Press Release
May 31, 2021

Transcript of interview of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III with Karen Davila on ANC

On the possibility of Bayanihan 3 not hurdling the Senate this week.

Q: Technically you only have a few Senate session days left before you go on sine die. Let us get the real score with Bayanihan 3. Despite the House push it seems that there's an issue with lack of time and several other issues while people fear it may not pass. There is a Senate version but Tito Sen, ano po ba talaga ang totoo. Talagang bang aabot ang Bayanihan 3?

SP Sotto: The Bayanihan 3 for this last week might not be able to hurdle it as far as the Senate is concerned because we have barely four days and there are a lot on our plates. We are going to finish the public service act, which is 90 years old, and so many other important measures like the foreign investments act, the department of overseas Filipinos act. The Bayanihan 3 has a counterpart in the Senate but we call it the Bayanihan to rebuild as one and it is principally authored by senator recto. There are differences and practically there is a very contentious issue in the Bayanihan 3 which is the, let me check it out again just to make sure. There is a kung ilang billions na being proposed for pension and we don't feel that it should be included in the Bayanihan 3. Nevertheless, as far as Bayanihan 2 is concerned, it is still on going, and there are unused funds. The program, the funds I understand, has only been 50% of the total allocation and out of the 50% that has been allocated, only 70% is used. So, aside from the time constraints there is difficulty on trying to finish out with Bayanihan 2 which we have extended until the end of the year. And then Bayanihan 3 with the differences from the Senate version and the House version, very doubtful in the next 4 days. Perhaps we can take it up in August when we resume from July 26.

Q: Thank you for setting the record straight on that. The house has been pushing it and yet it doesn't look like it is flying. I'll ask you, is the fact that Malacanang is not pushing for Bayanihan 3 do you see this as the major factor in all this? the president didn't even certify it as urgent.

SP Sotto: And in the last mini LEDAC meeting that we had a few days ago with Exec. Sec. Medialdea, and the top executives of government, and both the Houses of Congress' leadership, it was not included. I think that main reason is what I just told you, the Bayanihan 2 funding is still partly intact. There is difficulty in using it nationwide, it is not that easy. It is not easy to spend billions.

Q: So paano po ito, the focus of 3 Bayanihan 3 in both versions was to focus on ayuda. From P2,000 in the house version bumaba ng P1000. I haven't seen yet the amended Senate version or is the Senate version. Paano po ang ayuda? Considering napahaba po itong ating Covid lockdown. Meron bang ibang solution para sa ayuda?

SP Sotto: We will still fund it. P108 billion is the proposed total ayuda regardless of age or status. I think that is the house version and it will definitely reach the Senate. Now for the Senate, the priorities also include P110 billion for procurement of Covid-19 medications, vaccines, handling of the vaccines, hiring of health workers, testing and treatment under PhilHealth, and payment of actual hazard pay. If you recall there is this issue about hazard pay and they not being paid. And then also a P100 billion for worker's subsidies, capacity building for impacted sectors. Ano lang yun, it is a nice wording for ayuda.

Q: Where would we get the money?

SP Sotto: Well, there are unused funds and there are unprogrammed funds. Ang problema lang, when you say unprogrammed funds, as far as the Finance Committee is concerned or the department of finance is concerned, when you see unprogrammed funds, wala pang nakahanda, hindi pa identified ang kukunan but the unused funds will be available. (Unclear) we know for a fact that in the past so many years the average is hovering around P300 to P400 billion of unused funds. That is possible.

Q: Are you satisfied with the government's vaccination rollout? I saw that you were already inoculated with Sinovac, that was over the weekend?

SP Sotto: Yes, I was. We make sure first that, well initially, just to set the context straight, initially, we asked that the Senate employees be also vaccinated. We allotted a budget for them and we asked IATF to help us buy for the Senate employees, and that includes the Senate Electoral Tribunal, and the Commission on Appointments employees because we feel that they are part of the, not only not only the A1, or the A2, but because there are comorbidities among the Senate employees. And also, we are a vital segment of the government because you don't have a budget. We will not have the entire budget of the government if the Senate is not safe. With what happened was that we first allowed to the Senate employees, seniors, comorbidities, and then almost all of the Senate employees were already vaccinated, that was the time that we allowed the senators to be vaccinated if they wanted to be inoculated.

Q: I wanted to ask you; you had no side effects whatsoever?

SP Sotto: Well except for that day, the vaccine cold. Understandable because it was kept freezing right? So it was cold and then in the afternoon it felt a little like you know, I think it's more psychological. I felt a little heavy because I was vaccinated. No bad side effects or anything.

Q: Did you personally choose Sinovac over the others? Because I know some Cabinet Secretaries, I think they did Pfizer at one point and you wanted Sinovac?

SP Sotto: No, I told them what was available. I believe the experts when they say that the best vaccine is the one in your arm. So, whatever it is because again also I have been browsing through the research of health experts and epidemiologists, biologists, and what they say is that all these vaccines have 100% of efficacy as far as death is concerned. There is about 70-75% efficacy on the possibility of you being hospitalized. Then there is this 50 to 70% that might not get it anymore. I mean hindi ka mahahawa, and they are all the same.

Q: Okay na yun, parang ganoon.

SP Sotto: Kasi ang kwento ng iba, okay ang brand na ito, itong brand na ito, 96% efficacy, yung isa 50 percent lang, they are talking about death and they are talking about infection and being infected. That is a different thing.

Q: And also, the circumstances on how the clinical trials were actually made is also different. But I wanted to ask you I know that your wife, si Mam Helen, accompanied you, nagpabakuna din po siya?

SP Sotto: Yes, the Senate approved, in caucus, we approve the resolution that the senators, doon sa matitira sa binili namin, the Senators and their family can avail if they want to, doon sa mga natira. The reason is because even if you are inoculated and your whole household is not, especially your partner, it is quite dangerous.

Q: in terms of the government's vaccination rollout what are your observations? do you believe herd immunity will be achieved by November this year or even by Christmas this year?

SP Sotto: It's possible. It is possible especially if we cooperate. you see the rollout is having difficulty you know. The reason is because, I just don't want to criticize, I want to find out, bakit ang bagal? Apparently, lumalabas, the rich countries, the first-world countries, they pay double to get their vaccines right away. They pay double.

Q: Supply is an issue.

SP Sotto: ... all the other countries in Europe even Israel, halos dinidoble para lang mabili na nila agad, because they have the money for it. So, tayong mga tumatawad pa, remember they had a big fracas about the price? Tayong mga tumatawad pa, siyempre, ano lang yung mga available ang dumarating sa atin. So, ang dumarating sa atin, well, right now better. Dumarating pero nung umpisa, hirap na hirap tayo, merong sinasabi hindi pa darating ng June, hindi pa darating ng July, all this stuff. Nevertheless, right now they are rolling out whatever they have. The important thing is that they are not wasted because there are people scheduled or the availability is there and then people suddenly back out or some don't want to be inoculated. They believe the reports on social media it's a death thing that it is a death thing, you know. Kung anu-ano yung nababasa natin at sinasabing ganoon, but I'd rather believe the experts.

Q: So, I mean with the current set up that we have, even if the vaccines arrive, naniniwala po kayo kakayanin natin ang 500,000 jabs a day?

SP Sotto: That will be very difficult but that is the goal. We are just keeping our fingers crossed that we are able to do that, that the executive department or the IATF and the DOH are able to do that. That is the goal, I cannot say that it is possible. It is very difficult, that will be very difficult, but if you have guys like what is happening in Quezon City, they are coming out with about 16,000 a day, if it is duplicated in all the key cities, and then in the municipalities somehow, kahit mga 50 percent of that, that is possible. But you know who we are talking about numbers. These are merely numbers; it is different on what is on the ground. It is different as far as the ground is concerned.

Q: So, we spoke about Bayanihan 3, you gave the lowdown that it does not look like it will make it. The other thing is changes to the constitution. This is interesting because the Lower House has already approved on second reading the resolution which proposes amendments only to some economic provisions. I have Cong. Joey Salceda saying that this is important for the country, it will improve the investment climate, and the Senate does not seem to open with this. SP Sotto: Again, we do not have time to tackle it now, we have four days left from today. The other thing is that again, in the mini LEDAC, the House did not even bring it up.

Q: You mean Malacanang?

SP Sotto: No, the House of Representatives when we discussed it. It was not in the top 10. Hindi naman certified, what can we do in four days? The LEDAC or the mini LEDAC, the executive secretary and the members of the executive department that were there, including the Secretary of Finance, they did not even mention it. So perhaps if we need to take it up, we can try to take it up in August. But then again, we are not talking about charter change. Really, I have to be very blunt about it. In the Senate, the way I up my colleagues, a big majority are not in favor of a charter change. I myself. But if we are talking of charter amendments, amendment, then that is possible. That is possible but charter change itself, doubtful. I really doubt it.

Q: But do we need amendments? Clearly you are prioritizing now the public service act, the retail trade liberalization act, foreign investments act, would this be enough to actually improve investment climate? As Joey Salceda has said, that is why we need amendments to the constitution.

SP Sotto: Spacing before thinking with the constitution, what we have on our plates right now, would be a good solution to some of these, like for example, we have already passed the amendments to the retail trade liberalization. We are awaiting the ratification after the bicam. That will practically give a better solution for not only investors but also the people itself, the MSMEs. And then the foreign investments act. Again, we are establishing the tax regime of Philippine offshore gaming corporations and the amendments to the public services act. With these, there is a possibility that we might be able to achieve the opening up of our market even though we have not changed the constitution because we are allowed by the constitution to do this. We are allowed to liberalize or retail trade and the public services act, and the foreign investments act. The foreign investments act kasi, we will look at it now, we are trying to bring down they allowed investments. (Unclear) $2.5 million ang kailangan nilang puhunan. We are trying to bring it down to say... this is also included in the retail trade. We are trying to bring it down, there is a suggestion of $300,000. But again, there was, Sen. Recto and Sen. Cayetano wanted at least $1,000,000. Wag naman daw (unclear) dahil baka yung mga barya-baryang maliliit na mga retail traders say pumasok na rin sa Pilipinas. Kawawa, mahihirapan naman yung mga atin. At least $1,000,000 mabibigyan pa rin yung mga (unclear) na yan.

Q: So, the foreign investment act that would be one major aspect to it. What about in terms of in some industries the division of 60/40? Nandiyan pa rin ba yun?

SP Sotto: Yes, it is being addressed in the foreign investments act.

Q: What about land ownership?

SP Sotto: No, we haven't touched that. That will be part of the proposal of the House, the concurrent joint resolution.

Q: What about you personally? Do you believe that foreigners should be allowed to own land?

SP Sotto: Yes, to a certain extent and what it is going to be used for because I believe also in what some people have said before, some time ago or during my fledgling years in the Senate. Hindi naman nila mailalabas sa Pilipinas yung lupa eh.

Q: So, let them own it but with certain conditions?

SP Sotto: Yes.

Q: If they want to sell it, there are certain conditions possibly on the sale?

SP Sotto: Conditions and limitations.

Q: Okay, so you are open to it. I want to tackle one thing because what's interesting is no less than NEDA Sec. Karl Chua is requesting for the certification as urgent for the taxes for POGO. It seems then that POGO is here to stay.

SP Sotto: Yes, and government can make a lot of money out of them.

Q: Do you have the figures would you remember the figures estimated?

SP Sotto: No, I am sorry I do not have the figures, but I think the government is trying to get 5% of their income.

Q: Papasa po ba ito in your next five days? Papasa lahat ito, what you have just mentioned?

SP Sotto: Best effort yan. There are the foreign investments act, the POGO, the amendments to the public services act, the department of migrant workers and overseas Filipinos, hybrid elections act, the expanded sol0 parents act, and that is setting of the BARMM elections, best effort lahat yan this week.

Q: So, you are technically prioritizing on five, but you are all interpolating 8, did I count correctly?

SP Sotto: Yes, but some of these are in the really advanced stage. As a matter of fact, perhaps one or two interpolators left and you know because of the foreign investments act, the public services act, and the department of migrant workers act, are all certified by Malacanang, even if we pass it on Thursday, which is an additional day that we have, if we pass it on Thursday on second reading, we may pass it on third reading. That is the importance of the certification of urgency by the president. It removes the three-day rule that the constitution has mandated.

Q: So, sa lahat ng binanggit ninyo, if I remember correctly, ang certified lang as urgent dito, is the foreign investment act?

SP Sotto: Yung public services act and then the department of migrant workers was also certified. Sec. Chua is already requesting for the certification of the POGO so may mga pag-asa lahat yan.

Q: Yung lima, yung binanggit ninyo. You wanted also; you were passionate about itong Doktor para sa bayan act. What would make that different from the doctors to the barrios?

SP Sotto: Well, the doctors to the barrios is that we are trying to get a doctor in each barrio but, where are we getting the doctors? That is the problem that I tried solving by the bill and it is now a law, the medical scholarship act or doctor para sa bayan act. Because this time, a Filipino me avail for scholarship of medicine proper. Remember the tertiary education that we passed before? It's up to the level of tertiary education, but when it comes to medicine proper, or even law proper, or the master's degrees, hindi kasama yun. Pero ito, ang medicine proper, nilagay na natin because, I came up with it, a medical return service program. Na kapag ikaw ay Pilipino, gusto mong mag doctor, kahit anong SUCs na nag o-offer ng medical scholarship, you may become a scholar, must be a Filipino citizen, residing in the Philippines and their family income must not be sufficient to support medical education. Maraming gustong mag doctor pero they end up taking up other courses because they don't have the money for it. This time, it's for free as long as you are qualified. It covers not only the tuition fee but also school related allowances for books, supplies, equipment, clothing, uniform allowance, we made sure that you are (unclear) can become a doctor. Pati mga medical review boards, Internet load...

Q: So, in other words you're standing in school, grades, not an issue to get this scholarship?

SP Sotto: No, as long as you are qualified. And then if there is no SUC offering medicine in your region or in your province, you may enter a private institution and government will pay for it.

Q: Really? does the government have money for this? Tanong yan ng marami. Hindi mura maging doctor,

SP Sotto: Yes, we made sure that we have allocated for the state universities and colleges. We allocated over P1 billion (unclear) fund for the development of medical schools. And then P250 million for medical scholarship return service program and another P150 million for establishment of medical schools in SUCs. Also, in the Department of Health we made sure that they had at least P464 million for that particular program. We want to have more doctors in the Philippines.

Q: What is the target? did you have a target number a year in terms of production of doctors?

SP Sotto: I will be talking off my hat if I give you a figure, we forgot.

Q: And then is there a condition if the government funds you completely under scholarship? what are the conditions? Do you serve for free? Or in a government hospital for how many years? May ganoon po ba?

SP Sotto: Yes, you have to serve for three years in the Philippines. You have deserved three years. If you want to serve more, another two years like for example 5, you will be given incentives. But you must serve three years. If you do not serve the three years, you go abroad after graduation or after internship, you have to pay back the government for what we spent for you. And then now we are trying to establish more schools, more medical schools. (Unclear) the Cebu Normal University has been allowed by CHED to be the medical school for the Vicente Sotto Medical Center in Cebu City. So yung mga ganoon, and then we are doing (unclear) in other cities so that there will be more SUCs that will offer medicine proper as a program.

On the West Philippine Sea.

Q: Is the president's analysts say, mixed signals causing harm to the country? Is the Philippines giving mixed signals with the West Philippine Sea dispute?

SP Sotto: Perhaps what we can say is that the president is probably being literal about the arbitral ruling because in the arbitral ruling yes indeed it definitely favors the Philippines, but it does not give a way to enforce it. So, when he says that, people jump on him especially those against China. But then again me on a personal note, there are perhaps ways that we could avail of, or make use of, that will not really enforce the arbitral ruling but state our claim on a more productive way. For example, why don't we start explorations already in these contested areas that we know are ours, di ba? We should do that. We cannot do it alone because of the expenses, (unclear) other countries who are very interested. there are very interested groups willing to join us in a joint venture, even China itself. And if it's China, and I was talking to the ambassador of China, I said if ever we explore in this area, will you spend for it or will you help us spend for it? Are you willing for a 60/40 divide? I said 60 for the Philippines because that proves in the constitution that it is ours. He was very optimistic about it. And I understand that there are also British companies that are interested so why don't we do that? That's one. The other is that I came across an article written by Mely Saloja and Robert Bagares(?) saying that why don't we make our own map? (Unclear) made their own 9-dash line, I think that's a very good suggestion...

Q: So even if the Permanent Court of Arbitration has already ruled in favor of the Philippines, you believe our own map like what China has been insisting on their 9-dash line that the PCA has junked and thrown and has said it's not true, has no legal basis, you believe that magkaroon tayo para ituro.

SP Sotto: Oo, let's make our own. Let's insist on our own, and then God forbid that they cross the line, the MDT will kick in. The mutual defense treaty will kick in. So, I think it's just a matter of really setting our foot down and these are good suggestions, these are I think plausible, it should be done. As a matter of fact, I I'm toying with the idea of filing a bill that will ika nga ay linawin doon ang ating mga pag-aari.

Q: Quite interestingly I read that you were supposed to have a meeting with the Chinese ambassador. You are saying natuloy na yun?

SP Sotto: Oo, yeah.

Q: What did you tackle during that meeting? Kailan po yun?

SP Sotto: Last week.

Q: So last week, what did you discuss? The possibility of a joint venture?

SP Sotto: It was very cordial, yes, I mentioned that, and he was optimistic about it, I did not hear him say that it was not possible, and then well he was somehow explaining the fact that they were misunderstood. That we have more in common than any other country in the world. Things like that it was not really an official talk, so we were discussing (unclear) things.

Q: The Senate made its voice clear with a resolution that a majority signed regarding what China has been doing in the West Philippine Sea. Napagusapan ninyo rin ba the presence of Chinese vessels there?

SP Sotto: Yes, he was the one who brought it up. he said that they were merely trying to get cover from bad weather. Pinanindigan nila. They were all there because of that and they dispersed thereafter. They did that. But again, he knows for a fact also that there are other countries aside from the United States, there is Japan, Australia, Canada, UK, they are expressing strong support to the Philippines' failing of a diplomatic protest of the incursions. He knows that too and he says that ano ito, hearsay, he says that they are having problems with Taiwan and Vietnam and Japan, something like that.

Q: Do you agree that the Philippines should go into bilateral negotiations with China? This was not the stand of the previous administration.

SP Sotto: I think the word is negotiate, we must negotiate. It is difficult to go to war, we better negotiate. I think that is the best solution at this point.

Q: Other than bilateral negotiations some have already suggested that we have not done enough for our allies. for example, naval patrols together with the United States. Until today the Philippines refuses to do that as it might aggravate China for example. Palagay ninyo panahon na para gawin yun?

SP Sotto: I am not too sure about that. I think the Philippines, the department of National Defense, and even the Philippine Coast Guard are doing the patrolling.

Q: Wala pang joint with the US?

SP Sotto: Joint, there are as far as the Visiting Forces Agreement, but I am not aware of any patrolling at this point, bilateral. Bilaterally with the United States. We can explore that.

Q: Do you agree what former Senate President Enrile said? He said be nonconfrontational, history will judge the president well. Be friends with China, yun ang sinabi niya. Do you agree with that?

SP Sotto: Yes. we are not capable of getting into trouble. What we have to do really is just again, aside from negotiation, we must be more assertive lang. Be more assertive and if possible aggressive in our positions. But I do agree with what he is saying at this point, not now. Perhaps while we are negotiating then we try to build up our capabilities.

Q: You said be more aggressive, be more assertive, do you think the president is frankly causing this problem because he swings one way today, another way the next day, and you have two Cabinet secretaries that are tough on China so there is not one specific stand that are tough on China that the Philippines are making?

SP Sotto: Let me put it this way. Whatever some members of the executive department say, or the president say as far as I am concerned, I will support the position of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I think Sec. Teddy Boy Locsin has a very good grasp of the situation and what his suggestion is (unclear) matter. That is on my personal (unclear). Again, how do we be assertive or harder stance or aggressive? The two points that I just mentioned will be very important. One, let's do exploration on our own, if we are not capable then partnership and then we make our own map. We make our own map, as I said I am already contemplating on filing a bill that will (unclear) and it will institutionalize.

On 2022 elections.

Q: You made it clear that you are interested in gunning for the vice presidency, because after achieving the Senate Presidency, logically a higher position would be, I mean what do you think of that, either the vice presidency or the presidency?

SP Sotto: That is if I do away with the other inclination which is to retire.

Q: I doubt if you will retire.

SP Sotto: I am still thinking about it. like for example, the office of the vice president is something else. If you recall that is the reason that I am, indeed, I have to admit that I am thinking about it, unlike the other politicians who say they are not running but on the day of the registration nangunguna sa pag ano. I am saying that I am thinking about it because in 1988 when I became vice mayor of Quezon City, (unclear) vice mayor of the Philippines during that time, vice me yours during that time especially the municipal vice mayors, we were just members of the council. (Unclear) us being too religious because they were praying for their mayor to be taken by the Lord. What I did was we upgraded it, I before the vice mayors league of the Philippines, we made the vice mayors presiding officers of the municipal councils, because during that time it was only the city vice mayors who were presiding officers of the council. So, I lobbied in the Congress then and the local government code with the help of Nene Pimentel and (unclear) in the House, incorporated it in the local government code.

Q: Let's move on to you...

SP Sotto: That's it, what would make me run? If we can upgrade the vice president into...

Q: Like a more prominent role?

SP Sotto: Correct like for example, if the vice president will be handling the problem on let's say illegal drugs and drug abuse, remove it from the plate of...

Q: But didn't presidents do that?

SP Sotto: No. The way it was done was that the PACC was given to Erap, which is the anti-crime commission. For example, the other time I think President Duterte wanted Vice President Leni Robredo to be co-chair of the illegal drugs but what happened? They concentrated on enforcement. That's the problem on illegal drugs, but a larger problem is on drug abuse. Illegal drugs is a different animal from drug abuse although related. You enlarge the program, and you enlarge the office of the vice president to be able to do that. If we can do that perhaps yes, I will consider.

Q: I heard that there are possible presidential candidates who have spoken with you already. Sen. Lacson said that he has given you his word he will support you so he will not run against you. If he does decide to run it's either with you, in other words he has given his word that he will support you. Would you consider running for example with Mayor Sara Duterte? Or Sen. Bongbong Marcos, or even Leni Robredo. Or are there candidates that are hands off to you?

SP Sotto: As of now, una, first of all, as of now I am still considering it. if i do consider it the number one on my list would be Sen. Lacson. i know his capabilities, I know what he can do for the country.

Q: iIf he doesn't run?

SP Sotto: If he runs for president, I will support him. Now we are questioned if he does not run, paguusapan pa ng (unclear) yan. Sen. Manny Pacquiao and I have been talking.

Q: Papayag ka ba (unclear) with Sen. Manny?

SP Sotto: We are still talking. as a matter of fact, there was a meeting supposed to be last night with Lacson and Sen. Pacquiao, the (unclear) group.

Q: The PDP Laban has internal squabbles at the moment, and it depends on what happens tonight, my sources tell me that there is a group pushing for Sara Duterte to run for president. Kaya ba ng Pilipino na Duterte-Duterte ang pangulo? do you think that is good for the country?

SP Sotto: The answer to your question is we will find out if it does happen in 2022. I really can't say. It has probably been successful in Davao; I don't know if it will be successful in the rest of the country.

Q: On that note when will you make your announcement?

SP Sotto: After the SONA, maybe. Maybe July, August or September or something.

Q: August, September you would have made up your mind?

SP Sotto: If I made up my mind, I will let you know.

Q: Yung 1Sambayan, are you open to speaking with them?

SP Sotto: Well, we have worked together in the Senate Electoral Tribunal, he (Carpio) was chairman, and I was member of the SET, we know each other we have common friends. We have not talked about anything.

Q: Katulad ka ba ni Sen. Manny? Kasi sabi niya he wants to hear the Lord's voice.

SP Sotto: That's good, kaya lang I hope it's...serious yung kanya... Sa Senado nung araw, when I became a senator in 1992, kasama ko sila Neptali, sina Maceda, si Orly Mercado, lagi niyang binabanggit sa akin yun, pag nag senador ka na, pag gabi, meron kang naririnig na boses, ang sinasabi nung boses, bumubulong sa iyo, sinasabi, ikaw ang susunod na pangulo ng Pilipinas. Joke namin yun.

Q: Okay. Thank you, Senate President Sotto.

News Latest News Feed