound on that, sir?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Basically, the Asians in the region apparently welcome him, in spite of, because of the accompanying noise. However, he seems to strike a resonant chord. I think what usually comes across is authenticity and in spite of the language, the colorful language that he uses, the Asians in the region seem to be able to get it and there seems to be an empathy towards him and they actually, I cannot specify exactly which nations but they defer to him and in a sense, if you lead in this matter, if you lead in certain issues, that they would [call for him?].

Q: Just a follow up sir, do you think the meeting between President Obama and President Duterte is feasible also?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: “In the fullness of time,” to quote the President.

Q: Sir, just an assessment of the first two days of the President here, debut—

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I would say pretty positive, I would rate it pretty positive considering the fact that he has been warmly welcomed by the leaders present.

Q: Sir, can you tell us if the Philippine policy is not to allow any country to build any structure or turn in Scarborough Shoal to an island? Is that non-negotiable? Is that a red line that cannot be crossed?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I cannot specifically answer that at this stage but we can get back to you regarding that.

Q: Manny Mogato from Reuters. Last Sunday, the President instructed Foreign [Affairs] Secretary Yasay to ask the Ambassador of China to the Philippines to explain what the ships are doing in the Scarborough Shoal. Have we heard from the Chinese side if they have already explained their presence in the Scarborough Shoal?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: They have had a conversation but the matter is — it’s between them at this stage.

Q: So we don’t know what they discussed?


Q: When do we know?


Q: Hi sirs, good afternoon. Sir, I understand that there is a possibility that President Duterte and President Obama will be meeting at the Gala Night this evening. So what should we expect from the event? Will the President initiate to at least have a small chat with President Obama and explain what he really meant with is statement?

SEC. ANDANAR: It’s difficult to speculate but certainly they will have their drinks and food together.

Q: But at this point, is President Duterte willing to talk to President Obama.

SEC. ANDANAR: Oh yeah.

Q: Do we have a timeline as to when is our target date with the bilateral meeting?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: As has been stated it has been—but there will be—in a meeting like this, there are always opportunities for warmth and civility. So let us expect that.

Q: May we have your reaction about the statement of Hilary Clinton saying that the decision of President Obama not to meet President Duterte following the insult is correct?

SEC. ANDANAR: Secretary Clinton is running for president and we don’t want to comment about a candidate in the United States. Otherwise, baka sabihin nakikialam tayo.

Q: Good afternoon sir, I’m Roy Mabasa from the Manila Bulletin. I’m just curious about the demeanor of the President here in ASEAN. How did you prepare the President coming here and at least, based on my observation, I noticed that the last expletive that he burst out was the other night? And how did you prepare him going here?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: Actually, he prepared himself. It is quite interesting to watch him deal with the heads of state during bilateral meetings. The level of conversation was very sophisticated.

Q: Sir, will the President ease the gap between him and President Obama when they meet? Will he personally apologize to President Obama later?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: You know, these are questions of civility. We cannot impose any of our— but they will have an encounter. It will be, from the looks of it, civil and warm.

Q: Okay sir, last question. Sir, will the Philippines push for the inclusion of the Arbitration ruling in the Chairman’s Statement that will be released?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There is a way of referring to these matters without specifically addressing it that way.

Q: Will President Obama and President Duterte be seated together tonight at the dinner?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I haven’t seen the seating arrangement.

Q: Reena Villamor from UNTV. Schedule of the meetings of President Duterte and what can we expect from them?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: The schedule? I believe there are two

Q: What are those?

SEC. ANDANAR: Alright. So there’s a bilateral meeting with Australia, 17:45 today and I don’t have a copy for tomorrow. We usually have it at the start of the day.

Q: Hi sir, my name is Akiko Suzuki of the Asahi Shimbun Japan. About the ships in Scarborough Shoal. Can you see them? I mean, as of today, how is the situation of the ships? Are they still there or are they gone? Also, could you, have you found any act of construction over there?

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: We haven’t seen the latest updates but no, there were no signs of construction by that time that the pictures were published although they were in the area. Thank you.

Q: Karishma from BBC. Can you give me a comparison, sir about the relationship that President Duterte is trying to build with Beijing over the South China Sea in comparison to his predecessors? Because there’s been some criticism that the Philippines is backing down over the South China Sea.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: About President Duterte and Beijing. Basically, the President is taking his time. He knows that part of it is— he keeps going back to this, that he wants a soft landing. In other words, he doesn’t want to force issues. He knows that the Arbitration ruling favors us that’s why he wants to bide his time to be able to talk at the appropriate moment. But like he said, he will not go beyond—in other words, the ruling is the basis for the conversation.

Q: When will that appropriate time be? Is there a planned trip to China and opportunity? You know, he had to sit down and have that discussion? ‘Cause it seems like you guys are on the strong —

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: They’re waiting for certain conditions to be fulfilled.

Q: And those conditions are?


Q: David Santos from CNN Philippines. I don’t know if you are privy also— were you able to attend the Retreat Session this morning? We know that it is usually free willing, open discussion, frank discussion among the ASEAN leaders. Was the South China Sea issue also raised in that particular gathering?

SEC. ANDANAR: We weren’t allowed inside the retreat house.

Q: My next question would be: Normally sir, leaders of these Member States go to New York City to attend the UN General Assembly meeting because there’s a separate for the ASEAN leaders. Is there any word that the President might consider also to travel to US?

SEC. ANDANAR: our peace negotiator, Secretary Jess Dureza, will be in New York.

Q: Is the Philippine government engaging the US in dealing with the increased sightings of Chinese vessels in the Panatag shoal?

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There are no official engagements.

Q: So you did not inform the US counterparts about the—

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: About the vessels? What has happened basically is that we call their attention. Of China regarding these matters, and that’s it.

Q: Sir, how big was it for you to convince the President to approve his statement yesterday regarding the remarks about President Obama?

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: It was not difficult.

Q: Why sir?

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: He’s a very sensible person.

Q: How about him wearing suit for today’s ASEAN Summit?

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: I think he thought it would be cool. But then, we don’t really know.

Q: I’m just curious if the release of the pictures of the Chinese barge and Coast Guard ships had the approval of the President? And the second question is, if it’s confirmed that there is Chinese reclamation at Scarborough, would that change the soft landing approach of the President to China?

SEC. ANDANAR: It’s so difficult to answer speculative questions. Let’s just wait and see.

Q: At what level was the release of the pictures — was it the President who approved—-

SEC. ANDANAR: It was Secretary Esperon.

Q: And the DND because it was released by Secretary Lorenzana with the knowledge of the President.

SEC. ANDANAR: Of course.

Q: Sir, has the cancellation of the bilateral meeting of Pres. Obama and Pres. Duterte created a diplomatic crisis?

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: There’s no crisis as far as we can see.

Q: Sir, you mentioned that Pres. Duterte appears to be an emerging influential leader in Southeast Asia because of warmth and empathy. But warmth and empathy are very common in these kinds of events. What are the indications that Pres. Duterte appears to be an emerging influential leader? At a time when some experts say that ASEAN needs a leadership?

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: The tone of conversation between the nations seems to indicate that they recognize his influence, they recognize his political will, they recognize his firmness, they recognize his resolve, for example to address drugs, the flow on illegal drugs. In fact, the Prime Minister of Singapore asked how he was dealing with it considering the fact that the Philippines has no death penalty.

And so the leadership within the region seems to recognize that he has the political will and he has been warmly received and warmly admired in spite of the fact that you said it’s a common thing. They could easily snub him considering the fact that he has also had some noise with the press.

So it’s basically that. It’s a general assessment that instead of what one would expect would be putting negative press about him, in fact he seems to be pretty warmly received.

Q: Do you think President Duterte is in the position to lead?

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: He will be in a position to lead considering—

SEC. ANDANAR: He will be the chairman of the ASEAN next year.

Q: Rebecca from CNN. I’m just interested in Duterte’s first international trip, summit. Is there anything that the President, your team have learned?

SEC. ANDANAR: We’ve learned to answer your questions.

SPOKESPERSON ABELLA: And also that he has the capacity for statesmanship that is usually missed because of the noise regarding some of his statements. But observing him talk with the three countries that he engaged in bilaterally, he was actually engaging the leaders in a very sophisticated — I keep going back to that— in a very sophisticated political thinking, political conversation so it’s quite admirable he is able to actually engage in this kind of conversation which is not always, often seen. So what have I learned? It’s to open my eyes and learn.

SEC. ANDANAR: We also learned, Rebecca, that Pres. Duterte is a rock star not only in our country but also in other countries like Laos, Japan and now the other Foreign Ministers and delegates have scrambled to get a selfie with our President. You have a President of the Republic who can stand and deliver.

Thank you very much.