Press Release
April 11, 2023


Q: Let's take off from the new EDCA sites, the four new ones, your first reaction now that we have an additional four sites have been identified, 2 in Cagayan, 1 in Isabela and the other one in Balabac Palawan. On top of course, of five EDCA sites already in existence. Number 1, do we really need these additional EDCA sites?

SRH: Of course, in general, hindi lang naman EDCA ang tanging solusyon sa ating mga problema. And after all, the issues in the South China Sea involve more than just the US and China, and the disputes in these waters shouldn't be settled only or even primarily by these two giant countries.

Additionally bilang Pilipinas, hindi tayo dapat pumayag na maipit lang tayo between two warring hegemons, again, China and the US and instead, I think at ito yung hinahanap ko na multilateral approach to our foreign relations. We should focus our efforts on more joint naval exercises, more joint patrols, even joint training of our troops through these multilateral partnerships. Not only with the US, not only with, ideally, China eventually if she finally treats us with mutual respect, but also starting in our own backyards, within ASEAN, with the Quad and other naval powers in the world. And I say the world deliberately because this region is crucial to the stability and even the economic prosperity of the entire world. Hindi lang ang nakataya dito ay ang US o ang Tsina o ni tayo lamang. So we should look at the whole international community, call on it to band together, call on more countries to band together, to preserve stability, to uphold a rules-based process even with regards to our conflicts, and of course, to uphold peace in the world.

Q: In summary though, to maybe summarize your response, do we need these EDCA sites or not? Your response is?

SRH: My response is there could have been alternatives, especially that the whole technology even of warfare has developed. It's not landlocked anymore. The whole technology of peacekeeping has also been enhanced in the waters and of course, nasa interes natin na huwag magkaroon ng kaguluhan dito sa teritoryo natin ni sa Taiwan, just to say. The Philippines is a sovereign country we get to determine what is best for our national interest, not for China, not for the United States.

Yun din dapat yung pangunahing konsiderasyon sa pagdedesisyon sana dito sa additional EDCA sites and of course, we have no territorial interests in Taiwan or in the greater South China Sea. Unlike China, outside of the West Philippine Sea, wala tayong intensyon na pilitin ang ibang bansa to surrender their territorial claims. Moving forward, despite the fact na nagdagdag ng mga land-based EDCA sites. I still think it is in our better greater longer term interest na maghanap ng isang concrete expression of multilateral foreign relations especially on the waters in and beyond the West Philippine Sea in the greater South China Sea, that will better serve Filipino and even regional and global interests.

Q: I was asking that again because I do remember in the past you were saying that if there were going to be new EDCA sites it is important that the residents and the LGU have to be asked. kailangang malaman anong take nila dito. Governor Mamba of Cgayan has already expressed his opposition but he still says at the end of the day, it's really the President's call.

So advantages and disadvantages now. Now that there will be 2 EDCA sites in Cagayan. Sabihin lang natin in terms of relief operations, humanitarian efforts, malaking tulong po siguro ito for Cagayan and Isabela especially because they are normally, regularly battered by a series of typhoons.

SRH: And there's additional new EDCA sites in Palawan. Of course sino ba namang tatanggi sa dagdag na tulong sa relief, sa rehabilitation, sa disaster response. But as I was saying even during the briefing with the DND and the AFP at kahit mismong sa Senate committee hearing, all those partnerships in humanitarian and disaster resilience efforts could have continued even under the original or old EDCA arrangements at siguradong pwede nating isulong sa pamamagitan ng mga multilateral security relationships, hindi lamang sa lupa at hindi sa pamamagitan lamang ng physical sites pero on the waters through naval partnerships, with the US, yes and with the other naval powers, as I mentioned, the Quad and the ASEAN. Those advantages I still believe we could have secured through other means as for the disadvantages, I hope napag-usapan iyon sa anumang konsultasyong ginanap with the LGUs in Cagayan, Isabela and Palawan.

Q: When we talk about possible disadvantages... at least what's come out lately, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson was saying basically it was the US pursuit, these EDCA sites, of selfish interests that could lead to more tensions and less stability in the region. I wanna go back in a number of issues that you said and identified earlier. I guess the point is, how can the Philippines actually maximize the additional EDCA sites, or let's just say the 9 EDCA sites and at the same time, rather protect ourselves from possible conflict between the United States and China?

SRH: Well first of all, it's funny to hear the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson complaining about selfish interests, dahil kung sino ang naging selfish nitong mga nakaraang taon in terms of expelling Filipino fisherfolk from our own territorial waters, dredging our seabed to create and then militarize artificial islands in Philippine territory, harassing our navy and our coast guard and BFAR e di walang iba kundi sa Tsina. And let me not speak of her actions vis-a-vis Taiwan whose sovereignty we also respect as part of our region.

So as far as maximizing and promised benefits for the additional edca sites and then protecting ourselves from any possible additional tensions and conflict so dito nga pumapasok our standing up our sovereign rights as sovereign nation against a backdrop of our long and colorful and even painful history as a former colony of the United States importante na sa konteksto nitong pagdadag pa lalo ng mga EDCA sites that we strive a relationship between equals than in the historical past na makita din natin na may pagrespeto sa atin ang Estados Unidos, pati sa mga isyu na napakasakit sa atin dati. The issues of human rights, the issues of respect for our women, lalo na dun sa mga area sa palibot ng mga dating base militar at ngayon ng mga EDCA sites and such, and talagang avoiding, and not just avoiding, pero sana helping to prevent the escalation of tensions, and even conflict in our region.

Kung dati merong tinawag sa isang giyera na tinutulan ng marami sa atin dito sa rehiyon ng West Asia, ng Middle East, there was something called the coalition of the willing, sana posibleng magbuo ng coalition of the unwilling, dito sa ASEAN o sa Asia Pacific. Countries who would like to help de-escalate, cool the tensions between the US and China especially around Taiwan. Upholding the right of the Taiwanese people to live in peace and under the political system that they determined democratically at para hindi magkaroon intentionally, and just as bad, accidentally, the outbreak of any hot conflict around Taiwan, in the West Philippine Sea or in the greater South China Sea.

Q: President Marcos was already saying, we need not worry, basically, kung wala naman daw susugod sa atin, hindi kailangan mag-alala, dahil hindi naman natin sila lalabanan. We're just basically defending our territory. Is this enough assurance?

SRH: Magandang posisyon siyang sinabi ni Presidente in the sense that it's faithful of the Constitutional mandate of peace as the instrument of national policy or the abandonment of war as an instrument of national policy, kaya magandang prinsipyo iyon na sinabi ni Presidente, pero sa konteksto ngayon na dalawang higante ang naggigirian, the US and China are like the elephants not in the room but in that old saying na kapag ang dalawang elepante daw nagsagupaan eh baka mapisa nalang yung mga damo sa paa nila.

So in the world of real politik, that all of us who work in government are obliged to study more and more and always, mahirap kung magkaroon ng sadya o aksidenteng pagsibol ng labanan dito sa ating rehiyon, whether anywhere in the West Philippine Sea or the greater South China Sea or Taiwan, napakahirap na hindi maipit o hindi obligahin, whether ng US o ng China na madamay or pilitin nila ang bawat isang mas maliit na bansa na pumanig. We don't want to arrive at that situation. We shouldn't wait for it to happen. But actively try to prevent it.

Q: Ang usapan dito ay ang sinabi niyo sadya o aksidente. Intended or unintended.

Exactly. The best we can do is to keep on communicating both to China and the US that we want a peaceful if not resolution of the conflict, at the very, very least status quo. Continue expressing to them, kasi nga yung aksidente nga hindi na sa control natin, either of the two big nations can also say it's not completely within their control if an accident should happen at alam natin na yung mga aksidente minsan na, aksidente talaga o kaya sadyang aksidente.

And perhaps more importantly beyond our communications to the two giant countries, again as an earlier expression of the multilateral foreign relations that I hope we as the Philippines can explore, can promote, can discuss and arrive at starting with our like-minded ASEAN neighbor countries sana may proactive na effort on the part of as many of us smaller countries in this region as possible para sabihing ayaw talaga natin ng gyera dito.

War is such a thing of the past. And we'd like to keep it that way. Anumang diplomatic at political quarrels or even fights natin, let us resolve it on those planes at mas i-secure natin ang economic, ecological atska diplomatic wellbeing ng Pilipinas at ng ating rehiyon at mundo.

Q: The Senate is set to conduct its first hearing on the murder, the assassination of Governor Degamo, this is the committee on public works and dangerous drugs I believe headed by Senator Bato dela Rosa. When will this happen?

SRH: I will have to check my calendar but very, very soon, and not a moment too soon dahil isa ako sa mga senador na talang kinokondena itong walang habas na pagpaslang kay Gov. Roel, so SR no 518 is mine, one of the resolutions that will be heard by the Sen Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs. And it calls for that investigation on that brazen killing of Gov. Roel and several other elected public officials.

It's really imperative that we not only look at the immediate circumstances of this killing Gov. Roel and the other officials, but the causes and the drivers of these incidents. We always say in our resolutions, in aid of legislation so that we can institute the necessary legislative and then handing over to the executive, executive measures para mapigilan mangyari muli ang mga ganito.

The particular unique angle I want to look into in our Senate hearing is kung may kinalaman ba yung desisyon ng COMELEC, na siya si Gov. Roel ang iluklok bilang gobernador ng Negros Oriental pagkatapos, hindi bago, pagkatapos idiskwalipika ang boto ng isang nuisance candidate. The question being, could this slay of Governor Roel have been avoided if the nuisance candidate had been declared earlier on, and if the then first proclaimed governor was allowed to occupy the gubernatorial post.

It's a matter also of the sense of urgency and the timing of the action of the Constitutional body charged to conduct not just free, fair and honest, but peaceful elections. Lagi natin sinasabi election-related violence pero paano kung matagal na actually natapos na ang election pero yung ugat ng karahasan is still also electorally, politically related.

Maybe the question could be asked about some of the other officials who were slain recently Cagayan Vice Mayor Almeda, Maguindanao del Sur, former Vice Mayor Amat of Quezon, Cagayan Vice Mayor Rommel Almeda of Datu Montawal, Maguindanao del Sur, former Vice Mayor Danilo Amat of Quezon, Quezon Province, former Vice Mayor Romeo Sulit from Lobo, and former Mayor Rosita Furigay of Lamitan City.

Q: I was looking into your Senate Resolution 518. It just does not want to look into who killed, who masterminded the assassination, it also talked about, what are the reasons, it talks about, number one let's look into the attempted assassinations of other local government officials.

And it is also important, what you said a while ago, we need to find out what are the reasons for these. Are government institutions doing the right things and doing the right ways to avoid such incidents from happening. And what is also important is what you mentioned about Comelec.

Just to add context, niluklok si Governor Degamo after Governor Pryde Henry Teves, kasi they counted the votes and may nuisance candidate, eventually binigay iyan kay Governor Degamo. What should have been the solution here? If you are saying na dapat niresolba ito ng Comelec prior to and para sakaling hindi na humantong dito. Is that what you are saying?

SRH: That is what I am saying. Dapat ang naglanding lang na mga pangalan sa balota na pagpipilian ng mga botante ay sa pagkaalam ng Comelec ay qualified na tumakbo bilang candidate, qualified ibig sabihin exact opposite ng nuisance.

Ano yung epekto ng tinanggal ng maaga yung nuisance candidate? Posibleng kahit mainit naman talaga ang politika sa Pilipinas hanggang sa ngayon unfortunately, posible kayang nabawasan ng 1 degree yung init ng temperatura ng politikang iyan sa eleksyon na iyan?

Posible kayang at the very outset ay kung natanggal yung nuisance candidate na halos, except for one letter ay kapangalan ni Gov. Roel Degamo, kung natanggal siya and yung mga boto diumano ay napunta sa kanya ay napunta sa ibang kandidato, whether Gov. Roel or others, then the outcome could have been what was achieved by the Comelec's in a way late action na eventually, naupo si Gov. Roel.

Perhaps with one degree less of the heat, of the tensions, of the resentment, of the anger, alam natin sa history ng political assasinations simula pa siguro noong panahon ni Julius Caesar, itong mga emosyon ng hindi lang ng mga lider kundi pati ng mga tao ay ingredient unfortunately sa electoral and political violence, not just on the day of the election, not just soon after, but perhaps yung temperatura na iyan ay kumukulo in the months previously.

Ang Comelec, bilang isa sa mahalagang constitutional bodies natin, would do an ever greater service by adding an ingredient of (unclear)..

Q: I understand what you are saying senator and this is another take that needs to be addressed. Ang sabi niyo nga, eye opener. But this is not the first time that Negros Oriental made the headlines. There have been headlines in the past and loose talk around.

I guess what I want to found out: bakit ngayon lang yung whole of government approach sa murder of Governor Degamo? Dahil ba nakita sa CCTV? Dahil mahal na mahal si Governor Degamo? Dahil ba it was so brazen? Again: it is not the first time that they made headlines, bakit ngayon lang napansin?

SRH: Talagang fair tanungin bakit ngayon lang or is this too little, too late? I really hope not. Sigurado isang elemento yung mukhang malaking pagmamahal ng mga constituents ni Gov. Roel sa kanya. But indeed there are elements in this killing as well which shock even the public na pwedeng namanhid sa ganitong pamamaril o pagpapatay. Bakit nakasuot ng pixelized fatigues yung mga bumaril kay Gov. Roel?

Late though this may be as compared to earlier killings but I hope yung gagawin naming hearing ng Senate Committee will be able to come out not just with the very strong findings that are coming through the CCTV video and events since during this ongoing Senate recess - events in terms law enforcement operations - I hope that we will be able to come out with very strong recommendations that will be implemented fully and well by the executive.

And sana nga mapakinggan din ng mahalagang constitutional body ng Comelec, especially as we prepare later this year for the barangay and SK elections and then the following years, the midterm and general elections.

Q: Before human trafficking let's also talk about sugar smuggling. Just a line maybe - government already said that they will sell so many tons of smuggled sugar in Kadiwa stores at P70 per kilo. Is this a right approach and is P70 a fair price?

SRH: It's not the right approach pag smuggled usually kinukumpiska iyan ng customs and either returned to sender or destroyed pero nakakapanghinayang sirain o idestroy dahil kulang na kulang ang asukal; P70 eh lumabas na nga sa aming pagkwenta na may P28 per kilo in Thailand, ang layo po ng agwat ng P20 at P70.

Q: Follow up, magkano po dapat ibenta sa Kadiwa stores kung ganoon?

SRH: Una naming kinwenta when this whole P440,000 metric tons came to attention at that volume kayang ibaba ang presyo ng asukal sa Pilipinas - kung properly imported to P50 to P60 plus only - which sounds like the midpoint to P20 and P70.

Q: Last question on human trafficking since there is a report that 6 Filipinos have arrived from Laos where they were trafficked. That same day, the Southern Police District arrested two Chinese nationals who trafficked a Vietnamese woman to work in the Philippines, but instead of magtrabaho ay tine-threaten yung kanyang pamilya na magbayad ng ransom, kung hindi ibebenta siya sa isang offshore gaming company. How are we doing so far, are there still many Filipinos asking help from your office?

SRH: Yes tuwing mayroon kaming binubunyag na human trafficking, una sa Myanmar, then sa Cambodia, ngayon ito yung Laos angle, may nakakabalita na victim survivor or nandoon pa ang humihingi ng tulong. The Bureau of Immigration itself has urged Filipinos traveling abroad to be extra vigilant in falling into the hands of syndicates in Asia.

Pero ang hirap, we take one step forward and then may tatapik sa balikat natin and we have to look back and take two steps backwards. Eto ngayon hindi na lang human trafficking palabas pero human trafficking papunta dito sa Pilipinas na bibiktimahin ang ibang Asyano. So double time tayo, kailangan.

Q: We were obviously focused on Filipinos being trafficked abroad and then here is now, ibang foreign nationals naman po ang dinadala rito for human trafficking.

SRH: Let us overhaul the BI. Mukha talagang may contacts sa loob, going both ways.

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