Press Release
November 25, 2021

Transcript of interview of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III in The Source with Pinky Webb

On the Ayungin Shoal Incident

Q: Tito Sen, maraming Salamat po sa inyong oras.

SP Sotto: Thank you Pinky, this is my nth time in The Source, and thank you for having me.

Q: You have always been available and gracious, thank you. First, I wanted to ask you, because I had Sen. Ping yesterday in The Source also, and we talked about at length, what happened in Ayungin Shoal and of course, the West Philippine Sea. How come you weren't with Sen. Ping when he visited Pag-Asa Island?

SP Sotto: Tuesday, we had a hearing of the Department of National Defense, and then after the budget interpellations of the national defense department, nagkaroon ng mga picture-taking, and I was beside Sec. Lorenzana. We even had a conversation and the usual fist-bump. And then, the following day, he sent a message that he tested positive for Covid-19, so, automatically, the Senate doctors recommended that all of us who were near Sec. Lorenzana would go into an at least a five-day semi-quarantine. After the fifth day, you must get your own RT-PCR test, so, that falls on Saturday evening, eh Saturday morning yung lakad nila Ping. I did not want to jeopardize everybody by joining them and then all of a sudden, I would be tested positive, so I played it safe. I wanted to go, I really wanted to go. I wish I did.

Q: Do you plan to make a visit though?

SP Sotto: One of these days, if necessary, or if time permits, or the situation calls for it, I would, we will.

Q: I asked that because as I mentioned a while ago, we talked at length what is the situation at Pag-Asa Island, and there are a number of recommendations from Sen. Ping Lacson that sounded quite siguro something that can be implemented. So, you can visit probably one of these days, and if time permits, but let me shift first to what happened in Ayungin Shoal, because as of yesterday the civilian boats have actually reached the BRP Sierra Madre that is there in Ayungin Shoal, for the resupply efforts. I wanted first to ask you as Senate President, how did you feel when news broke out regarding the Philippine boats being water-cannoned by the Chinese Coast Guard, on their way to Sierra Madre.

SP Sotto: Well, I was irritated and sad at the same time, because they are supposed to be our neighbors, we should be friendly with our neighbors, but what the Chinese coast guard is showing is that they do not have any regard for anything else except what they think is their property. So, at this point, really, I already filed a bill that declares the maritime zones of the Philippines. Kung sila may nine dash line, tayo meron din dapat, so, I filed a bill, the Maritime Zones Act, and Sen. Lacson, as a matter of fact, is coauthoring the bill. It seeks to preserve and protect the country's sovereign rights in our area, in the West Philippine Sea and this is in the face of increased Chinese militarization in the West Philippine Sea. But, even before that, I filed it two months ago dahil hindi nga medyo maganda ang pinakikita sa atin ng China. So, let's have our own map similar to China's nine dash line, let's insist on our maritime zone, and then also, the best thing to do is to review the MDT, the Mutual Defense Treaty, and the EDCA, the Enhanced Defense Cooperative Agreement, and that could probably be a sign to our neighbor that we have a big brother that can help us in the area. Because let me be very clear on why this area is very important. It is the Highway 54, or the EDSA, or the C5, whatever you want to call it, of trade in the South China Sea and in the West Philippine Sea. International trade goes through there. So, hindi pupwedeng sasabihin mo, aangkinin mo lang, basta nag deklara ka ito ay amin. As far as the Philippine Sea is concerned, we should be very protective of our rights, of our property, of our sovereignty. And then, also, there is this underlying thing, the area is very rich. Natural gas, oil, and stuff. So, kailangan talaga, we have to be very strong about it.

Q: That seems to be a very important bill. Let me ask you, what is the likelihood of that being passed before you end this particular Congress?

SP Sotto: Best effort on the part of the Senate. And hopefully, the House of Representatives will be very supportive. Because this is based, the bill that I filed is based on the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, or the UNCLOS. And then, we have also the arbitral ruling to back us up, hindi ba? So, hopefully, and I hope the President will even issue a certification of urgency.

Q: Is there a counterpart at the House of Representatives already regarding this bill?

SP Sotto: I am not sure. I will check on my NPC party-mates at the House of Representatives if one of them has already filed it. I am not sure, there might be already.

Q: This reminds me of a news item way back. I am not sure when, it just came to mind right now that I believe it was Sec. Esperon who also wanted to declare this area as I think it was called, maritime protected areas. So, somehow, it becomes a little bit similar to me, although I do not know the fine print of your Maritime Zone Act. Pero ang ibig ko pong sabihin, nandiyan na po si Sec. Esperon, obviously he is part of the Executive Branch, who has a similar mindset. Wouldn't it be important and urgent tight now to be able to have this bill passed before you end this particular Congress?

SP Sotto: Yes, as a matter of fact, when I resume the session at 3 o'clock I will make it a point to talk to our Foreign Relations Committee chair, Sen. Pimentel, and ten our National Defense chair Sen. Ping Lacson, and hope to prioritize the measure. Because we will have enough time to take it up by next week or the week after. We will be in session until, well, of course we will probably be having the period of amendments sa December 1, holiday yung 30 eh. December 1. The LBRMO is now finishing the interpellations of the proposed amendments, and then that means by December 6, we would be able to tackle it. And we have quite a few days to do that, because the break is on December 17. The budget should have been signed by that time already. And then when we come back in January 18 or 19, if I am not mistaken, we still have enough time, we have three, four weeks before the campaign break. It's really possible. Especially in the light of what is happening there right now.

Q: Because I want to add what happened yesterday. According to Sec. Delfin Lorenzana dumating na po yung mga resupply boats. Pero ang sabi po niya, something that I watched yesterday, that the Chinese coast guard allegedly sent a rubber boat with three persons who would actually take videos and photos of the activity there. Ibig sabihin, from my understanding, is that pagdating ng resupply boat, nagpadala ng rubber boat yung Chinese coast guard na sa kay ang Chinese nationals, mini monitor, vini-video, pinipiktyuran kung ano yung dala ng supply boat at inilalagay doon sa BRP Sierra Madre. Is that even acceptable?

SP Sotto: I have a tendency to think that the upper ups of China know about this. Hindi pupwedeng sila-sila lang sa Chinese coast guard...pwede rin na sila-sila lang yun, gustong umepal nung mga coast guard nila. But then again, I think the department of foreign affairs headed by Sec. Teddyboy Locsin has already sent a strong worded complaint on the matter that has happened. Dapat alam na ng higher-ups nila ito, ang nangyayari na ito. So, pag ganyan pa rin, may mga pamonitor-monitor pa and then we have this text na pinapadala doon sa mga dumadating doon sa area, di ba may mga radio warnings pa, eh alam nila yan. Alam nila yan. Medyo, I hate to say it, but they are practically bullying us and yung sinasabi ng Presidente na (unclear) hindi daw sila nangbu-bully ng maliliit na bansa, eh sino ang binu-bully nila? Malaking bansa? Takot nga sila doon eh.

Q: So, in summary, it's this. You want to pass this Maritime Zone Act and then kailangan pong ireview ang Mutual Defense Treaty and EDCA, but is there anything else that can be done? I am not sure if this could be part of it, but nagkakaroon po ba, or pinaguusapan po ba among the Senators yung tinatawag na 'sense of the Senate'? Because, just to add, our boats were water-cannoned. Umalis, ngayon pinayagan, they allowed us to resupply, pero ganoon na lang po ba yun, pagkatapos tayong i-water cannon, okay na kasi pinayagan naman tayong bumalik at nakapag resupply na sa BRP Sierra Madre?

SP Sotto: You just gave me a very good idea, I think we should come up with a sense of the Senate. It will probably back-up the statements made by the Department of Foreign Affairs, or the letters that they have sent them. And by the way, I just checked during the break, there is a counterpart bill in the House of Representatives. I am just checking on who is the principal author in the House, but I can get in touch with Speaker Velasco within the day and ask him to help us prioritize the measure.

Q: Alright. Just quickly, the 2022 budget, what is the status? Because kagabi po, may ti-nweet po yata si Sen. Gatchalian na one stage of the 2022 budget has been finished.

SP Sotto: Yes, the most taxing part of any bill is the period of interpellations and it was terminated last night. So, our chairman, Sen. Sonny Angara, chairman of the Committee on Finance, asked us to submit our amendments even as early as yesterday. So, we were starting to send already our amendments and then today, they will be accepting it, the LBRMO will be incorporating it, Sen. Sonny Angara will bring it up probably later or next week, and that means he will be accepting it on the floor. We will be submitting the amendments also in plenary and not just to the committee, hindi masyadong matagal yun. Matagal lang yun, if ever, there is a controversy on any amendments to be proposed. Otherwise the interpellations period, as I said, the most difficult of all, has been terminated. We are now in the period of amendments.

Q: When do you think the budget will be passed?

SP Sotto: By December 1, hopefully, as far as the Senate is concerned. We will be finished, I hope, by December 1, and then the bicameral conference committee will kick in, I will be delegating already a number of our Senators to be members of the bicam. Ang prediction namin would be, siguro mga seven to ten days ang bicam between the House and us. That would mean, by December 10 or 11, at the most, we would be ratifying the bicameral conference committee report. And I would be, after Speaker Velasco signs it, I would sign the copy that will be sent to the President. So, that will give the President enough time to review before December 17 if he plans to sign it by December 17.

Q: Let me shift topics. The controversial statement of President Rodrigo Duterte on a presidential aspirant who allegedly is taking drugs. Kayo po ni Senator Ping, I think two days ago nagpa-test po kayo, si Sen. Manny Pacquiao meron ding pinadalang test but I believe this was taken sometime in September, but this was supposedly a very comprehensive one for athletes. Si presidential aspirant Bongbong Marcos also sent his results, also negative din po. I know that if we go back to history, alam naman po natin na you were chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board, you have been fighting illegal drugs for a very long time, but what is the sure way? I guess, that is what I want to find out. That a presidential aspirant or a vice-presidential aspirant at that is not taking illegal drugs? I ask that because you very well know that I believe if it is a urine sample, after a couple of days, 72-hours, hindi na po daw allegedly nakikita yan sa sample taken?

SP Sotto: Not with the multi-drug immunometric assay as they call it. To be very sure, the best thing is what we did, what Sen. Lacson and I did. You go to PDEA, you give your sample there, in their presence, and they use the multi-drug immunometric assay testing kit. It is not just like the regular testing kits, it is a testing kit for all types of illegal drugs. Not just for cocaine or shabu or marijuana, hindi. Very ano ito, very encompassing. So, that is the best thing. Instead of taking a drug test, your question is, what is the specific way, ano? Para sigurado, because, I firmly believe that the leaders of our country should be drug free. We should lead by example and by conviction. How can the people believe us if we cannot do that? I have always undergone voluntary drug testing every time I run, because I placed it in the law that I authored, the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, Republic Act 9165, only, it was shot down by the Supreme Court, because unconstitutional daw, because nakalagay daw those who will seek public office must be a Filipino citizen and know how to read and write lang, walang sinabi doon na ibang qualification. So, inalis nila yun, but I originally placed it in the law. So, ginagawa ko na lang voluntary. Ngayon, as I said, to answer your question, the best thing is to undergo the multi-drug para sigurado yung mga kababayan natin and you go to PDEA, or you go to the PNP crime lab. Sila ang mga meron noon eh. As a matter of fact, all the PDEA regional offices I think have this, the multi-drug immunometric assay kung tawagin, yun ang pinaka accurate sa lahat.

Q: This is the part where we go up close and personal with you. These are the questions just answerable by yes or no, at tinatanong po namin ito sa lahat ng nai-interview namin na kumakandidato. Let me begin, again, it is just a yes or no answer. Do you favor easier public access to SALNs of the president, vice-president, and members of Congress?

SP Sotto: Yes, we did it in the Senate.

Q: Do you support lifting foreign ownership limits in the Constitution?

SP Sotto: Yes.

Q: Do you favor the re-imposition of death penalty for drug related crimes?

SP Sotto: Well, I cannot answer that with a yes or no now. Yes, before, but I filed a bill to answer the problem of the issue of death penalty. We passed it in the Senate already, it is in the House of Representatives. It's establishing a national penitentiary for high-level drug traffickers and heinous criminals. Ihihiwalay natin sila, parang death penalty na rin yun without the death penalty.

Q: Should a sitting president be allowed to run for vice-president in the next election?

SP Sotto: I don't think so, no.

Q: Do you favor resuming peace talks with communist rebels?

SP Sotto: In the barangay level, in the lower level. Not in the higher-ups, they are not being followed anyway. We should have peace talks below.

Q: Should the country be aggressive in protecting its maritime interest in the West Philippine Sea?

SP Sotto: Yes.

Q: Kayo po ay tumatakbong vice-president and in the recent surveys, kayo po ang lumalabas na nangunguna. Here comes Mayor Sara Duterte running for vice-president. Is this going to make your campaign more difficult? And how do you feel her about joining the vice-presidential race?

SP Sotto: Sen. Lacson and I have already decided even as early as July, therefore August, we made a decision that we have a program, we have a platform, that we are offering for the people. We are focused on that and our campaign is programmed already all the way to May of 2022. It does not matter to us who else is running. We have said that before, and we have an agreement that we will not talk about those other candidates who are competing with us in the same position. Ganoon yung situation namin, therefore, whoever else is running, we are focused on what we need to do and what we need to campaign with, and for.

Q: I do remember those statements coming from you and Sen. Ping Lacson. One last question, with what is happening so far, there is only November, the elections are in six months. This unification formula initially proposed by Sen. Ping Lacson, what I want to find out from you is this: should this be reconsidered sometime in March again, or even in April?

SP Sotto: I doubt if we should reconsider it already. We have discussed it twice, and apparently, those that we have talked to, they are in favor of unification with then as the lead, so it does not sit with us. Th original proposal of Sen. Lacson is that okay, all of us will file, we have one or two regular candidates, pagdating ng March we will find out kung sino yung malalakas, doon tayo. But they rejected that. So, I don't think that it is possible. During the second meeting naman with the others, ganoon din. Sinasabi is they have the best chance (unclear) so, I don't think the unification talks will materialize.

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