President Aquino at the 2015 FOCAP Presidential Forum

Every year, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines invites the President to speak and answer questions from the foreign press. This year President Benigno S. Aquino III attends the last forum of his term, held at the Solaire Resort and Casino, Parañaque City.

[Video of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s speech]

[Transcript of the president’s speech]

[Video of the president’s Q&A]

[Transcript of the president’s Q&A]

VIDEO OF SPEECH:

SPEECH TRANSCRIPT:

Speech
of
His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the Annual Presidential Forum of the Foreign Correspondents
Association of the Philippines

[Delivered at the Solaire Resort and Casino, Parañaque City, on October 27, 2015]

I have always been able to speak very candidly here, so let me admit that I have mixed feelings about my last presidential forum. On the one hand, I face our gathering with a little bit of sadness—may I emphasize “a little bit” [laughter]—after all, I have never been shy about expressing my admiration for your organization and its history of principled journalism. During Martial Law, when the dictatorship sought to suppress information and took over local media, the members of your organization stood up to the dictator, and paid the price for it continuously. FOCAP became guardians of the truth during a dangerous time, and I will neither forget nor fail to pay tribute to this.

On the other hand, however, since this is my last Presidential Forum, I really cannot help but wonder how you will surprise me this time around—what questions, especially about my personal life, you might pose and I may refuse to answer.

Don’t worry. As always, I am prepared to answer any questions you might ask, because I recognize the paramount role you play. The issues and concerns you raise are ideally that which the global community likewise considers of great importance. In the same vein, your stories and reports are our window to the world. This, in itself, reveals FOCAP’s immeasurable influence on our society, and consequently, the magnitude of your responsibility.

Because you must adhere to international standards of reportage, you never overlook a couple of the primary missions of the journalist: to situate a story in its proper context, and to develop a long view that allows the audience to follow the development of a story with all its complexities. In other words, even as some of you must understandably measure success in breaking a story milliseconds ahead of the competition, you also put a premium on balance and context.

How I wish all media would do the same. Let me give you an example: Early in my term, I had an occasion to talk at a gathering of the most senior men and women in local media. During our meeting, I submitted what I felt was a logical and diplomatic request: Could we come back to the idea of balanced news? By this, I mean that news should be reported “as is, where is,” and that, if there are negative stories, then would it be too bad to have some positive stories as well?

Let me emphasize that I never asked that media refrain from reporting negative news. All I asked for was a reasonable balance. To that, I remember one of the local media personalities replying something like, “We are a business. It’s not our job to trumpet the positive.” I was truly taken aback by her response. I am not sure now if I asked, “Are we not all Filipinos? Does this mean that you are not concerned about what happens to our country?” Today, I also believe that there is enough reason to ask: Do we just take it as gospel truth that bad news sells?

I don’t think I am the only one who cannot understand why we insist on bringing ourselves down—why we are so intent on self-flagellation, as some have put it. I wonder what any country would gain if all media did was milk a tragedy for all its worth, and ignore any positive developments related to it.

Recently, the Philippines had to overcome the challenge of Typhoon Lando, which made landfall in Casiguran, Aurora, last October 18, a Sunday. Access was no easy task, to say the least. Strong winds made it difficult, if not impossible, for all aircraft to fly; traveling by boat meant rough seas and a long journey. Fallen infrastructure, flooding, and mudslides blocked roads, and some towns were completely cut off.

Even with all these, Filipinos from both the public and private sectors moved heaven and earth to ensure that relief arrived in a timely manner. Lando made landfall on Sunday; I am told that, by Monday night, relief goods had been transported to Casiguran, which earlier was reported as being isolated. So many people sacrificed and exerted so much effort to minimize the deprivation of affected communities. I am sure they would have appreciated the recognition of their efforts.

Instead, I am told, this is the coverage that their work received. A major Philippine broadsheet tweeted about Typhoon Lando, saying: “Government fails to achieve zero casualty; NDRRMC says 33-year old man died after being hit by fallen tree in Quezon City.” A local reporter from another media outlet also tweeted that relief goods had arrived in Casiguran, but that these goods had not yet been distributed. He closed by saying, “Bukas darating si PNoy!” or “PNoy is arriving tomorrow,” as if to imply that relief goods would be distributed only when I was there.

At a time of challenge for many Filipinos, it seemed to me as if the only interest of these particular members of the media was to sensationalize, to highlight tragedy, to point out supposed failures, and to make accusations. Some of us might even be led to speculate that on the anniversary of Typhoon Lando—whether the first, the fifth, or the tenth—that media coverage would insist on reliving every tragic detail, while paying only lip service to the positive developments, lessons learned, and corrective actions implemented.  

What happens if we are inundated by negativism on television, radio, print, and social media? If you have no other sources of information, at what point will you start believing all of the negative news, and begin thinking that only bad things happen every day? When this happens, how far are you from losing hope? And when you lose hope, how do you generate any positive action?

Last year, I told you: It is media’s responsibility to tell the whole, unadulterated truth. That has not changed. Even now, I ask you: please continue speaking truth to power. You can be critical, and still contribute to growth, because constructive criticism is a great help to us. Expose corruption where it is found; bring injustice to our attention. You are well and free to do this because we will never suppress you; on the contrary, my administration will work with you to correct these wrongs.

At the same time, it cannot be true that there are only negative things happening in the Philippines today—that nothing has changed; that we are still apathetic and cynical; and that one shortcoming becomes reason enough to discount the whole. I have met so many people who are embodiments of the good news and optimism surrounding the Philippines. There are the beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer program now studying in universities, colleges, and technical-vocational institutions, studying to gain a better future for themselves and their families. There are the multinational companies who want to entrust their success to the Filipino people. Recently, an elderly woman approached one of our Cabinet Secretaries, full of gratitude for the PhilHealth program, which had paid for the removal of her cataracts.

Economic growth has slowed, somewhat, this year, but the Philippine economy is still among the most resilient in the entire world—and the Filipino people are still positive about their job prospects. While we are still improving NAIA 1, for example, it is no longer considered the worst airport in the world. In fact, the Iloilo, Mactan-Cebu, and Clark airports are now considered among the 30 best airports in Asia. The Philippines might continue to be visited by an average of 20 tropical cyclones annually, but our investments into technology and training have helped us to accurately predict, and prepare for their coming.

At the end of the day, the Filipino people will decide if I was true to my word: if I did my utmost to bring about positive transformation. I believe they will make the decision for all other sectors as well—including other government agencies and even sectors like yours. I made an appeal to the media at the beginning of my term. I make it again now—both as President and as someone looking forward to his return to private life: Yes, there is always massive room for improvement. Yes, there are some mistakes and missteps—but that does not mean there is no room for hope or optimism. That does not mean there is no room to celebrate successes, even the smallest ones. That is all I ask: to make room for the whole, truthful picture. That is the way in which you can fulfill your responsibility to society, to help spur growth and progress.

I thank you, and I understand there are a couple of questions you want. I am now ready for them.

VIDEO OF Q&A:

TRANSCRIPT OF Q&A:

Girlie Linao, German Press Agency: Sir, according to reports, a US Destroyer is on its way to the West Philippine Sea to test the principle of freedom of navigation. Has the Philippine government been officially informed about this; and what is the Philippine government’s position on this?

President Benigno S. Aquino III: The Secretary of Defense informs me that there’s no official announcement of this particular voyage. But the position is: Freedom of navigation has been expounded and propounded by all parties to the issues of the South China Sea – West Philippine Sea. And everybody seems to be guaranteeing freedom of navigation. So I see no issue as to this US naval ship traversing under international law, in waters that should be free to be traveled upon by any non-belligerent country.

Linao: But does the Philippine government officially support it? And other countries, other allies who support freedom of navigation, what can we do to support the US move?

Aquino: What can we do to support freedom of navigation?

Linao: Yes, and the US challenge to the territorial limits set by China.

Aquino: Well, let me try to encapsulate the answer in as few sentences as possible. We have  voiced our concerns about the buildup of islands, or the creation of—build-up of features that somehow resemble islands already at this point in time. We have voiced our concern about the issues that confront the South China Sea in the sense that we have about 40 percent of world trade that has to traverse to this particular body of water. We have expressed publicly on numerous occasions our concern that any movement through this particular body of water should not be hampered by any entity. I think we have stated and restated this position and we have actually go on as far as arbitration to finally try and resolve this long-standing issue. That, I think, is the support in general, not just to the American transiting this body of water, but to the general principle that freedom of navigation should not be impeded—especially if we are after our people’s betterment.

Linao: Sir, do you think the US should do more patrols around the area and if they do come near islands that are claimed by the Philippines, do we welcome them there? Thank you.

Aquino: Well again, so long as they conform to the norms dictated by international law, I don’t think we have any objections to that transiting nor the transiting of any other entity who has no hostile intention.

Charmaine Deogracias, NHK: Good morning, Mr. President. Just a follow-up on Girlie’s question. The US intends to pass by those artificial islands within 12 nautical miles of the islands, of the features that China is occupying. How do you think this action would affect the regional environment; and do you think increasing tension in the South China Sea that way would be beneficial for the claimants if we have more to think about on the ground, on the sea? Thank you.

Aquino: Again, if there are no hostile intentions being alluded to by any party, why should tensions be increasing in this particular portion of the world? 12 nautical miles is the international standard of territorial waters. And again, so long as everybody conforms to the norms based on international customs and rules, regulations, and laws, then there shouldn’t be any problem.

Charmaine Deogracias, NHK: Sir, just a follow-up on that. Don’t you think that support to the freedom of navigation patrols of the US might affect the Philippine arbitration case because precisely we are still asking the tribunal to clarify the maritime entitlements of those islands, of those reefs of China, and then as we have submitted to the UN, we declared them as LTE—low tide elevation, so don’t you think this will affect—like a support will affect—our case?

Aquino: I think expressing support for established norms of international behavior should not be a negative for our country. Let me put it the way, the reverse: Somebody suddenly changes the rules and are we [to] just accept the changing of the rules without any consultations, without any negotiations, without even an agreement, is I think the wrong behavior to undertake.

Deogracias: Sir, the mutual defense board convened a meeting last week and I think [it was] a one-day meeting in Hawaii. As a treaty ally, were we not informed about this move being also the closest coastal state to the area? Will you take this up with the US?

Aquino: Again, I don’t want to sound as a lecturer but when you, for instance, just to give you the nuances of the international law: If you’re a submarine transiting territorial waters, you are required to be surfaced and not submerged. Doing so submerged becomes a belligerent act. So let me restate the answer—and I hope I don’t sound like a broken record. So long as everybody conforms to established international rules and laws, then I don’t think the Philippines should have any negative apprehensions about these acts. And if we say we are in support of freedom of navigation for everybody, then we seek to hamper anybody’s travel, that I think seems to be inconsistent.

Gabino Tabuñar, Jr., Moderator: Are you more comfortable with the US Navy around these disputed waters?

Aquino: I think everybody would welcome a balance of power, anyone in the world.  

Melo Acuña, China Radio International: During your last SONA you mentioned that you will be still be an elder after you step down—

Aquino: In quotation marks please.

Acuña: Yes, of course. Will you be an “elder” to somebody who gets elected to presidency other than your anointed one?

Aquino: I’d like to think that if my help is requested by anybody, then I should always be willing to help anybody regardless of the status. And again, I also follow my mother’s dictum of not preferring unsolicited advice. So I’d like to be of help but not to be a—how should I say it—a nuisance to anybody who succeeds after me.

Acuña: Don’t you think with these developments with the US decision to do some patrols at the South China Sea, wouldn’t security concerns and other matters overshadow the preparations for APEC?

Aquino: No. I don’t think so. Some will say even from the preparations, not just from the government side, not just from our cooperators and supporters in hosting APEC, but also from critics of APEC: The preparations are in full blast. So this has not overshadowed the preparations nor even our prospective holding of APEC.

Acuña: Thank you for the assurance but have you received confirmation from other leaders who will be joining the leaders meeting by November? Will Mr. Xi Jinping be coming over?

Aquino: Well, we have formally transmitted the invitations to the President Xi Jinping. We were very supportive with China when they hosted it. We assume that our big brother to the West will also be as supportive. We have not yet received confirmation as to who will be attending.

Acuña: One last point. Are you still optimistic that the BBL would passed considering that almost everybody in the Senate and the House are busy with the coming elections?

Aquino: Well, we still have to pass the budget and I’m sure they will be present during the budget which will give time to pass other measures besides the budget.

Acuña: So the budget is really that important?

Aquino: We have succeeded in having the budget approved on time. We have not had to reenact the budget in all our time in office and we hope to continue the same trend.

Acuña: How do you like to be remembered after June 30, 2016? Will you get married?

Aquino: Even before June 2016, if the right person comes around.

Oliver Teves, Associated Press: You said a while ago that anybody would welcome a balance of power anywhere in the world.  So in your view, the presence of US Naval ships in the region is a balancing of power? On the other hand, the Americans said this move is just meant to just assert freedom of navigation. Can you please explain how that works? How they are consistent, if not consistent with each other.

Aquino: Balance of power. You have one regional superpower who makes a lot of pronouncements, who makes, shall we say some controversial pronouncements at that. The Americans have stated publicly that if left unchallenged, then this is accepted. And if it’s accepted, it becomes de facto, the reality on the ground.

So when we say, the American passages through these contentious waters is meant precisely to say that there are norms as to what freedom of navigation entails and their intent to exercise so that there is no de facto changing of the reality on the ground.

I’m welcoming their leader, then you put me in position of criticizing some of their previous actions which might impinge on our own hosting for economic cooperation, but let me just add to that last point. Previously, there was a declaration of the Air Defense Identification Zone. There was a singular voice saying that you had to conform to certain new rules. And all of these rules, especially air travel at that, there are so many agreements that have been entered into, that all countries have been bound to for the longest time.

When you change something there is a general agreement among all parties that are affected as to what changes would bring about a better regime in terms of travel. It cannot be determined by one entity.

So the balance of power says that there is not just a single voice that must be adhered to. There has to be a plurality of voices when all parties are affected by changes of the realities on the ground.

Teves: Just a follow-up on the question of how would you like to be remembered as president?

Aquino: I just find it awkward to be the one to say it and to suggest it. I’d rather wait for my bosses to say I’m best remembered for this, for that. All I can say is at the end of the day, when I go home and I’m about to sleep, if I look at myself in the mirror, I can honestly say that I did my all on that particular day. And each and every day, that is the mantra.

Teves: Can you tell us which of the programs you laid down when you started the presidency was the most difficult for you and how much have you accomplished in that regard?

Aquino: If you listen to all of our pronouncements through these years, we have always paid a premium on how we deal with our bosses. At the end of the day, it’s always the Filipino people, their attitude, their drive, their optimism, their lack of it, their hope, their zealousness in pursuing anything that made everything possible. So I guess the biggest challenge was actually changing the attitude.

From one of despondency and hopelessness, manifested in the desire to leave the country, to one where there is tremendous optimism, where there is a feeling that everything is possible. It will only take a little time to achieve the particular goals. Perhaps, this is clearly manifested in the drop of our OFWs by about 400,000 based on the 2014 figures.

So again, from people who gave up even complaining when we started in 2010 to a people now who are demanding that government do everything yesterday, is I think the major change. Suddenly, there is renewed belief. There’s renewed confidence. So how to change the attitude was the greatest difficulty that manifests in our ability to undertake so many different things, so many ambitious plans, even to the extent that there are studies that are suggesting that we will reach high-income status perhaps as early as 25 years from now. We are in that trajectory if we keep to the current practices on policies.

Teves: Just a final point. Your anti-corruption campaign, what do you think was your main accomplishment in that regard?

Aquino: I think you are witness to several people, several organizations, who were previously considered sacrosanct, beyond the reach, above the law. And everybody has been made to account and still being made to account, including my immediate predecessor.

Teves: So in other words, the punitive aspect of the anti-corruption campaign is one of the highlights?

Aquino: In other words, [there was] a demonstration of political will. There are influential players in Philippine society. The interplay of the same. The political will was exercised to achieve the common good at the risk of having all of these factors cease to be cooperative and be disruptive. So we did not lose sight of the main promise which was to make government accountable to to the people and more transparent.

Jamela Alindogan, Al Jazeera: Coming from a very strong political background—with a very strong political pedigree, your father is national hero, your mother is an icon of democracy, and after her death there was a very strong push for you to run—what is it you wish you knew then, five and a half years before you ran, that you wish you knew before you ran?

Aquino: Well, [knowing] all of the details of the problems that we have to confront, if it was possible to have known all of the secrets before we even filed our certificate of candidacy, [it] would have helped us in planning all of the steps that had to be taken. And we would have been able to address a lot of them easier.

For instance, so many causes for arbitration, for litigation, that they’re still pending, perhaps if we were able to unearth the secrets earlier, we could have had the solutions a lot earlier, and therefore the people could have benefitted from the solutions faster.

Alindogan: As a president, what is it that you consider your greatest strength and also, at the same time, as a leader, what do you consider your biggest weakness looking at five and a half years of being in office?

Aquino: As an economist who pays very much attention to maximizing the utility of resources, time is a very important resource. I don’t waste my time lying to anybody or listening to lies. I’d rather listen to the truth and have that truth shared. And I think that’s the greatest strength. And also, some of my advisers tell me, it’s also the weakness.

I look at our people, again, as my bosses. One does not lie to one’s boss. One wants to give the facts to be able to make the logical conclusion to any particular issue. I laid out before them. Some of my advisers say perhaps sometimes it’s too impolitic to say so. Sometimes, it induces negativity at the onset. I tell everybody, If we base all of our decisions on the truth, then we don’t have the problems of trying to support lies down the line, and we avoid the situation of garbage in and garbage out. We arrive at a consensus that is solid and that leads to the greater ability to address every concern that we do have.

Alindogan: That would be what you consider your greatest strength or your weakness?

Aquino: Strength and weakness. My ability to also to, how should I put it, to shape the truth in a sense. To take out certain portions of it. That is something not native to my character.

Alindogan: What is it you wish that you have time to finish? Under our Constitution, you cannot run for reelection and there’s a lot of things that are pending. There’s the BBL, the EDCA. What is that you wish you have more time to do. The first few years, they said, you basically spent a lot of your efforts and time cleaning up the house and then implementing a lot of those PPPs a bit later afterward. But if you look back right now, what it is that you wish you could change in your presidency?

Aquino: Let me just correct the premise. We were cleaning up the house but we actually had to run the country also. There was no time-out button. You had to start sowing the seeds if you wanted to harvest anything even from the onset, even at the point in time when we were left with something like six percent of the budget to run the country for a half of the year.

Of course, definitely we want to finish the BBL. There are so many pending legislature that I have mentioned in the SONA. The Fiscal Rationalization Act. The reform of the pension system for the uniformed services.

We would like to see the transition authority and the new governance mode in the Bangsamoro actually taking route and actually delivering on the promise of better governance in that particular part of the country.

We’d want all of the major infrastructure projects finished: the NLEX-SLEX connectors, in particular, the airports in the Bicol area, in Bohol, the further modernization of the Armed Forces.

There are so many things, but at the end of the day, I think we have pushed most of these programs, projects, and policies, in a sense, very close to what was achievable in this past six years

Alindogan: What do you think you’ll miss in your presidency? And what it is that you won’t miss? Of course, the media, one of us for sure. What it is that you would miss about your presidency and what is it that you are actually looking forward to not have to deal with anymore after you step down?

Aquino: I guess it’s opposite sides of the same coin. The office enables you to effect changes really rapidly. Your opinion, in a sense, matters. The reverse of the obverse of that coin is that you are are responsible for anything and everything whether you know about it or you don’t know about it, whether it was ever brought to your attention or not brought to your attention by everybody who’s part of this government. So that’s the part.

You know when I wake up and read the newspapers and when I am made to feel by certain people that every sin ever committed by man is my fault, that I won’t miss. Perhaps when I read the papers after June 30, I’ll probably concentrate on what is showing at what theater.

Dana Batnag, Jiji Press: You have earlier described the passage through Mischief Reef and Subic as passage over contentious waters. Given China’s attempt to change the reality on the ground and the US attempt to challenge what could a de facto reality, do you think this is a cause for concern? Or will the passage go through peacefully?

Aquino: Well, if we keep on highlighting that this is a challenge to each other, then perhaps it should be a matter of grave concern for all. But we have the opportunity to also say that we are just exercising that which has been established as the normative behavior by all. And if we concentrate on that, then everything should be manageable and not be tension-building.

Batnag: So it’s not a concern for you?

Aquino: You are always concerned when you have two super powers being provoked into confrontations on issues. But you have statements from both parties stating that there is no hostile intent by either party. So shouldn’t we encourage the dialogue that happens and the demonstration of this lack of hostilities towards each other?

Batnag: Sir, on another issue, on TPP. You have earlier expressed interest for the Philippines to join the TPP. Is there a timeframe for this? Is this something that you want done during your term?

Aquino: You know the format of TPP is that 12 original parties that entered into [it] will finish their association and then assess as to how other countries who might be interested to join will be invited. So there are no invitations at this point in time. Therefore, I seriously doubt that there would be an invitation forthcoming before I step down.

Ellen Cruz, Tokyo Shimbun: Sir, ASEAN and APEC are forthcoming. What is the Philippines’ agenda on the table in the coming ASEAN East Asia Summit. APEC, of course, is mainly economic. But what are the other things, economic and otherwise, that you want to bring to the table?

Aquino: I intend to pass this to Cesar Purisima for the economic aspect in particular because that is actually… We can fill a whole short book of what we want to achieve in APEC. But the bottomline is inclusive growth is really the building block towards prosperity for all. I apologize to the persons who coined our slogan for APEC, but that is, in essence, our main thrust. Growth that is not inclusive cannot be sustained.

For ASEAN, I have two purposes for our dialogue partners. Of course, we will reiterate our concerns with the sea with many names, but at the same time also take it as an opportunity to bid farewell to my colleagues there, to say thank you for all of the the help, the assistance, the closer cooperation that they have demonstrated to us, the marked difference from the beginning and perhaps our status now as far as ASEAN is concerned

Cruz: Are you satisfied by how ASEAN, you know there are countries in ASEAN that are really very supportive of [us], but there are also countries that are neutral or somehow friendly to China about the South China Sea issue. Are you satisfied by how ASEAN is tackling the issue in the West Philippine Sea?

Aquino: I think all of them have also manifested being extremely friendly to us. I think you can see that in times that we are faced with disasters and how readily they come to our response. Perhaps it has been a learning experience also that we have gotten to know all of our partners even that much more intimately. We recognize that perhaps accepted standard solutions to perceive problems might really need local or indigenous character if it is to take hold in these countries. Shall we say, we broadened our view as to what solutions are appropriate for a given problem.

We recognize everybody has their limitations and their capacities. So if we deal on areas where we can cooperate, then that enhances cooperation. When we recognize that there are certain areas that are limitations to the depth of cooperation available on particular issues, if we recognize all of these, then it leads to a really harmonious relationship amongst all.

Overall, I think I am satisfied. It is not only the Philippines vis-a-vis ASEAN, but also ASEAN vis-a-vis the Philippines that has experienced a deeper sense of community, a growth in the relationship. When we started out, perhaps we felt like: “Okay you’re here, you’re a member.” But now there is—when we say brother nations or sister nations, there is really that sense that there is a commonality of goals and also a commonality of problems that confront us.

*Additional remarks from Sec. Cesar Purisima: Thank you, Mr. President. On APEC, basically, as the President said, the goal is to have a more inclusive integration of the region. As such, we have several initiatives. The first one being on MSMEs where secretary Domingo led the trade ministers in coming up with the Boracay Action Agenda. As you know, the MSMEs account for the bulk of employment not just in the Philippines, but across the region. And to really have true integration, we must to bring this, MSMEs, into the core.

On the part of the finance ministers, we want to support the trade agenda. For the first time in the history of APEC, we came up with the Cebu Action Plan, which is really a road map on financial integration of the region.

Then secretary Balisacan led the discussion on structural reforms because there are many structural issues across the region that need to be addressed. For example in Japan, they still have the third arrow, that has not yet been implemented. And if you look across the region, that is mostly the case. They discuss that. There is a disaster risk management meeting.

So there were a lot of discussions and that will be tackled by the leaders in a discussion to be led by the President to come up with a Manila declaration.

On the part of ASEAN, again, trade liberalization. We’re very close to really practically zero intra-ASEAN trade rates. And then on the services part, we’re discussing the seven package of agenda. There’s a lot going on and during the term of the President, we have made major steps and inroads into further opening up the country.

Cruz: Last year, by accident, you were able to talk briefly with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. As host now, would you initiate a small talk again with your Chinese counterpart?

Aquino: I’d like to be the perfect host to all of my counterparts. In the two days primarily, obviously, I will try to engage all 21 in fruitful conversations.

Cruz: Sir, pero no favoritism that you’re really eyeing in?

Aquino: My accident last year—I’m not sure if that was really by accident.

Cruz: Sir, we look forward for another accident.

Aquino: I look forward to having—the ‘C’ portion of APEC is cooperation in the community. So that is the goal.

Q: If Mr. Xi Jinping comes to APEC, do you have plans of bilateral talk?

Aquino: Currently there is no schedule for the bilateral talk. But we are very open to it. But there are others that have already indicated that they want bilateral discussions, including those that will be coming in on state visits before the launch of APEC.

Q: If it happens, if you have bilateral talks with the Chinese leader, what do you want to talk or discuss?

Aquino: If it were just boiled down to one sentence, it will be what I have already told his predecessors. All our governments are supposed to be there to further improvement of the lot of our people, improvement in their lives. And this can only happen if there is stability. So if there is a central message, that would be what I would want to convey.

Q: Except for political issues, do you think the Philippines and China should do more to improve their economic interaction between the two countries, like OFWs, like bananas?

Aquino: Well I did point out that in 2011—those are the figures that are there somehow fresh in my mind. Chinese companies invested something like $600 million in the Philippine economy. Philippine companies, I’m told, invested something like $2.5 billion in the Chinese economy.

China sent us tourists of about 200,000 strong annually in 2011. We were sending about 800,000 at that point in time.

So obviously, culture, I’m sure you’ve been around the country. I don’t think there is any place in the country that doesn’t have a Chinese restaurant, for instance.

So the point being that the Chinese side has also pointed out the very long relationship. And obviously it profits both to really to be able to manage the issues that conflict between the two parties and go back to a concentration on that could be beneficial to both sides.

Q: What’s your opinion on the Philippines joining the AIIB?

Aquino: If we will join AIIB? We’re still considering the invitation whether or not to join the AIIB.

Trefor Moss, Wall Street Journal: During your administration, the revenues of the Philippines’ biggest companies have roughly doubled. That growth is much faster than the GDP growth. Poverty levels has remained stubbornly high and remain relatively unchanged. Why has your administration struggled to reduce poverty? Do you have fears that your administration will be looked back on as one where the top end of society and big business thrived but then, the bottom end of the society really continued to struggle as before?

Aquino: We did tackle that particular question and roughly around the terms that you were stating in the issue. Somewhere about the middle of the term, we were surprised that the poverty numbers were not moving as fast—the reduction in poverty numbers were not moving as fast we had hoped to. That, in turn, led to a more focused effort and the abandonment of the trickle down philosophy. What does that mean? You talk to all of the big businesses and hopefully their investments will redound to some improvement in the lot of our people. We’re taking the opposite approach.

For instance: in the job and skills mismatch problem. We have not taken a laissez faire attitude and just [thought:] hopefully it will sort itself out. We have invested quite a huge amount in social services especially in education to be able to capacitate our countrymen to join in the growth of the economy.

For instance, there’s an organization called SEIPI, Semiconductor Electronics Industry Philippines, Inc. We partnered with them as to which skills are necessary for them to be able to populate their various companies.

Our TESDA, the tech voc sector within our government, has been able to achieve above 90, I think it’s either 91 placement rate for their graduates.

I think in my last State of the Nation Address, you had all of these other groups: the farmer who was talking about the provision of rice mill, the provision of farm-to-market road in their place, the provision of credit and so on and so forth; the testimony when I went to Apayao recently of a farmer who didn’t just double, who exceeded doubling his output. And the list goes on and on.

I guess all the investments that we have done will not result in changes that are dramatic in three years. The 4.4 million families being assisted in the Conditional Cash Transfer program, their ability to keep their children in school, graduating from high school or graduating from college will take a quite number of years beyond the six-year term that I was given.

Let me just point out that the reduction in unemployment from 7.4 to 6.5,  the reduction in the OFW population from the established 10 million to about 9.4 to 9.5 million is I think another testimony. The growth in the countryside. If you can go to places like Davao, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, even other places up north. Even when we were going on disaster relief. In Nueva Ecija, for instance, one of the biggest mall operators actually just started their branch operations there. I can go on and on.

Again, what I’m trying to say is we’ve tried to tackle or to seize the opportunities on both ends: those the movers and shakers of our industry, and at the same time increasing the skill levels of our countrymen so that they are not excluded from the growth that is happening in the country.

Moss: Just one more. The economic credibility of the Philippines, it think it’s fair to say, has improved a lot during your tenure. Are you frustrated that foreign investment levels haven’t really caught up with that and still lag a long way behind the Philippines’ neighbors?

Aquino: In the recent Forbes Global Conference. Can I just ask Cesar Purisima because he was actually the one who was given this piece of information.

Purisima: During that conference, which is really an exclusive conference of about 400 very senior participants, there were three groups. The first are those who have never been to the Philippines. They were practically surprised at what they saw. In fact, the chairman of one of the biggest companies in China was saying “Why didn’t I come here earlier?” Of course, this is anecdotal. Second are those that have been to the Philippines but have not been back in a long time. Again, they’ve been quite surprised at the dynamism of the economic activity. The third are those who are scared to come because of those negative news reports. They said that they had so much fun. They will be back pretty soon. In fact, the owner of the Taj Hotel group decided to go to Baguio and then to Batangas. We were convincing him that he should expand the Taj brand here.

I think, slowly, the changes here is catching up with our image such that we’re no longer referred to as Sick Man of Asia but now as the bright spot in Asia.

Moss: But will see that translating into investments rather than just positive statements about the Philippines?

Aquino: There’s been a sixfold increase of foreign direct investment comparing the figures of 2010 and 2014 and the man responsible, the Secretary of Trade and Industry, is present with his Ipad to give me all the other figures. But the bottomline is we had to overcome the negative image that we had. Too many people were saying: Not worth it to come to the Philippines. But what is the change? I’d like to—again, I cannot name the corporation. We didn’t ask their permission. We’re not sure if they reported to the SEC their intended investments in the country. But they are very major, small appliance manufacturer. And he was here recently, about two weeks ago, and he has never been to the Philippines. The only thing that caught his attention was he saw some story on CNN. And that piqued his interest. And he’s moving some of his operations in a nearby country into the Philippines, not just the manufacturing aspect but also the research and development aspect that keeps his company at the forefront of their particular sector.

It’s one thing to have people who had known of us, had some experience with us coming back. It’s another for those that are here to be aggressively expanding their operations. But I think, the turnaround is best exemplified by this person who has never had any relation with us, who’s very keen to start investing with us.

Joel Guinto, AFP: Good morning, Mr. President. Sir, recently, Sen. Bongbong Marcos announced his bid to run for the vice presidency, and also recently his daughter was on the cover of High Society magazine. Sir, how do you feel about this resurgence of support for the Marcos family especially among those who were born before Martial Law?

Aquino: Resurgence of support? By appearing on the cover of a magazine, this demonstrates a resurgence of support?

Guinto:  In social media, there has been all these pages.

Aquino: And social media is an unquestioned source of information. It cannot be manipulated.

Guinto: Do you share this view that there’s a resurgence of support?

Aquino: No, I think the answer to that is very obvious, Joel. I don’t think so.

Guinto: Given that you are in power and you are the…

Aquino: What should be highlighted is the fact that there’s a period in time that contrary opinions were not encouraged, that somehow they were involved in the periphery of. In our watch, contrary opinion are part and parcel and protected in the democratic space that we have managed to really strengthen within our watch. That, I think, is proof that the democratic system in this country works.

Guinto: A possible return of the Marcoses to power, what would that mean?

Aquino: I have faith in my bosses, the Filipino people. There’s nothing that has caused me to change the faith, that they are able to discern.

Jim Gomez, Associated Press: Good morning, Mr. President. Sir, I’d like to add to the most popular question of the day—the South China Sea question. Since you yourself have said that you have two global powers coming within like few kilometers with each other, in tense, disputed waters, have your government, your military drawn up contingencies just in case anything wrong happens?

Aquino: Can I just answer without revealing any details that we want to plan for any contingency that might affect our country whether it is manmade or natural.

Gomez: In supporting this US deployment, would the Philippines allow its territory to be used as a platform logistically by the US if it needs any logistical support like refueling.

Aquino: That is part and parcel of the EDCA agreement that is under reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Gomez: Is that a yes, Mr. President?

Aquino: If you have an ally who is in the opposite side of the world and comes to our defense and will say we will not support you logistically. How does that make any sense? For it to be a valid engagement, there are things that need to be done by both parties.

Gomez:  Question on BBL, this is supposed to be one of the legacies of your presidency. You worked hard for this peace process. It’s now under challenged. Do you think BBL’s passage will happen under your presidency? And what more are you prepared to do to ensure that this law passes in your time?

Aquino: We’ve been lobbying with members of both chambers to have this measure passed, not just passed but passed quickly. It has to be ratified through a referendum or plebiscite and before the Bangsamoro Transition Authority can come to exist you have to have the law, you have to have the law passed, you have to have the law approved by our bosses. Now if it comes in too late, say February, when the election ban presumably already happens, you have a government in place that can do nothing. Therefore will demonstrate nothing; therefore, will doom the possibility of this solution from having a chance to prove its worth.

Gomez: Just two more quick questions. Somebody asked about the AIIB. Can you give us more details on the prospects of the Phils joining this Chinese initiative? Because a December deadline is coming and I think the Philippines is one of the few ASEAN countries that have not signed up to be a founding member of this bank. What is the real, concrete prospect of the Philippines joining the AIIB?

Aquino: We recognize that there are advantages to joining the AIIB. At the same time, we had the issues with North Rail wherein there was… what’s the technical term, Cesar? The concession on the loan was called in rather unexpectedly, which impacted our cash flow very negatively at that point in time.

So we have a negative experience of several nature. The main question is: [does] joining benefits us or [does it] leads us into a situation of having a repeat of that situation, which we would want to avoid?

Gomez: Sir, we’ve seen, it may be unfair to ask this of you because eight months to go in your presidency but nevertheless I will ask, we’ve seen presidents move back to public office like President Arroyo became member of the House of Representatives and the mayor of Manila now, are you ruling out going back to public office after your term?

Aquino: Number one: The deadline has passed for filing a certificate of candidacy.

Gomez: Yes, in the future.

Aquino: When I see my sisters, for instance, my nephews and my nieces, every other week perhaps. Sometimes when I go to the office, I have to pass through what they call the private office. And the staff, a lot of staff members who were with me—some of them during my congressional days. I’m constantly reminded that the sacrifices that I have to go through in this job are not just mine. There are so many people who have had to share in the sacrifice. I make a decision such as that. I bring all these people back in. And I have been asking of them quite a lot for quite a long time.

Sometimes, it’s not within me to ask them to give further. If they volunteer, thank you. Another way of saying it is I really want to examine once I get a little break. What is the best route to continue the advocacy of uplifting the lot of our countrymen?

Gomez: Is that a yes or a no?

Aquino: I thought it was clear. If it is not—I cannot run in 2016. And I have no plans yet for 2019.

Raul Dancel, The Straits Times: My question is not as sexy as the South China Sea but it is a concern in Singapore. Haze has reached parts of the Philippines. There has been a call for ASEAN as a group to hold Indonesia into account for this outbreak of haze and even to seek compensation for the damages it has caused. Can I get you thoughts on that?

Aquino: The haze affecting us has just happened recently. We are actually asking our Department of Science and Technology to study the whole matter and deliver recommendations as to what we should [do], what actions we should take. Having said that, instead of castigating an ASEAN brother country, perhaps in the ASEAN Summit, we should really look for the wherewithal, the direction, the attitudinal change whereby we can help Indonesia avoid creating this problem. That, I think, is the most constructive activity that we should be undertaking rather than concentrating on apportioning blame.

Gomez: Sir, just a second question regarding APEC. President Xi Jinping has confirmed attendances to conferences in Singapore and Vietnam in first two weeks of November. He’s also attending ASEAN after APEC but he hasn’t confirmed yet his attendance to APEC. Is Beijing sending a message to you? Is Beijing expressing displeasure at what you’ve said before, that’s why it’s dilly dallying its attendance?

Aquino: I’m not authorized to speak for the Chinese government obviously. I rather not cast any aspersions on them. But we intend to be as good a host as they were last year.

Manny Mogato, Reuters: Good morning, Mr. President. Thank you for your attendance to every FOCAP activity. Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario recently had a meeting with the Australian foreign minister on the refugee crisis. And in the past, we have accepted refugees in Morong and in Palawan. So may we know if an agreement has been reached between Australia and the Philippines? In the past, our policy is only—the refugees will only be here on transient basis and then be relocated somewhere else? Are we prepared to change policies by relocating them in our country?

Aquino: There’s no agreement, but there is a proposal propounded by the Australian government. And we are seriously considering it and studying the matter. But good that you made us recall that at one point in time that we were helping the Indo-Chinese refugees. We were supposed to be a transit point. There’s a general agreement that they would move on to third countries. We would be a transit point that will exist for probably two or three years. The engagement actually is 15 years. We had taken in several hundred thousands in that period of time. Some of whom have actually become permanent residents in the country.

Now, I think Australia can recognize that we do have a significantly bigger population than they do. We have challenges to meeting the needs of our people right now. We would want to assist but there are limitations as to how far we can assist. And if these proposed agreement is not transitory in nature, is not one of just being a transit point but actually relocating these people here, we feel are not in a capacity at this point in time to afford permanent residency to these people.

Mogato: Sir, another question. May we know your assessment of the Philippine economy on the third quarter? Was the growth faster than the 5.6 percent in the second quarter? Since this is the final year, are we going to miss the 7-8 percent target for the entire year? Is this some kind of a disappointment to your administration?

Aquino: Tinitignan ako ni NEDA Director General dahil kapag binigay n’ya sa akin next month, sasabihin n’ya sa akin embargoed until ano. We haven’t discussed all the prospect for the third quarter. There’s a concentration of generating more and more economic activity as witnessed by the improvement in the government spending figures.

I think the primary discussion has centered on El Niño and the potential effects it will have on the Philippine economy and our people’s lot. The mitigating effects, the mitigating actions that are necessary to address this very very serious El Niño phenomenon has occupied center stage in the discussions. I would give it up to the NEDA Director General in due time. We get the results hopefully next month. Normally next month is when we get the reports from all particular sectors. So I can’t comment at this point of time on the specifics of your question.

Q: Do you think the recent typhoon effect would have an effect on the economy?

Aquino: Of course, agriculture was affected by the typhoon, on the negative side. Some of the crops actually was lost. On the reverse side, we hit water that will help us during the El Niño phenomenon. The replanting induces some economic activity or a lot of economic activity. Like anything else, there are pluses and minuses.

Rose Francisco, Reuters: Given El Niño, there was a proposal earlier to import more rice because of that, and then the typhoon happened. Do you expect that we will import more than…I think it was the figure given out earlier of 1 million tons of rice additional for 2016. Are we expected to raise that estimate given the typhoon impact?

Aquino: There’s an importation of 500,000 metric tons that has already been approved. With the flooding that typhoon Lando brought about, it is sometimes hard for others to imagine the effects of El Niño come December or January. That is one of the most important crops—the December portion. We’d like to err on the side of caution. We want to ensure the public that there will be sufficient supply at reasonable prices.

Again, we’re addressing the situation and conversely, there’s also an opportunity to reduce the debt of the NFA by this importation. So it’s usually a win-win solution that we are promoting. We have approved [of it] and we are considering whether or not there is a need to increase the 500,000 metric tons.

Francisco:  When will a decision be made whether to increase or not?

Aquino: The data is being studied currently. It is a very delicate balancing act.

Francisco: You mentioned earlier what reforms or projects you would have wanted to see before you end your term. You mention about SLEX-NLEX connector roads. When you launched the PPP program  in 2010, it was a very ambitious program with at least ten projects lined up. We’re at 2015 and we haven’t seen all those projects completed, and there have been challenges along the way. How would you assess your government’s implementation of these PPP programs? Any lessons for the next administration? Do you think it was disappointing on your part that you didn’t see as much?

Aquino: It’s kind of hard to answer that question in the sense that it’s self-serving. But you did say ten. We have actually awarded ten, which is far from the six of the previous three administrations combined. All three previous administrations only produced a total of six.

There are another 40 that are in various stages of the process. Some are being studied. Some are almost at the bidding stage. Others are being bidded out already even as we speak.

The litigation aspect of it, still part and parcel of our society where speedy trials are still an aspirational goal. Perhaps it should have been factored in when we’re thinking about all of these projects.

But we tend to concentrate to the idea that there is so much interest at this point in time for all of these projects. And that has given us the opportunity to actually exact premiums from all of these PPP projects, whereas before, we have to give so many onerous terms just to have them.

So I guess, by so many different measures, I think our PPP program was very successful. But more importantly, we are laying the roots, the groundwork that will enable a faster turnaround for these projects down the line.

Francisco: Just one thing on income taxes, I know legislation is needed for that and it may be late already for Congress. But may we know exactly what your thoughts are on lowering income taxes? There have been proposals before. You did say you were not keen on it. And then you clarified that. But at this point, what are your thoughts there? And would you propose, probably your chosen successor, also push that reform?

Aquino: When I campaigned, perhaps I can answer the question with a question. Did we not promise we will not raise taxes? And we didn’t raise taxes except for sin taxes, would you agree? And if you don’t engage in the sin vices, therefore you’re not affected. And that is earmarked actually for the health.

Having said that, part of the reason that we have done so many things… Look at the budget doubling from 2010. But more importantly, the growth of the various sectors within that budget. How did we manage that without increasing taxes? We believe that we did state in the beginning that good governance is good economics.

Now, having said that, the bottomline is this: We benefited from the worldwide phenomenon also of liquidity. We were there to borrow funds that can retire old debt that had higher interest rates. Funds were made available to us to embark on so many of these projects, programs, policies.

Because of our hard work, [we] earned the investment grade status ratings from all these credit rating agencies, that in turn, further lowered the interest rates we were being charged because we were considered less risky that we were previously.

These credit rating agencies look at the whole gamut of how we govern, of how we manage public debt, of managing the deficit of the budget and so on and so forth.

I agree with the general concept of the income tax bracketing review, with the end point of lowering it. But it cannot be taken as a singular activity. There is a reduction in revenue, there has to be compensation elsewhere.

For instance, some of the proposals were reduction of income tax and then make it a compusory act would be the increase in VAT. How many people would agree that you would give away something—more income—because there’s less income tax, but you take it away with more taxes in VAT? The Bank Secrecy Law, the lifting of the same, is one of the requests.

The end point is, you remove something, you add something, you have a balance. You remove something, then don’t add something, there’s an imbalance. That, in turn, might have negative consequences that we would rather not have to undergo.

But think of the change. From the time we promised no new taxes, now there are new proposals to lower the taxes. But I have to remind everybody we’re still operating under budget deficit. You remove the revenues, you increase the deficit.

Francisco: I think that’s an offshoot also of what you’ve done in the economy. There has been more from the middle class now being affected by the income tax regime now. I think that’s what the people are saying that it should be lowered because if that. It’s already impacting more.

Aquino: I don’t think the public is much aware [of this]. People who were previously exempted from income tax, or pay income tax—the minimum wage earners, some of them has crossed the threshold. And the issue we had to tackle was whether or not—they call those benefits de minimis. Now, if they increase their take home by a few hundred pesos, suddenly their whole income becomes taxable. So what we have managed to introduce with the help of Congress, if I’m not mistaken, was we tax just the incremental and not the entirety. That which was previously exempt is still maintained to be exempt. The increases beyond the threshold of the minimum wage are the only ones subject to taxation and we therefore try to minimize the impact on those that have improved their lot in life and suddenly to remove that possibility that—suddenly you will have a drain on everything that was previously exempted.

Simone Orendain, Voice of America: It was a follow-up question to Jim’s earlier about letting the US Navy refuel here in the country. Do you think Philippines needs an EDCA anymore?

Aquino: Definitely. For instance, we are in a period of modernizing our Armed Forces, and not just primarily for military operations, but also in HADR. Now, my best example is I think fighter aircraft.

First of all, the most modern fighter aircraft we’ve ever had in our inventory was the F5, which is a Vietnam era fighter. This was not the latest generation of the F5. This was the earliest iteration F5 As and Bs. I think they’re already now in the J level. But bottomline is the last time they flew was 2005. You lose the ability of the pilots to fly jets. You lose the ability of the maintenance to continue working on jets. You lose the ability of the command and control. You have advances in communications nowadays. You have so many other devices like the GPS, etc. that Armed Forces might not be as cognizant with. Even in just responding to a disaster at sea, for instance. They’re given coordinates. One would hope that we are not relegated to a sextant and a compass. But familiarity for all units for utilizing the GPS is not a given.

So what does EDCA do? EDCA affords us the opportunity to test all of these new equipment, technologies, systems, akin to test driving a car I think, as opposed to buying a system and trying it out and finding out that it doesn’t work under our conditions.

[One of] EDCA’s side benefit would be to introduce us to all of these most modern equipment and get us familiar and have a generational leap in our abilities. And by the time we are able to purchase those we deem are necessary for our own defense, we are more than ready to be able to fully utilize the same.

Orendain: Follow-up to that, are we saying that there is not that component now in some of the bilaterals that the US is doing with the Philippines? And with the entry of other partner militaries, could you not get that knowledge, although it’s quite advanced, from the other militaries like there’s a partnership forming with Australia. There’s Vietnam and Japan.

Aquino: With America, we have this longest-running treaty from 1951 which is a very very mature treaty between our two countries, which have very very few gray areas, if at all. Australia, we’re actually under an agreement. The acronym is SOVFA (Status of Visiting Forces Agreement) with Australia. The only other strategic partner, besides America, that we have is Japan. And there are limitations as to the assistance that Japan can render on to us.

Dealing with the America does not mean we are exclusively dealing with them. We are seeking to meet our needs whenever we can find the right supplier of the same.

One of the most ambitious things we have tasked our Department of Science and Technology is precisely to come up with experts, not just on the military level, in every aspect, who will be able to keep abreast of all of the technologies existing in the world, to find that technology best suited to our needs so that we are shielded from being at the mercy of the sales people who will keep things from the shelef or convince us that this is what we do need.

Now, that is a long-term objective. It will be done primarily by funding scholarships to all the sciences so that there is that ready pool whose main task, primarily, is to keep us abreast.

Just to remind everybody, there was a project called Telepono sa Barangay, which was meant to improve communications throughout the archipelago. We spent, if I remember correctly, something like P5 billion on it. The object was to lay out actually all of these telephone lines. It never made a single phone call. There was no phone call ever done through the system after expending that amount.

One has to wonder, if somebody was aware that cellular technology was already being practiced elsewhere, when we were concentrated on landlines, I think we had a maximum of 2 million landlines to service probably about 50 million FIlipinos.

Now, with cellular technology, when we were 90 million Filipinos, we had something like, about, 80 million cellphones. So everybody is somehow connected.

Now, If somebody was aware that cellular technology was such a breakthrough, we could have redeployed the P5 billion spent there to have incentives for our local telcos to have engaged in it and to have the ready communications that much more on the ground at the earliest possible time.

So that is the dream. Somehow we will be able to keep abreast of all of the latest technology applicable to our country and be focused on what we exactly need so that we spend the people’s money even that much better.

Orendain: Sir, did you express your thoughts after the Pope left? What impression did he leave on you? In particular, a lot of the bishops and cardinals, usually when after having seen the Pope a couple of times, they talked about how they really like to, I guess, push his agenda for the poor and really take that into consideration. Do you have any of that inkling?

Aquino: Well first, I think you will agree with me that there’s so much simplicity in the Pope. Even from the part of the vestments that keep on flying into his head and into his face, doesn’t seem to really faze him. That carrying of that small bag, by himself, at his age. You can see also the burden that is on his shoulders, there was a bit of fatigue especially by the time that he was leaving. But as a Catholic, as somebody who is trained by the Jesuits, you see that Church becoming more active in, shall we say, a lot of the worldly matters, being not just a Church that mouths the nice things, but actually engages everybody into tackling that problems of the day. Even my own faith has really been strengthened and renewed. That there is a Church that is not just talking but actually walking the talk. I guess, that I think, is the best way I can explain it.

Raissa Robles, South China Morning Post: This is about the arrest of the two Chinese nationals, one of them a consul, for the murder of two Chinese consuls. The two suspects were whisked away to China without standing trial here because of a 2009 consular agreement before your term.

How do you feel about the way that Chinese government handled it? Is there anything that bothers you about the whole thing? Do you know anything the public doesn’t know? If the murder victims had been Filipinos, would the government still have to abide by the agreement? And do you think we should review the consular agreement?

So first, how do you feel about the way that Chinese government handled it?

Aquino: It’s not just a consular agreement, there is a Vienna convention of 1961, I understand we’re all parties to this, that is meant to protect diplomats.

Robles: And that doesn’t include, Sir, full diplomatic immunity for consular officials, only for diplomats.

Aquino: Yeah, that’s where you start out… Somewhere in the course from ‘61 to the present, the functions of the diplomat and the consul have somehow merged in so many different instances. So in practice, there is that protection afforded to both. Now, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs informs me that one of the alleged assailants is the husband of the consular official. But the 2009, if I’m not mistaken, consular affords the same diplomatic immunity the same.

What are the things that I still want to know? Obviously, I’m curious as to how they’ve managed to procure firearms for foreigners in this country, and even our own countrymen are supposed to be subject to very stringent requirements.

That firearm, in particular, in the coincidence of it being the same model, by the same brand, and with the same serial number, makes me wonder what portion of that is coincidence and what portion of that is deliberate. That is actually a task that the PNP is actually undertaking right now to determine which of which is the original or if neither were original. I already communicated to the chief PNP [that] corrective actions that have to be undertaken.

If Filipinos were involved, we would make proper representations that—we would try to extract justice for our countrymen. The issue of diplomatic immunity is not unique to the Philippines. When I was living in Boston, I think one of the perpetual topics on a slow news day was the amount of unpaid traffic tickets by various diplomatic officials especially at the UN.

Now, there is difficulty in saying they were whisked away in all of that. If the same situation happened to our diplomats, anywhere else, we would want to have the same treatment done to our diplomats. Any limitations to their activities removes their ability to perform their functions. So like with anything made by man, it’s not perfect, but at the same time, all the participants, whether as alleged assailants and the victims were all of a nationality, a singluar nationality, therefore, we trust that justice will be served under their own system of laws and judicial processes.

Robles: How do you feel about the way the Chinese government handled it?

Aquino: They were quite professional. They issued the appropriate forms whether it’s the diplomatic notes. They adhered to all of the agreements without changing any of the rules.

Robles: Do you have a similar consular agreement with other foreign countries or is this unique? The 2009 consular agreement with the Philippines…

Aquino: I’m just getting the data. There are some other consular agreements that we have.

Robles: Like with what countries?

Aquino: Besides China? Sorry, I don’t have that data with me right now.

Robles: It’s about the Data Privacy Act. In 2012, you signed the Data Privacy Act. Last month, I was shocked to find out I could no longer research at the Securities and Exchange Commission using the reverse search function of the SEC database in order to verify the corporations to a certain politician in office. This simply means if I type someone’s name, a list of corporations where that name has shares shows up. But it is still up to me to verify if that is the person I’m looking for. It’s quite tedious, I can assure you, and expensive.   

I was told I could no longer do it since it violated the Data Privacy Act. SEC Chair Herbosa kindly met with me to go with the SEC legal counsel so I could request in behalf of journalists and researchers that this function be made available to journalists and researchers because under the Data Privacy Act, there is an exemption that this act does not apply to “personal information processed for journalistic, artistic, literary, or research purposes.”

This was the method I used to verify the corporations of Chief Justice Renato Corona. The PCIJ used the reverse function to look at President Joseph Estrada’s various companies.

Chairperson Herbosa also indicated to me they do not know how long they could continue allowing the public to access the incorporation papers of companies because this too may be in violation of the Data Privacy Act since the computer data provided could have been processed. This means potential investors would not even be able to scrutinize a company asking for their money if it does not have prior consent.

Chairman Herbosa and the legal counsel told me they would seek a legal opinion from the Office of the President, from your office. It is for this reason I’m raising the following questions:

Don’t you think that it will be embarrassing for your administration to end on a note where it’s going to officially deny information to the public, information that would make it possible to expose corrupt officials? Does the reverse search violate the Data Privacy Act? Does looking at corporate disclosure of corporations violate the Data Privacy Act?

Aquino: The comment by the SEC Chair, “We’ll ask the Office of the President to render a legal opinion,” normally it’s the secretary of justice who renders the legal opinion.

Robles: That’s what they told me. That’s what their legal counsel specifically told me.

Aquino: Especially since this President is not a lawyer, he’s not capable of giving legal advice. But having said that, [the] submissions—apart from proprietary facets—are supposed to be part and parcel of the public record. I will have to study have to study—I have to be honest with you, I don’t think understand what the reverse search function means. I’m not a tech—but let me study that whole matter. But the general principle should be information—It’s actually enshrined in the Constitution, information as to… can I cite a particular provision. Article three, the Bill of Rights… the right of people to information so that they can—I’m paraphrasing—intelligently decide on any issue will always be respected.

So perhaps it’s just a teething problem with the implementing rules and regulations of that particular law. It’s Section 7 of Article 3: the right of people to information on matters… so the public concern shall be recognized. So, having access to ownership of companies submitted to the SEC should not be… the right to be able to determine who owns what should not be impinged upon. But I will have to check with the Secretary of Justice to put it into proper legalese.

Robles: Can you give us a definite timeframe, Sir? Because the elections are coming and I’m sure a lot of journalists—

Aquino: But Raissa, I like to answer you honestly. To be honest, this is the first time I’ve heard of that problem. Then I will task the Secretary of Justice to study that particular matter and then I will give them a deadline and come up with a correct study. They will have to utilize the proper time. We will expedite. But again, at this point in time, and speak truthfully that you can expect redress within a week or two weeks, I cannot state that. It has to be basis assessment.

Robles: This is the last time you’re going to appear here so I would like to have this opportunity to ask you, who do you think masterminded the murder of your father? Who do you believe was behind it? Who shot him?

Aquino: I have answered that question several times before. And as a former member of the legislature—and now as the Chief Executor of the Law—I have to be very careful about how to answer this. But the bottomline is, there was a mode of governance existing in our country then that allowed such a thing to happen. And it was the principal author of that mode of governance of turning us into a dictatorship where only one person’s interest and one group’s interest mattered, and everybody else’s did not. Where everybody’s rights were at the behest of the ruling entity at that point in time.

So, possibly one way of saying it is: Somebody allowed such a situation to happen, and I think that’s the least that I can say. The most obvious is somebody allowed it to happen or let the situation develop that led to this situation.

Robles: You do not have any names, Sir?

Aquino: For instance, let me be very specific: President Marcos is alleged to have been unconscious at that point in time. He was supposed to have had an operation that did not go well. The person is dead. I was taught by my parents not to speak ill of the dead.

Certain key players after the Agrava Fact-Finding Commission managed to leave the country and never returned, allegedly they’ve changed names. You need these people to be able to produce testimonial evidence in court. One does not want to accuse anybody without the necessary evidence. We want to be able to say that we really are different from them. So I have to be very careful about protecting their rights when they were very cavalier about affording us any of our rights.

So, having said all of that, there’s also the idea of the prescriptive period. Some lawyers have told me that it’s a 20-year period that you are able to bring the accused before the bars of justice, beyond that you can no longer file any particular case.

Robles: So it wouldn’t matter if you got to know who you thought killed him? If we got to know—the public.

Aquino: Of course, one is tempted to say that at least you have this particular footnote in history. You have this particular waypoint in history. But the sad reality is even people like Hitler have their revisionists. There’s some quarters that talk about the holocaust as if it didn’t happen. So even that is not a certainty. But what we can do is… the Human Rights Compensation Bill. I think at the end of the day, the only thing that has been said is at one point in time, this government, or a Philippine government, set up at the suffrage of its people became its oppressor as opposed to its protector and servant.

So that is the focus. Document all of these human rights abuses that happened as a matter of state policy during those dark days. Leave it for future generations to study what transpired in the hope that it can be avoided down the line.

Robles: With the over 70,000 claims before the Human Rights Claims Board, do you think anybody should should apologize—the government, the military—to the victims?

Aquino: The law by itself is already a recognition. Let me restate that at one point in time, a government of the Philippines oppressed its people, that’s why there is need to compensate all of the victims. This is an admission by the state that at one point in time, the state had.

CCTV News: Do you feel the Marcoses have something to apologize for? I think that is the question that a lot of people are asking right now.

Aquino: I have said that time and again [for] so many decades. Yes. The reverse is, what if the children… I’m also on the belief that you shouldn’t visit the sins of the parents on the children. So they embarked on a political career. The start of a solution is the admission of the problem, the correct identification of the problem. If they said, “We erred. Se had this opportunity to turn this country great as our father promised, it didn’t happen. We apologize, we want to make amends.” That I think would have been very, very acceptable. We are a forgiving people as a general rule.

But we have statements that there’s nothing to apologize for. I don’t even have to go beyond our household, and I’m not just talking about my father, my mother, or my sisters who were subjected to so many things. But also even the household employees.

I had a governess who took care of me and who left our employ two years before Martial Law was proclaimed. She was arrested three times, the last one she was six months pregnant.  To compound it, they also arrested the husband who was our former driver who was also no longer in our employ in an attempt to make them witnesses. So you had both. That family didn’t have the wherewithal to earn a livelihood because they were both incarcerated. And what was their only crime? They served in our household previous to Martial Law, and so many others.

So if there’s a denial of what happened, is there also a statement that there is no recognition that things have to be corrected down the line. And therefore, is there a promise that there will be repetition of the same? Those are questions.

CCTV News: It’s less than two weeks before the anniversary of typhoon Haiyan or typhoon Yolanda, and a few weeks ago, there was an open letter addressed to you by survivors of typhoon Yolanda and there were two major concerns in that letter: One is the sea wall, that is already being constructed right now along the coastline of Tacloban all the way to neighboring areas. They say thousands of families who are still living in that coastline are going to be affected. So what is the plan of the government given that there are still a lot of families that are still in bunkhouses and temporary shelters that cannot be moved to permanent shelters.

Aquino: I assume you talking about the road dike from Tacloban to Palo in Leyte? When you look at the map of this portion of Leyte and adjacent province of Samar, near the San Juanico Bridge, you will find what looks like a cove but is actually separated by a small body of water. Now, if you have a storm surge and the study was, 2005 probably or 2008, [a] study by I think it was AusAID who came up with the study, a storm surge will inundate—it showed a flood map of that area, primary amongst them was the airport. It was about a third or half of the peninsula where the airport is situated will be flooded. Unfortunately, it’s that portion where the airport actually is. So the ability to come in with aircraft to render first response is already hampered.

Now, the whole concept of the road dike is to move all of these communities that are by the seashore to beyond the road dike which will be four meters above sea level to afford them the necessary protection assuming a new storm surge comes in. Now, that particular topographical feature, in Haiyan or Yolanda, you had the initial storm surge that was transiting towards that area that looks like a cove which could not accommodate the volumes involved which induce a secondary wave or a rebound, so that the whole coastline was subjected to two wave fronts. And you wanna avoid… it is conceivable that this can happen again.

Therefore, when we say build up better, then you have to have communities that are sheltered for something that has already transpired which indicates a possibility that it can happen again. Hence, the concept again is to get them from the shore to beyond the road dike, and the dike becomes the natural protection or their protection against further storm surges.

CCTV News: I think they’re not opposed to the project. But the question is, where are they going to go because they’re not sure if there’s a resettlement area for them, given that there are still a lot of other families in bunkhouses that will be first in line to go to these permanent houses.

Aquino: The whole plan is to move at-risk communities especially in that particular area beyond this road dike. There are certain nuisances, the Tacloban portion and the Palo portion. In a sense, we really have to partner, and we have been partner[ed] with local government units and

the degree of cooperation seriously impacts our ability to deliver. We may have the resources to build the houses. Then we need the cooperation of the zoning—or the local government unit—to be able to setup these houses. Sometimes they are the ones who already have the land, if they would afford us the land whether as a partner or to sell us the land, then we could make these communities that much—we can set it up that much faster.

But if there is no assistance whatsoever, then we have to go through so many processes that are really very lengthy. For instance, the expropriation, which results in litigation which lasts god knows how long. That hampers our ability to move the families.

CCTV News: Since you mentioned that, the other question in the letter was, what’s taking so long? All these families who signed in that letter are asking when can they move, when can they leave their temporary shelters?

Aquino: Haiyan was really devastating, 44 of the 81 provinces, just ensuring their survival, number one, and ensuring that there will be no outbreak of diseases for the… about 20 million Filipinos. That was a tremendous challenge, especially since all of the other alternatives were very far from Leyte, Samar, and other areas… Tacloban. Having said that, we’d expected that there will be commonality of purpose. For instance, I won’t mention the LGU, we were promised… correct me if I’m wrong, Haiyan, I think, struck Friday, I was there by Sunday. And Sunday, our Department of Public Works and Highways said, we are ready to construct the bunkhouses. The city administration, then, of Tacloban told us that they had 30 hectares that they could lend to us for this purpose. I’ll go back a week later, not a single inch of that 30 hectares was afforded to us. We were tasked to clear all of the roads, including city municipal roads. And we said, no problem. Again, DPWH, MMDA, also asked where can we dump all of these debris that was on the roads? And they were responded to by the city government to dump it anywhere that there is an open space, only to have the owner of the land come up and say, why are you dumping it all in my land?

We were criticized for not burying the dead quickly. Of course the first priority was to take care of the living. But there was also an agreement to ask the memorial park in that area to allow us a temporary burial for all of these people. That I think also did not materialize.

So the point is, I’m sure of Guiuan in Samar that has already [had] their communities being relocated. I’m sure that there are so many other places that are being relocated. But if I can just afford you a list of timetables for the rest of the activities.

And, unfortunately for whatever reason, the open letter, if it was addressed to me, never got to me, and I never saw it. Not in any paper, not in any media that I managed to see. But we will afford you that list.

Marianne Dardard, Radio France Internationale: About the Paris Summit on Climate Change, will you attend and according to you, what could be the conditions to reach an agreement and what will be the worst case scenario?

Aquino: Well, the worst case scenario is that there’s no agreement. And if we have no agreement, we can perpetuate, if not, worsen the current situation which leads to the ravages of global climate change. So the goal is that there are formed commitments that will be adhered to by everybody. Perhaps the minimum expectation is those who will make commitments will not make their commitments conditional, that they will do even in the absence of counterparty commitment from others. That is, of course, a dream. And hopefully it will be a dream that’s realized.

Will I be attending? We’re still finalizing the preparations on whether or not I personally will attend or there will be another leader from the high-delegation meeting. The challenge is of course, we have to contend with one of the ravages, El Niño. Will it be as severe as being predicted by the weather bureau at this point in time? Will there be issues of water availability anywhere in the country? Are there corresponding power outages? We’ll have a better picture as we get closer and closer to the main or the point in time when El Niño’s effects will be peaking which is December, January, and February. So we’re hoping that we will be able to address these issues so that we can join the CAP 21 activities in Paris.

Dardard: You’ve done a lot to fight corruption. What is your opinion on political dynasties because there is still this pending bill Congress?

Aquino: In the last State of the Nation Address I did ask Congress to pass this anti-dynasty measure. I’ve changed my position whereas before, there should be equality of rights for all. I do recognize that there is that uniqueness prevailing in the country that can lead to not just a bad situation, the bad situations inducing even worse situations.

So I did ask Congress, and we will press but again, if the follow-up question is: Can I guarantee passage? There are something like 25 measures that we have asked Congress to pass as priority measures. I’ve highlighted the BBL, I’ve highlighted the fiscal rationalization, the pension, and the others are equally important. So it does become difficult when I ask the legislature to pass all of them and plus please add also these others, etc. etc. So we will have to request from Congress to pass the measures in the order or priority of the most urgent need at this point in time. And I’d like to stress, for the record, that the anti-dynasty measure is also a priority. But there are so many and the most immediate need for me right now is the BBL passage.

Dario Agnote, Kyodo News: Good morning, Mr. President. Do you have any idea at this point if the patrol by the US Navy in the South China Sea near Subic and Mischief reef has already occurred? And what kind of information do you get from the US military on this particular development?

Aquino: We have no information at this point in time yet. The question smacks of operational details which I am normally loathe to divulge.

Agnote: When do you expect to get information, particularly with regard to this operation or patrol?

Aquino: One would assume that at least at the point in time of conclusion of the exercise. We are improving our own systems for surveillance. We have the National Coast Watch System but we’re also getting platforms to have our own newer aerial platforms to be able to guide our territory better.

Agnote: In your statement earlier you said that the Philippines was not formally informed about this particular operation. So I was wondering what happened? I mean, are they not supposed to coordinate with us since Mischief reef is within the 200-nautical miles of the Philippines? And what information did you get prior to this one?

Aquino: I stand to be corrected, but if it is beyond the 12 nautical mile limit, that is beyond territorial waters. That is freedom of passage for anybody beyond that. The exclusive economic zone aspect would have to be with exploitation of the resources or like fishing, for instance.

Agnote: So far, this information you are getting is only from media reports?

Aquino: The point is so long as they do not violate our national territory, which means that they fail to inform us they are entering our territorial waters, then I don’t think we have an issue.

Agnote: Thanks and good luck with your retirement.  

Tabuñar:  What will you miss most when you leave office?

Aquino: Miss most?

Tabuñar:  Yes.

Aquino: Maniwala ba kayo if I’ll miss meeting with the media? [Laughter] But seriously, especially when we’re in the legislature, when we’re in the opposition. It seems that there were so many things that were patently right. And it was so difficult to have the right things done. It seemed like—we really felt like Don Quixote tilting at windmills no matter what we did. We couldn’t stop the wrongs from happening. There were times that we were tempted to lose hope and feel that this is such a useless activity.

Being in the administration now—or being the administration now—enables us to really promote ideas that we believe will help our countrymen’s lot in life. The portion that I will miss is the idea that [if] there is something’s wrong, I can call up that concerned entity/agency and have corrective actions done right away. But I think that’s, of course… my mother used to say she missed the perks: having air wing devoted to whisking away from here to there.

But my problem is I have access to, not only all the nicest places in this country but also get an access to other worthwhile tourist places around the world. But I always get about a minute or two minutes to appreciate whatever it was. It’s not really… I can’t even say that I have the Bora experience like most Filipinos have had. I’ve been to Boracay for a total of—I think it was an hour and ten minutes. And most of that was in Caticlan.

I guess in just being able to stretch out and not feel that every the problem of every Filipino within and without our borders should have been dealt with the day before. It’s something I will not miss.

Tabuñar: All in all, it was a good ride, yeah?

Aquino: I think I’d like to see the results in the next year’s elections which we have already labeled as a referendum of what we have done in the past years of our administration.

Tabuñar: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Aquino: Thank you.