Press Release
April 28, 2023

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW SENATOR RISA HONTIVEROS WITH KAREN DAVILA ANC HEADSTART

Q: The latest act of aggression by Chinese coastguards, the near collision asking for our boats to leave there were journalists onboard and by the journalist to actually witness what was going on in the West Philippine Sea. First, What are your thoughts on that?

Senator Risa Hontiveros (SRH): Well in the first place they should not be coming too close in other vessels let alone yung mga barko ng ating bansang pilipinas sa lugar na nasa loob ng west philippine sea at saka sa exclusive economic zone natin. This was just the latest in a continuous and unbroken and apparently unrepentant string of incidents na hindi nila pwedeng sabihing aksidente. May pananadya na talaga dito and again, you, our journalists witness that with your own eyes. Of course I'm counting on Department of Foreign Affairs to file a diplomatic protest at sana ang buong gObyerno hindi lang kami sa legislature na regularly sa taunang budget sinusuportahan ang ating Philippine Navy, Philippine Coastguard BFAR at ating mga mangingisda, I hope also the executive itself will I mean what is it waiting for? Hindi pa ba sobrang dami na at sobrang lala na nitong mga sunud-sunod na insidente. I hope the executive is not waiting for an even worse incident in order to finally put its foot down and tell China, tell Beijing of to cease and desist in these kinds of actions and incidents.

Q: The DFA has issued several note verbals, several diplomatic protests but to no avail. ignored by China because they are set on their beliefs on the nine-dash line frankly. May kasabihan po tayo, if you keep on doing the same thing over and over and expect different results --

SRH: That's foolishness -

Q: Yes. So what should we do at this point because this latest act of aggression one could say it's the most blatant because it is in Philippine waters, the Chinese coast guard ship was in Philippine waters and siya pa ang nagsasabing umalis kayo in Philippine waters.

SRH: Classic case of international gaslighting but Beijing's continued silence and denial of the Hague ruling, pinapakita niyan na yan talaga yung Achilles heel niya, yan ang weakest link niya. Kung dinedeadma niya tayong Pilipinas, isang bansa, then I think it's right to continue in the direction in building bigger alliances. A bigger alliance is a better alliance. More like-minded countries na gustong pa-behave-in ang China fir us to bond together with them. Tayong Pilipinas with our like-minded member countries in the ASEAN, yung mga bansa sa Quad at iba pang naval powers. Not just choosing between the US and China. We must include the US in that big alliance which will be against China's misbehavior. All of the countries who uphold our victory at The Hague. Pag-isahin po natin, magkaisa po tayo sa kanila laban sa Tsina, sa kanyang pagdadahas sa atin, sa mismong teritoryo natin sa dagat.

Q: But the problem is clearly the Chinese coastguard, they are better equipped than we are and they're patrolling our own waters day in and day out. We have essentially the VRP Malapascua we know that while we are beefing up our coastguard, it is still quite limited should we change policies and even funding in terms of really patrolling our own waters because kumbaga sarili nating bahay iyan alangan namang ang kapitbahay natin ang asahan nating magbantay sa atin.

SRH: Lalo na kung bantay salakay siya. Lalo na kung nag-o-over the bakod siya at nanghihimasok sa sarili nating bahay so we must continue yung mga nasimulan na nating beefing up of the Philippine Coast Guard lalo na't ang Chinese Coastguard us arguably us the most powerful coast guard in the world. Continue beefing up the Philippine Navy, continue beefing up the BFAR, continue supporting our Philippine fisherfolk. Hindi natin maaasahan ang Tsina na depensahan at sadly, hindi niya kayang respetuhin yung ating national interest and always, we Filipinos, are our last line of defense for the Philippines so kailangan mas assertively to all diplomatic and political means. Mas assertively pa nating depensahan ang ating national interest at yun na nga magbuo tayo ng pinakamalaking alyansa na kaya nating pagkaisahin to pushback against China in these waters.

Q: Would it be against the Constitution to actually ask other countries to patrol with us, not in terms of our Navy ships, but in terms of our Coastguard ships.

SRH: I don't think it would be unconstitutional at all in fact pati yung mga Navy natin ay may kasaysayan ng joint naval exercises. Katatapos lang ng Balikatan I look forward to more -

Q: But that's the Navy --

SRH: I'm willing to be corrected by our legal experts but it is my belief that it would not be unconstitutional following the example of the Navy's for our Coastguard to also have joint naval exercises as far as each country's constitutions allow to also patrol at least those areas that are jointly and peacefully claimed at kapagka naman kasi sa exclusive economic zone ng Pilipinas, maaaring may pumasok ang ibang mga coast guard halimbawa basta't humingi ng permiso sa Pilipinas, basta pumayagh ang Pilipinas or if such should be a subject of an agreement, a formal and written agreement between or among the countries. Naalala ko tuloy ang sinabi ni retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio na the Hague ruling actually awarded not just the Philippines but all of humanity yung pinakamalaking area daw ng global commons kasi ibig sabihin hindi lang ang Pilipinas, maraming bansa ang may interes not just in the West Philippine Sea pero sa labas sa greater south China Sea and it is these countries I believe, lalo na yung mga nag-uuphold ng Hague ruling, nag-uuphold ng UNCLOS, who may explore among our governments even joint coastguard agreements and exercises.

Q: Is it time to already explore the Reed Bank? It is quIte interesting Justice Carpio said you already have other countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, they are doing their own explorations. China also said No when it was brought up with them and I believe he mentioned President Marcos at one point discuss it with the Chinese President and he said no. But should we just go on with it?

SRH: Lahat ng bahagi ng teritoryo ng Pilipinas, lahat ng saklaw ng national economy and patrimony provision ng ating Konstitusyon in principle should be open to exploration and development in the national interest and in compliance with the constitutional and legal provisions kaya tayo tumututol pag nanghihimasok ang Tsina ay dahil gusto talaga nating i-reserve ang pag-explore, ang pag-develop, ang pakinabang ng Philippine natural resources pangunahin sa mga Pilipino. I hope that NEDA is listening whenever eminent persons like Justice Carpio mention this. NEDA could well explore this and do so with Philippine stakeholders.

Q: Let's move on to the issue now of agriculture and just recently smuggled sugar you came out with a statement and you essentially castigated the release of smuggled sugar. Let's talk about the system that you uncovered?

SRH: There is a system, or the last time I checked, there was a system pero ano'ng nangyayari? Nasalisihan ang mga mamamayan at huwag nating palagpasin ito sa tinatakbo ng isyu na ito. Mapapatanong ka lang talaga, gobyerno ba itong atin? O salisi gang sa kanilang inuugali sa sugar smuggling. Sobrang pulidong-pulido ang modus hindi man lang pinawisan ang mga promotor nito. Mukha ngang wala nga kahit sino sa kanila ang kinakabahan. Napakapanatag ng loob walang nerbyos kasi ginawa talaga nila para mailusot at maisa-legal ang kontrabandong asukal na yan. Niluto na lahat parang ginawang molasses ang asukal, niluto na ng SRA, ng DA at sadly, mukha ng palasyo rin. Parang naging waiter na lang tuloy yung Bureau of Customs.

If we will recall, dalawang buwan na mula nang isiniwalat natin ang modus na ito. Napigilan sana natin ang kasakiman nila kung nabigyan tayo ng pagkakataong mag-imbestiga. Ang mga sana ay sana nakasuhan na sana si Panganiban, natulungan sana natin ang SRA na maging tapat at matapang sa sandigan ng industriya, at na-blacklist na sana ang mga smugglers at over-all, bumaba na sana ang presyo ng asukal.

Alam nyo, magic, magic na lang talaga ang pwedeng makakapagpaliwanag kung paanong nangyari. So ito labo-labo na talaga, andyan na ang supply ng Feb. 9 pero ang Sugar Order, nailabas, Feb. 15. Nai-publish ang Sugar Order Feb. 18, 3 days later at ang legal na supply dapat papasok pa lang ng March 1. Almost two weeks later. Pero dahil napakagaling talaga ng iba dyan na mag-magic, o, Feb. 9 pa lang, 3 weeks earlier than March 1 meron na dahil daw sa Jan. 13 memo galing kay ES.

But wait mas mataas na ba ngayon ang memo ng Executive Secretary kaysa sa Sugar Order? At kung hindi naman pala kailangan ng sugar order, bakit pa may regulator? At kung nakukuha naman pala sa simpleng memo ang pag-aangkat ng mga produkto, para saan pa ang SRA? I remember, they attempted this last year, pero hindi natin tinantanan. Ang problema, ngayong umulit, nag Take 2, parang pinulido pa yung modus. Ganyan na ba ngayon ang mga institusyon natin? Gagamitin na lang para sa pagkagahaman ng iba dyan? and the frustrating thing is, kung gaano kabilis nag hearing sa SO 4 ganun kabagal yung imbestigasyon sa SO 6.

Q: Let's address the elephant in the room, frankly speaking, it's the president who is the agricultural secretary so you have lawmakers heeding the agriculture undersecretary Domingo Panganiban, but if this were another administrator, we would be all asking the Agriculture secretary why is this happening? This is the purview of the agriculture secretary but nobody can seem to question the President.

SRH: But you know, the actors to this crime have already dragged him even visually into this investigation.

Q: But why is it "dragged him"? Isn't he responsible as the secretary?

SRH: Indeed, he is. He is the concurrent agriculture secretary while also the president and there's a photo,. May picture pa nga si presidente kasama itong tatlong smugglers at si DA Senior Usec Panganiban e mapapatanong ka na naman, baka yang retrato na yan sa meeting nila noong January 25 ang tunay na Sugar Order. Kasi okay, January 25 ang kodakan at pagkatapos may suplay na ng February 9. Dumating ang asukal bago pa man ma-aprubahan at mapublish yung SO6. Yan na ba ang bagong kalakaran ng Malacanang at ng apuradong cartel. At sa loob ng dalawang buwan, nagplantsa ng gusot ang SRA. Mula sa mga dagdag na memo, patong-patong na clearance, pabaligtad na pagbasa ng kalendaryo -- I showed you the scrambled egg timeline, ginawa ang lahat para lang mailabas ang puslit na supply, walang duda na pilit nilang tinutuwid ang baluktot. This is legal cover-up at its finest, or its grossest.

Q: And would this have the go signal of the President if we have no less than the Executive Secretary as you said also giving out the memo. Because the ES won't be acting, that's the right hand of the President, the little President. Why would he do that unless the president knew about it?

SRH: That's what we need to ask to hear from the ES and possibly even from the President kasi yung sina-cite ni USec Panganiban na de facto basis niya para sa kanyang de facto sugar order ay itong memo na mula kay ES. Hindi naman illegal ang pagbibigay ng memo, ginagawa talaga yan. Pero yung memo, dapat ding may legal basis. Ang legal basis para sa issue na ito ay yung paulit ulit ko na ngang sinasabi: KAILANGAN NG SUGAR ORDER BAGO MAKAPAG-ANGKAT. An SO is quite simply a requirement under the law. I shouldn't need to tell this to the ES at syempre si Presidente din, siya ang pinakamataas sa aming nagtatrabaho sa agobyerno e Dapat alam din nila ito at masagot sana at least ng office of the ES what Usec Panganiban did according to him on the strength of the memo of ES, he effectively bypassed the legal mandate of the SRA. Other government agencies have followed suit in these bad examples, at ang Bureau of Customs naman, hindi rin pala naghahanap ng sugar order. Basta na lang nila tinanggap ang clearance ng SRA, kahit pa klaro namang smuggled ang dumating na supply noong Feb. 9. Bakit pa may batas kung hindi naman susundin?

Q: Is it really harder frankly to call the agriculture secretary into account because he is the President because what happens is, I know that you are calling the attention of the SRA but this is an undersecretary, I mean really, at the end of the day, in another universe, na all we are talking about the secretary.

SRH: Right, and we are.

Q: I don't hear senators criticizing the agriculture secretary, let;s be honest. Is it difficult it is the President?

SRH: In terms of balance of power, it might seem difficult to call the president but in terms of accountability, lahat naman po kami ay nanumpa sa parehong Konstitusyon, so the president is as accountable or dahil siya ang aming primus inter pares sa buong gobyerno, we could say in principle na siya ang pinaka-accountable. And in fact, at this late stage, in this continuing crime na sinusubukan nilang i-perfect, okay, mananawagan ako kay Presidente, sir, ilang smoking gun ba ang kailangan ninyo para maitama ito at para mabigyan ng hustisya ang sugar industry? And by the way, Mr President, dagdag pa diyan, nasaan na ang ipinagmamalaki nilang suplay na ibibigay diumano sa kadiwa? Hindi naman pala kasali doon ang asukal ng mga paboritong importers na All Asian, Edison Lee marketing at Sucden Philippines, naging isang malaking paasa lang pala ang Kadiwa na iyan. Simula pa lang sinabi ko na dapat ibigay yan ng libre sa tao huwag ibenta tapos ngayon pala ang ending, wala rin palang dadating ni isang kilo sa Kadiwa. Over and over again the president's name and position is dragged into this issue from beginning up to the sorry and that we are seeing. Kailan pa ba sila magsstep in dito at iwawasto?

Q: Should he really just appoint a full time agriculture secretary. I know you've called on this before and the president has laid out when he believes is the right time. When should the time be?

SRH: The time has long passed. It should have been at the start of the administration dahil tulad ng health, ang agrikultura ay isang bahagi ng ating paggogobyerno na nasa krisis since the previous administration and now with these unrelenting crimes and attempted crimes, dagdag sa pabigat ng ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda and other rural sectors at dagdag sa pabigat ng ating mga konsyumer na hindi na halos abot-kaya ang presyo ng mga pagkain. Well, the time has long passed to appoint a full time agriculture secretary to address these issues and to prevent and to make accountable those accountable for such crimes and you know, to look at the long term agricultural development agenda that our country has long been asking for but not ever to sweep under the rug itong mga ganitong krimen at attempted crimes tulad ng agricultural smuggling. Itong pagbibigay sa tatlong kumpanya lang, dati at least sampu. Madalas mga tens of importers, thirty importers per sugar order. Tatlong kumpanya lang sa 450,000 metric tons. Sa suma hindi naman bumaba ang presyo ng asukal sa 65 pesos.

Q: Based on your research, are you seeing these companies, three favored sugar importers, are you seeing a connection with Malacanang or what special about the three?

SRH: We're really looking into that bakit nga sila special hindi sila regular tulad ng tens of other importers that historically have been given awards of allocation under previous sugar orders. They're so special nakapagmeeting sila at nakapag-retrato kasama si Presidente sa Malacanang mismo. What so special about them considering that one of them has a history of smuggling, one of them ay diumanong undercapitalized sabi ko nga para siyang Pharmally doon sa imbestigasyon namin sa pandemic supplies, ito namang isa sa sugar smuggling, undercapitalized pero pinaboran in a previous usgar order hindi siya nabigyan ng anumang allocation by other importers. Kumbaga kahit sa peers nila sa industry, walang confidence sa kanila. Ang yung mataas na presyo ang maasahan kapag walang pwedeng lapitan kundi ang iilang kumorner ng supply. That's what these three are examples of. At gusto nilang i-cartelize ito. They are putting up a new sugar cartel. They are probably looking forward to establishing a new sugar monopoly. What are we waiting for?

Q: You have not seen is there a connection between among the three to the President himself?

SRH: That's what we should ask and find out in the investigation kasi nga I haven't heard of previous sugar importers sa ilalim ng mga naunang sugar orders marami na yun na nakapag-retrato at nakapag-meeting kay presidente sa malacanang so really maitatanong what so special about these three? Na hindi naman nila deserve kumbaga. Kung yung isa ay dati nang smuggler, yung isa ay undercapitalized, siguro naman may mas marami pang sugar importers dyan na all these years sumunod sa batas na nagreregulate sa SRA, siguro naman maraming ibang importers na sumusunod sa iba pang mga batas natin at dahil sa importation nila in those times naibaba ang presyo ng asukal so really why did these three get ahead of the line in front of them bakit pagkatapos ng tatlo, isinara na ang pila kahit sa iba.

Q: There's already been a change, I know that the president has announced that the national food authority will no longer import rice for its buffer stock but buy from the local farmers which is the right thing. Wasn't that really the mandate of the NFA to begin with?

SRH: In looking at our agricultural crisis we really need always to look at support for our rice farmers pagpapataas, pagtakda at pagpapataas ng farm gate prices nila. Suporta sa kanila sa simula ng agricultural process in terms of subsidies para sa kanilang mga inputs at sa dulo naman ng proseso, pag-provide, halimbawa, pinanawagan namin doon sa krisis sa sibuyas , yung cold storage facilities, yung irrigation systems., Pero ito namang sa buffer stock ay mayroon ding kailangang sundin na mga rules ng national food authority, kailangan strategic din ang location ng mga buffer stock na iyan at hindi lang isang nationwide na utos ni presidente tungkol diyan.

Q: Actually you were asking the economic managers to justify why we need to increase the buffer stock. But shouldn't it really be increased? Am I correct to say the buffer stock is 9 days?

SRH: It has to be studied whether the buffer stock has to be increased beyond nine days kaya nga't hinihintay natin na kaagad na mag weigh in dyan ang NEDA, maabisuhan, magabayan nila ang NFA so that can be carried out properly. Laging evidence-based palagi dapat kami sa policy making at sila rin ang ating executive sa kanilang mga desisyon tungkol sa ganitong programa.

Q: My last question is the divorce bill. Last women's month, it was quite interesting that you are still pushing for the Divorce bill. Why are you optimistic that after all these years, you have Filipinos allergic to the word divorce, also given our, I mean the landscape of, the majority of Filipinos are Catholic, you have lawmakers that won't touch the word divorce, are you seeing something different now?

SRH: I'm seeing something different kahit yung latest well kahit mga 2018 pa iyon pero survey ng SWS bago ng pandemya tungkol sa divorce, nagpakita na may mayorya nating mga Pilipino na pumapabor dito, 57 o 53 percent na clear majority at muli for the second congress in a row, naaprubahan na ng House of Representatives on third and final reading ng kanilang version ng kanilang Dissolution of Marriage or Divorce bill at kami rin po sa Senado, pangalawang beses na, natapos namin ang hearing tungkol doon, magtetechnical working group para maglabas muli ng isang committee report,. Kami yung kailangang magcatch up ulit sa House at kami sa Kongreso, kailangang mag-catch up sa ating mamamayan.

Q: Are you calling this the divorce bill or the Dissolution of Marriage bill?

SRH: Well my own bill and please note there are eight bills in the Senate this Congress from six of us senators, my bill is called the Dissolution of Marriage but in effect it is a divorce bill kapag nafinalize namin ang ---

Q: Although you're thinking it's acceptable, it's more palatable?

SRH: Well a rose by any other name is just as sweet at ang magiging epekto naman niya ay divorce and the way we are again understanding still presenting these bills to our colleagues to the public ay itong divorce bill totoong, yung totoong pro-marriage, pro-family, pro-women, pro-children bill at ito ay magbibigay ng second chance in life and love sa maraming kababayan natin.

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