Press Release
July 31, 2020

ANC: Matters of Fact interview of Sen. Win Gatchalian with Christian Esguerra on death penalty, COVID-19 response, Bayanihan 2 and telcos

Death Penalty

Q: why did you give your seat in the Justice and Human Rights Committee to accommodate Senator Dela Rosa?

SEN WIN: I can see Senator Dela Rosa's passion on tackling death penalty so to give him the opportunity to participate in the deliberations of the committee as well as to vote in the committee, I relinquished my membership in the Justice Committee.

Q: Can this be interpreted as something that is meant to push it further, meaning push it closer to being passed by the Senate?

SEN WIN: Not necessarily because the chairman of that committee is Senator Gordon and the chairman as we all know dictates the pace and proceedings in the committee. Chairman Gordon is still maintaining the chairmanship of the committee and he still wants to chair the committee when the time comes that we will hear the death penalty law.

Q: Are you in favor in reviving the death penalty in terms of drug traffickers?

SEN WIN: I filed a bill that will revive the death penalty but only exclusively for drug lords and my reasons for that is during my time as Mayor of Valenzuela, I have encountered a lot of cases wherein the drug lords are funding to protect drug syndicates, drug peddlers. In my view the root cause of the drug menace in our country is coming from drug lords. Looking at past experiences, even if drug lords get convicted and put in jail they still manage to conduct businesses so if they don't meet the death penalty we will have a difficult time curbing drugs in our communities.

Q: Given the criminal justice system, do you actually think they will focus solely on drug lords and not just small drug peddlers?

SEN WIN: That's why I particularly focused on the drug lords. Based on studies, our own research and also from my own investigation, when I was a Mayor it gave me a good perspective on how these illegal drug trade is being conducted from the drug lords all the way to our streets. In my view the drug lords are really the root cause of our drug menace in our country.

Q: Should this be a priority on whether we revive the death penalty given the other serious problems that we have now, the pandemic?

SEN WIN: From my research, looking at the deliberations during the past congresses and senate deliberations on the average a death penalty law will need around a year to a year and a half to be deliberated. During the privilege speech of Senator Dela Rosa, no less than the Senate President said it took them almost more than a year to come up with some form of voting on the death penalty law. So we can start the conversation, in fact the conversation already started a long time ago. We can then present our arguments for or against it. The deliberations would probably take a year or more than a year. By the time we vote hopefully the pandemic will be over.

COVID-19 response

Q: With the worsening health crisis here in the Philippines, what do you think of the adjustment, in reporting the data collection and reporting by the DOH?

SEN WIN: Two things, the virus is here to stay for a while until we find a vaccine and I can see even from the national level all the way to the local level that we're already doing everything we can to stop the spread of the virus but from our experience we cannot stop the spread of the virus we can only delay it, slow it down so that our health system can catch up and not be overwhelmed. Having said that, both national and local governments are already doing all the WHO protocols from contact tracing to testing to isolation but it's really difficult to balance. Nakita naman natin an ECQ is the best way to completely stop the spread of the virus but that's detrimental for our economy so it's really a very difficult balancing act and what's important right now is our hospitals will not get overwhelmed. That's why I've been lobbying and been pushing to create more field hospitals so that our patients will have space and get medical care.

Q: What do you think of the adjustment it seems like they want to make the figures look less?

SEN WIN: I was quite surprised, 38,000 recoveries in one day and our active cases from 50,000 dropped to 22,000. It was quite surprising from a layman standpoint but I also consulted our Senate doctor, I also consulted some public government health experts and to be fair to the DOH the global protocol now is after ten days, even after ten days if you do not exhibit symptoms anymore, you can be released and categorized as recovered. But that's actually a lot of debate right now even on the local level because sometimes the families are not comfortable to go home and say 'oh wala na kong COVID kasi lumagpas na ko ng ten days.' The best way still is to test and make sure they are negative, to make sure that they can bring home the certification to show that their families are negative. From the policy standpoint it's better to test at the end so that we will completely know that the recoveries are indeed negative from COVID.

Q: Policy, the data coming from DOH because that will dictate the course of the government's response?

SEN WIN: Correct. The data coming from the DOH is very important because that will dictate the decisions that we will be making from the legislative all the way to the executive branch especially the executive branch because they're the ones executing the policies and strategies to stop COVID. So it's important to be timely and have accurate information but all of the things that I've been telling the DOH and also telling the IATF is to automate the data gathering because as we speak right now, data gathering inputting is still manual. They gather data by physical presence and they send the data by email. If they can do that online or in the cloud that will be much accurate and much faster. There's a lot of things that need to be improved in terms of data gathering and data processing.

Bayanihan 2

Q: Are you satisfied with the figure, with the amount of the package, 140 billion pesos only?

SEN WIN: I'm not satisfied with it, its very small compared to other countries. Other countries are spending more in terms of response and stimulus. What's important right now we have to address hunger and people who are losing their jobs. As we speak, we're not addressing hunger in our country. We only released half of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), the second tranche and if this prolongs, we have to make sure there is food in the tables of our constituents. At the same time we are losing jobs. Companies are closing down, MSME's are closing down. We have to address them also so the 140 billion is definitely small. My own estimate we need about 530 billion in terms of SAP and in addressing unemployment here in our country.

Q: The other question is this, why did you settle for the 140 billion?

SEN WIN: Right now, it's a compromise but in the Bayanihan 2 it's stated there that any additional revenue or earning from the government should be channeled to response and stimulus activities for our economy. So any additional revenue, if our revenue starts to grow, and businesses will start flourishing again, then that additional revenue can be channeled to the stimulus and response program. That 530 billion that I proposed is only an additional 2% in our deficit. If we're targeting around 9% that's additional 11% to our deficit. Some countries that I have been tracking the deficit can go as high as 20% or even higher. What's important is our economic engine is functioning, na-pause lang siya ngayon because of the COVID but come 2021 we are projecting around 8% to even 9% economic growth and we can definitely pay the loans that will be incurred so that we can respond better and address our COVID problems better.

Q: What is a more realistic amount that can be hammered out in the bicam?

SEN WIN: We have to balance and the DOF is very strict in the 140 million cap but then again as a balance and as a compromise the Senate inserted a colatilla there wherein if revenue exceeds a certain point and we have added sources of revenue we can channel it to the response and the stimulus program. So we will be monitoring the revenue growth and what's important right now is spending on the right aspects. Like what I said earlier, let's go back to the basics, let's go back to the essentials of our constituents, that is food on the table for their families.

Q: What are the items that you are looking at in the GAA?

SEN WIN: Budget season is coming in so timing wise it's actually a good time to insert a lot of provisions on stimulus and also on social safety net programs. In the budget we will be looking at ways to stimulate the economy assuming that the vaccine will be available within the year. We have to make sure that we have money to buy the vaccine. My own estimate we will be needing approximately 230 billion to buy 100 million vaccines. If you look at the vaccine makers, six of them are entering already phase 3 and hopefully by November we will have some form of vaccine. We have to be ready with the money to buy because it's important that we have the financial capability to buy the vaccine in case it comes already.

Q: What do you think of the 1.3 trillion economic stimulus package?

SEN WIN: I think it's realistic in my own computation we can spend as high as 1.4 trillion that will reach to about 52% of our GDP. That's a manageable figure. Again some countries have raised it two times or three times compared to ours. We have managed our debt to GDP ratio quite well in the last 20 years going down to as low as 39% debt to GDP. At this time we need cash the most and additional funds, this is the best time to use the good management that we implemented in the last 20 years by increasing it to about 52%. I think we can go as high as 52% of our GDP and that's about 1.4 trillion. My proposal is half of that will go to SAP and in addressing unemployment.

Q: Have you articulated this to the DOF?

SEN WIN: We had a lot of meetings with the DOF. We also talked to the chair of our Finance Committee, Senator Angara about this but we have to find a middle ground because it's important to get this moving already. So we're trying to understand each other and of course at the end of the day what's important is to get this up and running so our constituents can be assisted but let me stress also that all of these funds, all of the support will be nothing if we do not execute it. Absorptive capacity is also very important and execution is very important. I mentioned earlier that the second tranche of the SAP is at less than 40%. If you ask me, we should have been given the third trance already or even the fourth. We cannot give eight thousand pesos a month and expect people to save all that 8,000 pesos. They have to buy food and medicine. If this prolongs, we have to make sure that we give them 8,000 pesos every month and on time or else people will suffer and go hungry. In the SWS self-rated survey, we have approximately 5.2 million families already going hungry. That's up from 3 million six months ago. We can see that hunger is worsening in our country and we have to address that, that's the most basic.

Q: and 7.3 million jobless Filipinos last April.

SEN WIN: Correct. And in the formal sector also, so those for example in tourism, in the manufacturing companies, MSMEs, these are the formal sector that are releasing, furloughing and even retrenching jobs because the economy is quite uncertain so we have to address that also at least in the meantime while the pandemic is here we have to make sure we're addressing the basic needs of our constituents in the short-term.

Q: Did you see a clear roadmap on how we're supposed to recover especially on the supposed pandemic future?

SEN WIN: I have identified approximately about 10 pieces of legislation that the President mentioned. He outlined several bills that will stimulate the economy and help us recover as quickly as possible. The CREATE bill was mentioned, there was of course the FIST bill which will unclog bank loans in the banking sector. These are very important bills that the President mentioned. I would have wanted to hear some sort of timetable and some form of numbers so that it can be concertized but definitely the policies for economic recoveries through those pieces of legislation are already laid for.


Q: the deadline set to improve their services, do you think it's reasonable and achievable?

SEN WIN: Definitely the problem here when it comes to mobile internet and mobile reach is the cell towers and by far if you look at developing nations they have three to four times more cell site towers. I understand in Vietnam they have 50,000 to 60,000 cell towers compared to our less than 15,000 cell towers here. I think

Both sides need to improve, the telco needs to invest in putting the infrastructure in place but at the same time the environment should be conducive. In the Ease of Doing Business Law or what we call the Anti-Red Tape Law there is a very specific provision there, people don't know this, there is a very specific provision that the Senate inserted last minute to help telcos put up cell towers. It's very specific there, the timeframe that the LGU's need to fulfill and give the permits. The LGU's, they need to give out the permit within seven days or else it's deemed approved already and even the home owners we're embedded in that Ease of Doing Business Law. As we all know yung mga homeowners din, they themselves are fighting to put up cell towers and this is a cause of delay. I know for a fact in some of the exclusive villages it's becoming a very personal issue to them to put up cell towers but if you don't put up that cell tower, it's not just the exclusive village that will be affected but the entire barangay. So my point of the matter is, the government needs to implement the Ease of Doing Business Law, it's already there and it's not being implemented. If you implement that, I'm calling on the Anti-Red Tape Council, if you implement that then you make it easier for the telcos to put up the cell towers cause it's already prescribed in the law. It is a shared responsibility because you have to make the environment conducive but as we speak I've talked to Mayor Rex, apparently the DILG has already issued guidelines on how to expedite putting up of cell towers. So things are moving and apparently the process is now even much faster, you have to give a permit inclusive of the subdivision concurrence within seven days.

Q: The other concern, it might spook investors because of the President's approach to telco companies which is seen as a shakedown especially with the third telco player set for a commercial rollout by March next year?

SEN WIN: We're all frustrated with the services of the telcos. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I'm very frustrated even here in our hometown. It's very difficult to get a good signal and we have drop calls almost every day. It's very frustrating because in this time of pandemic you want to have a strong signal and communicate clearly but that's not what is happening and it's been going on for many, many years and we have to take responsibility. Having said that, it's very hard for me to connect it to the third telco because my experience is also the same with what the President is experiencing and what the rest of our constituents are experiencing. It's the bad service, it's the poor signal and we need to improve on that especially going into what we call the better normal or the new normal in the next few decades.

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