Press Release
May 20, 2021

ANC's Matters of Fact with Christian Esgurra

Q: What do you make of this statement by Secretary Harry Roque who basically served notice to the opposition that you guys better watch out if this thing regarding vaccination, regarding herd immunity is achieved and if the Philippines gets or experiences a better Christmas, better be ready for 2022 campaign and elections?

SRH: My goodness! That should not be the subject of the Presidential spokesperson's warning whether to the opposition or any other group within the country. Yung mas magaling, totoong mas magaling na pandemic response is something that they should have started delivering to the Filipino people since last year since the start of the pandemic in March.

At better Christmas, di yan usapin ng opposition, o ng administration. It should be a better Christmas for the Filipino people. I don't know what great performance of the pandemic or the recession the Secretary is talking about because the numbers show how poorly the administration has done even in comparison to other administrations in our region, on both the health and economic fronts. And for him to say that the timeline is Christmas, a better Christmas, my gosh it is more than half a year from now, bakit hindi man lang sa... say August 30, National Heroes Day, bakit hindi sa Undas?

This pandemic has caused us so many lives. Why are they going to wait that long in order to reasonably achieve those targets of full vaccination and herd immunity kaya lalong namumuo ang suspicion na ginagamit, dinedelay ngayon ng administration at ginagamit ang national vaccination program para sa 2022 campaign nila and then now the Secretary is trying to shift the attention to the opposition. Wrong call, the ball is in their court.

Q: When you say somehow the rollout of more vaccines are being used perhaps in relation to the 2022 campaign, what exactly do you mean? Of course, this is all suspicion, a deliberate effort to delay this, and if true, this is inhumane.

SRH: Really inhumane, and it started as a suspicion but yung mga actuations ng administration so far ay tending to give more credence to that suspicion about a very cynical attitude on their part. Una na itong napakabagal pa rin at patsi-patsing rollout ng vaccination program when really government should step up, complete and do it well, the vaccination program for all Filipinos.

The vaccines are meant to save lives not to buy votes. Hirap ang mamamayang Pilipino, nagkakasakit, gutom e bakit pamumulitika pa ang patuloy na pinapakain sa kanila. That's why I called on the Secretary and the administration to get back to work so that the poor performance on the one hand tapos yung mga ganitong pinagsasabi would tend to give credence to that very cynical approach of government regarding its own vaccination program.

Q: I'm reviewing the quote or statement coming from Secretary Harry Roque. And it indicates that it is also in anticipation for the possibility of the opposition or the likelihood that the opposition including yourself would use this as a main campaign issue in 2022. Will this be front and center of the campaign? For instance in your case?

SRH: There's no need to 'use' this issue at all. It is already front and center not just of any campaign next year but of the reality of Filipino people's lives even today even since a year ago. Simula pa lang ng pandemya we called on the administration to implement mass testing, contact tracing, quarantine or isolation treatment and now the fifth live-saving step in the over-all covid response which should be the vaccination.

At palagay ko, di lang opposition, non-opposition, administration ang nakakapansin sa suffering ng Filipino people dahil sa napakahinang, palpak na COVID response ng administration. This is a concern for our health and our lives that transcends political boundaries.

Kaya walang kailangang magsabi na 'o campaign issue ito o political issue lang ito', hindi. This is a life and death issue and in any political exercise, including elections, that will already be front and center of the attention of the citizens or of the voters. At dapat lang, issue of accountability yan, issue of performance yan.

Q: Two things regarding this particular issue. Number one, do you honestly think that the questionable or inadequate government response to the pandemic so far is ticking to President Duterte that he is personally getting infected, cause according to the survey, it is not. And Number 2, do you think that this pandemic response by President Duterte's administration would actually affect the candidates that he would be endorsing in 2022 because again, President Duterte is not the candidate in 2022.

SRH: It's true he's not the candidate in 2022, hindi yung pangalan niya ang nasa balota. Pero palagay ko, this will be a make or break issue para sa mga kandidato o para sa slate ni Presidente. Totoo, as of this day, hindi pa 100% dumidikit kay Presidente yung accountability for this poor and patchy pandemic response but as the days go by, no matter how hard this administration works para iligtas siya sa accountability, I think people will come closer and closer to that inevitable conclusion na kung sino ang pinaka nasa posisyon, pinaka may malaking kapangyarihan, pinaka may maraming resources para dapat sa pandemic response, that is none other than the President kaya ika nga, the buck stops with him. The ultimate accountability lies with him. Kahit sa mga tao, mga alter ego nila, kahit yung IATF na inatasan to conduct this pandemic response.

And the election I believe is some kind of a referendum sa over-all performance ng kanyang administrasyon. At ano yung pinakamalaking issue na hinarap nito so far. That, I think, will influence the citizens' opinion kahit sa mga kandidato ni presidente.

Q: Speaking of the Duterte administration's response to the pandemic, one big issue, of course,is the vaccination. If you ask them of course they will say, we have to deal with the slow arrival of the vaccines because all over the world, that is a problem, vaccine supply. But in this case, in the Philippines, they are tricking down and this is also affecting the rollout of vaccine but another issue affecting that is hesitancy regarding brand. What do you think of this new policy by the DOH, not to announce anymore whatever brand the vaccines that would be administered to people would be? Do you think this is a good idea to address vaccine hesitancy?

SRH: It doesn't address vaccine hesitancy head on bagama't nirerespeto ko matagal na si Usec Cabotaje, nag-aalala lang ako na pag hindi alam ng ating mga kababayan what vaccine they are lining up for sa mga LGUs, baka lalong magdalawang-isip lalo na't sinabi naman ng IATF sa simula that they are working on various vaccine platforms dahil ayon mismo sa DOH at mga healthcare providers natin, different vaccines ang bagay sa iba't ibang sektor depende sa health status. I think the DOH, the IATF will be hearing from public about this right on the ground doon sa mga LGU vaccination sites in the coming days

And there are other issues na kailangang i-resolve din ng DOH regarding vaccine hesitancy, kailangan pa rin ng isang malawak, comprehensive na information campaign para i-equip ang bawat mamamayan to make that informed choice about being vaccinated at syempre, ang walang kamatayang hindi pa nare-resolve ano ba talaga yung kwentong nangyari sa dengvaxia that has to be laid to rest to the satisfaction of the public also para manumbalik ang tiwala ng Pilipino sa vaccination program.

Q: A big part of this of course is public messaging, especially coming from the government. But, again, given the situation we are in now, can we afford to choose whatever vaccines that would be administered to us? Unless of course you're President Duterte, who can of course say he prefers Sinopharm and other politicians. For the general public, given the realities? Can we afford to make choices?

SRH: Yes, of course. The other question is: can we afford NOT to have a choice? Nakikinig din naman ako dun sa mensahe na the best vaccine is the one in our arm, or the one that is available. And to a certain degree, I would agree with that. Pero siyempre, yung ibang mga kababayan natin, halimbawa, may comorbidities o may partikular na ibang demographics, baka may payo din sila nung kanilang doctor or ibang healthcare worker about which vaccines are better or not as good for them, given their health status.

So, I think tamang balanse sana mai-offer ng DOH at IATF sa ating mga mamamayan. The floor should be basic vaccine confidence and that includes confidence sa ating mga health authorities na binibigay nila sa atin ang kumpleto at tamang mga impormasyon for our choice, and then a reasonable range of choices of vaccines, kung saan makakahanap ang bawat Pilipino ng isa o ilan na alam niya, kampante siya, ay hiyang sa kanya, given his or her health status.

Q: Again, this goes back to public messaging. That the DOH for instance needs to properly explain to the public, which particular vaccines would work for specific parts of a demographics or population- for the elderly, for the general population for instance, with no comorbidities. Don't you think also a big part of this is also affected by impressions that certain people are getting favored when it comes to certain brands? That there are certain segments of the population that seem to get advantages as far as the rollout is concerned?

SRH: And that's why dapat tayong lahat, kaming lahat, ay dapat sumunod lang doon sa prioritization list na mismo ang DOH at IATF ay nag-draw up. So let's wait our turn, until our particular vaccination group comes up. Let's keep pressing government to have, to procure, receive donations if there are any, but in larger part, to procure the necessary vaccines for every vaccination group, beginning with completely the healthcare workers, going on to the senior citizens, those with comorbidities, and others, including indigents. So no one, no matter what sector, should jump the line, but let's press government to make those proper vaccines available for each group at the proper time.

Q: Another issue that is expected to be a major campaign issue is the Duterte administration's policy regarding China over the South China Sea, in particular the West Philippine Sea. How would you assess this approach by President Duterte? And is it wise for him to designate a person who could speak about the issue in Secretary Roque, but afterward Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said he was not covered by that ban.. Given this dynamics within his own house, within his own Cabinet. What does this say about his own policy?

SRH: It says that even his own closest people, his own alter egos are quarreling among themselves about who will express, who will articulate, maybe even who will formulate that policy. I have never seen before a Presidential Legal Counsel saying, oops hey I should also be a spokesperson on this issue. Nauna nang nagsabi si Sec. Locsin kay Sec. Roque na I should be the only one speaking about this, and in the end, after all, the President is the chief architect of the country's foreign policy, and his alter egos can and should only say no more or less what his own policy is, as he has articulated it.

So muli, we look ultimately to the President, to take the proper stand vis-a-vis China, for Philippine interest in the West Philippine Sea.

Q: This interesting dynamics within his own Cabinet, don't you think this is a reflection of the President's own approach to the China issue? That he, himself, is quite, for lack of a better word, the approach is a mess? At least the messaging part.

SRH: It's really a mess. And beyond the messaging part, which is clearly very messy. Palagay ko maling-mali ang posisyon ni Presidente sa Tsina at sa West Philippine Sea. And maybe, I can only guess as an outsider, maybe his own inner circle also have their own debates about the correctness not only of their messaging but the content. We've heard much better, proper positions from Sec. Locsin, from Sec. Lorenzana about Philippine interests in the West Philippine Sea vis-a-vis China.

The President seems to degrade their statements by his repeated avowals of BFF niya ang Tsina, na ang Tsina ang in possession ng West Philippine Sea, and his silence on really egregious actions by China katulad nitong kamakailan na fishing ban laban sa ating mga mangingisda sa West Philippine Sea. So the President's silence and then when he speaks, his very un-Filipino pronouncements about these issues, yun talaga ang malaking mess, rather than The Hague ruling na sabi nila ay papel na dapat itapon sa basurahan, yung ganitong pananahimik at pagiging un-Filipino sa kabila ng ginagawa ng Tsina— yun ang basura, at yun ang tapat itapon sa basurahan.

Q: Let's go to the 2022 elections. It's still far away but one way of looking at it is that the elections are quite near. That's why you see a lot of posturing coming from different politicians. Those who are perhaps eyeing certain positions. In the case of the opposition, do you think it would be able to come up with a unified slate? President, Vice President, and all 12 senators or candidates.

SRH: We can and we should. At yun ang intensyon namin. And beyond the opposition. Palagay ko lumalawak yung seksyon sa ating populasyon, of different colors or no color belonging to one camp or another or even no camp, who are sharing in common, more and more yung ganitong mga isyung pinag-uusapan natin. How are we going to survive this pandemic and move into a real new and better normal? Paano tayo aahon sa malalim na recession na ito and catch up not just with the rest of the world, but with our own neighbors in the region. Paano tayo makakarating at makakalampas sa eleksyon sa 2022 with better outcomes for our people, again, across political divides?

So palagay ko, despite the very divisive nature of the conversations today, may namumuong unities, simply because of the shared suffering- health sufferings, economic sufferings, suffering of being bullied in our own ocean by a bigger, stronger neighbor. I'm hoping, therefore, that it is around these common issues that more and more Filipinos can unite moving towards 2022.

Q: Just to set the records straight. What's your plan in 2022? Are you planning to seek reelection or go for a different position?

SRH: I will run for reelection to the Senate.

Q: This shared suffering that you mentioned, do you think this is enough to make a difference for the opposition as far as the campaign is concerned? Compared to what happened in 2019, when the opposition slate was wiped out.

SRH: Yes, it was. We have to learn our lessons from that loss. I've said it before, yung pagkatalong iyon, despite the hostile environment, yung pagkatalong iyon was on us. That loss was on us. So we must harvest and learn and apply the lessons from there. Will the suffering be enough, not just for the opposition but for larger sections of Filipinos? Well, balikan lang natin ang mga nakaraang karanasan natin, na pinakamasasakit - World War II, the martial law dictatorship, tapos ngayon.

I think we Filipinos have shown that when we've gone through the worst of times, kahit pa nagkaroon tayo ng mga disunities among ourselves during those worst of times, something has compelled us from within ourselves na, to reach out to each other, build unities where we can, yung mga unities that did not exist before. Halimbawa, moving into 2022, just that common desire for a different kind of a better administration. Palagay ko, if we learn still from our lessons from the past, kakayanin natin, and we must.

Q: Are you part of the 1Sambayan coalition?

SRH: My party, Akbayan, is participating in the 1Sambayan process, yes.

Q: Since Akbayan, your party, is part of that, what do you think of this move by former Senator Antonio Trillanes to declare his intention to run for President if Vice President Leni Robredo won't go for that position. Who do you think basically would be the best candidate of the opposition for president in 2022?

SRH: What Senator Sonny did is within the processes being laid out by 1Sambayan, so I appreciate the 1Sambayan process kasi sila ang unang naglunsad niyang search for some kind of a united front or broad coalition at palagay ko nasa loob pa rin yan, nasa kontekstong yan pa rin yung ginawa ni former senator Sonny. Now, who will turn out to be the best candidate for the opposition plus, plus? And I say plus, plus kasi hindi lang oposisyon but more and more Filipinos. Well I guess the person who will in the end throw his or her hat into the ring and rally all of us around him or her, for those common dreams, of moving into a new and better normal, health-wise, economic-wise, and democracy-wise.

Q: Do you think that that should be Vice President Leni Robredo who is the logical choice, given her position? The highest ranking opposition politician in government now.

SRH: She is the logical choice. She is the choice of many of our hearts. But I'm also still waiting on her decision. And in the end, sa pulitika, sa governance, tulad sa buhay, we work with what we have. There are things we wish for. If they happen, we will take the ball and run with it. If they don't materialize, we will work with what we have kasi ang pinaka-importante pa rin ay yung pangarap natin. To realize that dream, we work with whatever building blocks or ingredients that we have and go for the best.

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