Press Release
February 6, 2020

Coronavirus | NGCP | VFA


Q: Let's start with the novel coronavirus. Third case is a 60-year old woman from Wuhan. I feel this is a little tricky because she already left the country so she arrived in January 21 from Wuhan to Cebu to Bohol. She had herself checked in a hospital and let her out then found out that she's positive of the virus. How do we address situations like this?

SEN WIN: Well, I think my initial reaction is capability and I was listening at the reports of the DOH. Apparently, for the third one, this person tested negative then tested positive. This goes to show that we don't have this capability yet to determine positively and quickly, the most important here is the pace and speed because that will also dictate how fast we can dictate and how fast we can track the people who were in contact with this person. This goes to show that we lack capability and we need to show invest in capability and also the process whenever this type of epidemic or pandemic will happen later on.

Q: In the Senate hearing, it was found out that then that two days ago, 17% of the 300 plus were contacted. That's a small percentage so you have your co-senators saying na medyo mabagal ang DOH dito.

SEN WIN: In this particular case, this is a very technical and medical case, and the President will rely on medical experts to advise him and this was exploding during December to early part of January. The DOH should have already flagged the President because if you look at statistics, in 2019, we have close to two million Chinese tourists entering the country. This is because of the increase in bilateral relationships with China and the Philippines. Tourism is growing and you have the POGO also growing. In other words, two million Chinese are coming in the Philippines. Without curving that, we have an influx of Chinese from all over China coming into the Philippines. Meaning that DOH should have been prudent. This has already been coming and this has becoming a national or a global crisis. DOH should have advised the President. Siguro unahin muna natin to curve the flights or to stop the flights from Wuhan or Hubei and later on it still becoming an issue, stop the flights from China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Q: So you feel like nagkulang ang DOH sa pag-alalay sa Pangulo?

SEN WIN: The President is not a doctor. He will rely on experts on this particular case because this is very technical and very medical in nature. So the DOH should have been prudent. Now that we have identified three people, it is very difficult to track people who have been in contact with these persons especially if we have this person was in three flights, Manila to Cebu going to Dumaguete to Manila. So we are talking about 600 passengers. Locating 600 passengers is no easy fit because these people are all over the country. Knowing our system, we don't have national ID system in place. It is very difficult to track them. It will take time but then again, this should have not happened.

Q: Do you actually think the DOH was on top of this? Why? I say that, because they were saying that the airlines weren't cooperating.

SEN WIN: This should have not happened. We should have taken precautionary measures, it's either reducing the flights or banning flights from China.

Q: Did you call for that before, though? When?

SEN WIN: I did. The first instance that we had coronavirus in the country.

Q: So the female, that was January 30. However, it was February 1 when they banned the flights.

SEN WIN: But then again, we have to rely on experts. In fact, in the medical field, this is actually a very specialized field. Now this type of occurrences has becoming quite often. We had SARS, Mers-CoV, H1N1 virus. It goes to show that our capability needs to be strengthened.

Q: How would you describe the way the DOH is handling the situation? Kulang ho ba?

SEN WIN: I'll divide this into two processes. The first one is the prevention. Bakit nakapasok itong virus na ito sa atin considering, again, we have two million Chinese coming in the country. And this is a large amount of warm bodies coming in the country so this should have been red-flagged already within the DOH system. Second, the response. Nangyari na yan dito and the first step should be immediate travel ban to curve the influx of potential carriers in the country. So in short, the prevention, I really feel that we were slow in doing so. In this case, it is the responsibility of the DOH to advise the President. In the response, we were also slow in doing so because it took us time to ban the flights. Again, these are all technical terms and experts should be listened to, even specialize experts in the medical field and the President should be advised accordingly.

Q: So let us move forward, I wanna go back just very briefly to contact tracing.

SEN WIN: It is very difficult. Dapat hindi na umabot doon eh because once it enters into the country, tracing all 600 passengers or more is a very difficult task. We live in an island, we are an archipelagic country and it is very difficult to track them.

Q: That's why I bring up the third woman who is positive of the nCoV who's back now in China. If you look at it, she arrived in January 21 and again, se tested negative and when she left, it was found out that she's positive. Now, we will have to go back to those passengers who were with her in Wuhan to Cebu.

SEN WIN: Correct. In this time of occurrences, I don't claim to be an expert but from what I observed all over the world and I think when SARS and Mers came in, I was a local government official at that time. We were trying too to simulate the situation, paano kung nangyari ito sa amin, how do we track all of these people? It is very difficult that is why the strategy here is to prevent carriers to come in especially when this type of virus is already spreading like wildfire in other countries.

Q: But do you think we have the capability to contact trace?

SEN WIN: We have the capability but it takes time because if you look at it, just do it yourself--the addresses, you have to validate whether they live there and you're not even sure if they put in the right addresses. There is no penalty if you don't put the right address. If they don't put the cell number, it is hard for us to contact this person and just contacting one family to the other is very difficult.

Q: So it is difficult to trace these people?

SEN WIN: Yes, it is very difficult so the strategy here is really to prevent it. Because once it hits here, the amount of time, effort and resources to track all of them, it will take time.


Q: So prevention now. You are also calling on schools to tighten security, protocols on schools. What should schools be doing because even in the past, you already have schools suspending on their own without even then the secretary knowing about it?

SEN WIN: Well, unofficially, we have half a million POGO workers here so if these workers come here and bring their families, their kids go to school. So the schools need to make sure that they know their students, they know where they are from and implement preventive measures. I have to commend the Chinese schools for being ahead of the preventive measures. They suspended classes for a week, two weeks before first coronavirus indication so I commend them. They are very conscious of their students, they are very conscious where they students came from.

Q: In fact, they went a step further because it was reported that it was Uno High School and Chiang Kai Shek--?

SEN WIN: Correct, all the Chinese schools in that corridor.

Q: Ang maganda pa dun Senator is, I think it was Uno who said that those who came from countries infected with the virus should do self-quarantine.

SEN WIN: Correct, that's a protocol. But what's the admirable part there was they were conscious of what's happening. They did not wait for the government to tell them what to do.

Q: And you support that?

SEN WIN: I support that. That's proactiveness.

Q: They don't need to wait for the DOH to tell them.

SEN WIN: Correct. Some of the schools suspended. In fact, some of the airlines suspended flights ahead of the government's declaration. In fairness, some of the foreign airlines also cancelled their flights from China. So a lot of private companies were already very conscious on doing this. The private sector should be equally conscious of what's happening, and they could implement preventive measures to prevent the spreading in their own organization.


Q: There's a problem on Filipinos here in Manila who want to go back to Hong Kong. Gusto nilang ipagpatuloy ang trabaho nila sa Hong Kong. May mga kababayan din tayong nasa Macau na gusto nang umuwi. There's a lot of complications there. What's a good solution because they are appealing for some flights?

SEN WIN: That is where the DFA will play a heavy role. In fact, the DFA made a lot of pronouncements in the early part of this year, middle part of January in terms of preparation. I remember, as soon as America declared that they will bring home a lot of their constituents from Wuhan, the DFA also responded the same. It is up to our consulate in our embassies to make sure that our OFWs are well-taken care of in that area, to give them financial assistance or assistance for them to come back home, and to also implement quarantine in their area. Those OFWs who are clear, they should be allowed to come back home. The DFA should also be ready too charter flights to bring them back. In this case, the DFA has been quite responsive. In fact, there were regular updates no less than from our DFA Secretary who loves to tweet so we get regular real time updates on what the DFA is doing.

Q: You seem to be satisfied to that. If I'm not mistaken, the lockdown in Wuhan happened in January 21 or 22. 14 days later, February 5, we are finally bringing back our kababayans from Wuhan. There are 40 of them who's supposed to arrive this Saturday. So you feel that they've been on top of the situation?

SEN WIN: The most important part here is information, the DFA has been constantly giving information to the general public on who to call, what to do and the tracking also of our kababayan in Wuhan and the rest of China. The consulate and embassies, from what I read on Twitter and social media, has been quite active in giving information so proactiveness from the DFA is very important because we want to know how to respond and where to go.


Q: We need to talk about the NGCP. The Energy Committee, which you have, found grounds to possibly: one, to review; two, to possibly revoke the franchise of the NGCP. Just a summary Senator, please tell us why.

SEN WIN: Let's put this on context first. Why is the national transmission grid important to all of us? This is the only one of its kind. Isa lang ito sa buong bansa natin. It transmits electricity to Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao so if something happens to our grid, we have no electricity. We all know that we cannot live any second without electricity. Our economy will collapse without electricity. So it is important that our electricity grid-- our transmission lines and transmission grids are reliable and especially secure in this day and age. Cyber terrorism and cyber security is clearly in present danger. It happened in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016 where hackers attack their grid and collapse their transmission lines and widespread blackouts happened in Ukraine. It can happen to us. It can be implemented by the state actors or non-state actors. These are the cyber terrorism, so to speak. So importante ang integrity at security ng grid natin.

Our Constitution plays safeguards there. One of which, 60% should be owned by Filipinos. Meaning, Filipinos should own this national grid. Second, Filipinos should maintain and manage executive position and this is where the problem happened. During the hearing, Senator Gordon pointed out that a certain Wen Bo signed contracts in behalf of the national grid as their Chief Technical Officer, which is the second highest-ranking official in NGCP.

Q: SIya yung number two boss?

SEN WIN: Yes. At hindi lang ordinaryong number two, it controls operations in maintenance in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Hindi lang supporting role. This is an operation role. So meaning, he can dictate the operations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and all of its activities there. The Constitution is very clear, management and executive positions should be with the Filipinos. So the first question is, bakit pinayagan ng local shareholders na isang foreigner will occupy the second-highest position in NGCP.

Q: But how sure are you that he's a foreigner?

SEN WIN: Because we have contracts that he signed and they admitted on record, we asked them, we didn't even point out the nationality, we asked them, did you allow the foreigner to occupy the second highest position in NGCP, at any point of your concessionaire agreement which started in 2009 and the answer was an affirmative. So this is clearly a violation of the Constitution and when Congress enacted the franchise, the basis is the Constitution. So Congress gave the franchise, one of the basis of the franchise is the Constitution.

Q: You're right, section 11 article 12 of the 1987 Constitution, provided that all Executive, Managing Officers of such corporations and associations must be citizen of the Philippines. So here's my question Senator, at the beginning of that Senate hearing, heading that Senate hearing, Senator Gordon said there is a Wenbo that signed, they said yes, at some point did this, if you said it is clear violation, why are you just threatening, you have until February 10 to allow the DOE to audit you? Why?

SEN WIN: There is also a mechanism there where government can exercise a check and balance rule, of course, NGCP said they are doing their job, they have all these cyber security projects but that's from their point of view. Government cannot validate and government, since 2009 haven't validated any of the projects that they have mentioned because there are no inspection that happened ever since--2009 when they started. Meaning government should exercise check and balance role and part of it is the validation process, to look at the documents, to look at the records, to talk to the NGCP employees, that's part of the concession agreement. Meaning, government should be playing its role as the check and balance mechanism of this transmission grid. The transmission again, is no ordinary business, this is not a small business, this is a huge monopoly business-- Imbued with national security interest. Yung ang pinaka mahalaga, its one of its kind, it's a monopoly of our country. So we have to treat it with extra care, with extra diligence and government should exercises its check and balance to ensure that the grid is secure and protected.

Q: So when is the inspection?

SEN WIN: Well we gave them until Feb. 10 Monday to answer the committee because I know for a fact that they have to talk to their board, they have to talk to their management but this is government's exercising its check and balance and DOE is the alter-ego of the President and the President Chairs the National Security Council (NSC) so meaning in the context of national security the President can delegate powers and DOE since it's the technical arm and the general supervisor of the power system or the power industry it's the DOE role to make sure the grid is protected.

Q: But in their franchise agreement does it not state that the ERC is the who's supposed to look into it and not the DOE, is that their concern?

SEN WIN: In the concession agreement there were a lot of provisions there that would allow government to inspect. ERC when it comes to rates, pricing, TransCo and PSALM when it comes to performance, when you say performance it's a very broad term, the integrity of the grid should be part of the inspection.

Q: The infrastructure (of the NGCP) its owned by the government? Which is TransCo? So you want the DOE to review it, not just a technical audit but also management audit, so if you see anomalies, what's next?

SEN WIN: The proper procedure is to go and conduct the audit, inspect the records, through DOE cause DOE has a technical capability and DOE can delegate its inspection process to TransCo who was previously the operator of this transmission line. So they have the engineers, they have the technical people and validate the records because in the concession agreement, TransCo is given the authority to validate the records, titignan natin yung record kung meron talagang violations for example in terms of personnel, in terms--

Q: So there is a violation?

SEN WIN: If there is a violation in the Constitution then there's grounds to revoke the franchise.

Q: And if you revoke who is going to run this?

SEN WIN: TransCo, babalik sa TransCo, TransCo has been running ever since and they have the technical capability. In fact TransCo technical capability remains in TransCo.

Q: The cyberattacks came out in the Senate hearing--

SEN WIN: Actually we were all surprised--

Q: You almost fell off your seat that they've been attacked 100 times?

SEN WIN: This is a real manifestation that we're vulnerable. It's not very clear where the attacks is coming from but it came as a surprise to all of us as we speak for being attacked and that people can cause havoc in our electricity grid. So government need to know all of this so that we will put measures in place to prevent and to protect our electricity. Even DICT didn't know about it, katabi nila DICT nagulat din sila.

Q: And I think your question was, where? And from whom?

SEN WIN: Correct. But without any details it's very difficult to analyze what's going and especially the experts, government experts such as the DICT should be consulted because DICT is the authority that will implement the cyber security strategy.


Q: VFA are you inclined to support the sentiments of the Senate, SP Sotto said, Sen. Drilon, Sen. Lacson, wanting a review of the VFA before its cancellation.

SEN WIN: I think the proper process is to review independently and objectively. Definitely there are a lot of issues in the VFA, for example, the issue of fairness, are we being treated fairly in the VFA? and the effectivity of the VFA. We've seen a lot of exercises, we've seen a lot of interoperability exercises but we don't know the effectivity of this and we need to know in the context of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) where the VFA is and how effective it is and what are the measurable goals in terms of its effectivity.

Q: So you are not inclined to cancel it? You want to review it?

SEN WIN: We have to review first. Admittedly there are things that we need to amend in order to make it fairer for our country and our countrymen and the process there is to review it independently and objectively.

Q: But was the cancellation of the Visa of Senator Bato Dela Rosa a good reason to review the VFA?

SEN WIN: it's a continuous review, in my point of view we have to continuously review all agreements not limited to VFA but also the EDCA and even the MTD in light of new technologies, new geopolitical scenarios we have to continuously review all these.

Q: How about the timing of the review? And the cancellation of Senator Bato?

SEN WIN: This should be treated separately in my point of view because the VFA has been there a long time ago and it needs to be reviewed and there was no review process so to speak and this is a perfect time to review it. In fact, today at 10 AM we will have a Senate hearing to review the VFA and to advise to recommend what to do next.

Q: Headed by Senator Koko Pimentel, Senator Win Gatchalian always a pleasure maraming Salamat.

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