Q and A portion with Mar Roxas at the Makati Business Club Forum
Fairmont Hotel, Makati

[March 30, 2016]


PE: I’ll shoot the first question, Secretary Mar. I’ve got about 30 questions here and you practically answered all of them. [Applause]

Here’s one question. What is your view, and if you become president, would you support  the country joining the TPP program, the Trans-Pacific Partnership?  Can you give us finally an answer?

ROXAS: No, I’ve given you an answer before.  But here’s the thing, here’s the political reality, for any of you who’ve been following CNN, BBC: TPP is dead.  There is no single American presidential candidate that is backing TPP today.  So, I think that we should put this in the context that the realities without the United States as a market, there is no TPP, right? I think that the way the dynamics are going in the U.S. today, the chances for TPP are slim to none.

However, having said that, assuming that it was viable, assuming that it was going on, what do I think about international trade agreements? I think that’s the real question.

I think international trade agreements are good because it broadens our market, it gives us access. However, they must be fair. They must give us the same opportunity to access their market as they have an opportunity to access ours.

What’s the sticking point in all trade agreements? Agriculture. Because other countries subsidize their agriculture, have export subsidy, they buy product from their farmers to enable them to stay alive. We are not prosperous enough to do that. So what happens when Archer Daniels Midlands—what happens when all of this industrialized, mechanized, huge American conglomerates come in and dump their product here, whether it’s rice, corn, vegetables, and so on and so forth, right?

So, I am very careful. I will be very careful. I’ve negotiated for the country, the JPEPA, [your] Excellency [to Ambassador Ishikawa]. I was the trade negotiator for JPEPA. I was the senator who defended it on the Senate floor as a trade agreement.

I think the trade agreement worked for us. We had access to the Japanese Market. The Japanese Market have access to us. There was an agreement that rice, which was sacred to the Japanese, would not be one of the items that we would trade among our two countries and so on and so forth, right?

The point I’m trying to make is, for TPP as its stands right now—no, I would not be in favor of it because it will kill our agriculture sector. [Applause]

Is this hard and into the future? No. The question is: What are the terms of engagement?

Look at the members of TPP: Singapore? No agriculture sector to protect. Brunei? No agriculture sector to protect.  Remember, 33% of our people are dependent on agriculture. That’s 30 million people… 65 million people but I think this a good discussion. Vietnam is subscribed to the TPP. What’s the difference between Vietnam and us? Vietnam, one-unitary-landed country with Mekong River Delta as its irrigation field. Philippines, archipelago, we have to build our irrigation. So their rice is infinitely cheaper to produce than our rice.

So, I think that what we need to do is we don’t look at these things as ends in themselves. Trade agreements for our country should be access to markets, should be opportunities. If we do not find opportunity, if we do not find access, why go to it and just have the negatives? Because they intend to sell to us. They intend to be part of a trade agreement, TPP. The other countries intend to sell to us. We must be very clear what we intend to sell to them and it is viable? Because if not, lugi tayo.

So, for TPP, not only that I give you the answer, I give you the thinking behind it so that you understand where I would go and how I would act given the opportunity to be your president. [Applause]

JAZA: Secretary Roxas, like Perry, I’ve got lots of questions here. But I’ll try and cover some of the questions that obviously does many things and you’ve addressed many issues but there are a couple that still on the side here. This is one question: 25 years after the Local Government Code was enacted into law many have argued that the decentralization experiment has failed. Others completely agree with it. The Roxas-Robredo platform of government states that national development is only possible through local empowerment. You’ve also said that the government was good at some things and that the private sectors should be allowed to do the rest. How do you stand on the devolution of power, Local Government Code and empowering LGUs? Are you supportive of it or less supportive of it?

ROXAS: I’m supportive of empowering our LGUs. But I think that this power, as in all powers, must be limited and circumscribed. There is no unlimited power, even the constitution limits powers of the presidency.

There are 1,490 municipalities in our country. If they do well, because powers and resources are devolved to them, then that is the prosperity in the countryside that we so need and want.

Now, what are some of the problems? Let me go straight to the point. The problem is differing regulation between local and national. So, that you might, for example, be a bus company, you have a national franchise from LTFRB but when you pass at certain locality they’ll ask you or they’ll tax you another amount because you’re passing through their locality.

So, there’s a very simple solution. I would again go to Congress; I understand this quite well. I would go to Congress and put under Ecozone status major government projects and contracts—cell sites for example, dams, power plants, major irrigation facilities so that all of these major infrastructure are not at the mercy of a local whimsical warlord. [Applause]

That’s the real problem, diba? You have the problem in Pagbilao, for example, in Quezon. They were going to foreclose on the power plant, thinking only they have not paid the real property taxes. They’re thinking local but the impact of their action was national. It would have brought down the entire Luzon grid, right? Had that been put through an Ecozone status, as I’m proposing, then they would be subject only to one set of rules and there would be no more harassment, pati potential for harassment for any of these major projects. So that’s what I would do. [Applause]

PE: There’s one from the floor. Your campaign is anchored in the continuity of Daang Matuwid. Does this also mean that you will retain a good number of Cabinet secretaries and key officials in the Aquino administration? Who will be your key appointees? [Laughter from the audience]

ROXAS: I expect a clean slate. Every president gets a clean slate. I expect a clean slate as we begin in 2016. [Applause]

PE: Do you have any persons in mind, Secretary Mar?

ROXAS: You know I’ve been through this a number of times when I served in Cabinet in the past. I think it’s unfair to those people who will be named because then they will be scrutinized and they’ll be perhaps pilloried, and demonized perhaps, and so on and so forth.

I think first thing’s first; let’s win first and then let’s discuss the cabinet. [Applause]

JAZA: Here is another question from the floor, Secretary. What are the things we must do to strengthen our resilience to disasters and negative effects of climate change? Let’s say, for instance, the Angat Dam collapses due to a large earthquake and that Metro Manila remains, of course, an important component of our national economy—Do you have some thoughts on mitigating economic disasters and how we should prepare ourselves?

ROXAS: Well, I think one of the most important projects that the government undertook—and I intend to continue this and expand further—is the investment in forecasting technology. I don’t know if you remember the days when if PAGASA said “rain,” you all knew you could go to the beach. [Laughter] And if they said “sunny,” you better bring an umbrella. [Laughter] Those were the old days. We all laugh because we all went through that experience, right? I mean no class tomorrow: Yehey! Then we’re all out playing because it is a sunny day, right? Okay, we all remember that. [Laughter]

Now, here’s the thing: We invested in forecasting technology billions of pesos, so that what you’ve seen over the last several years, it started out 24-hour notice, it’s become 48-hour notice, it’s now 72-hour notice. We can now actually forecast better where the storms—Earthquake, nobody can predict an earthquake—but storms you can actually go and predict. We have about 25 storms, tropical depressions, that enter our area of responsibility every year. You can now actually predict it. You can inform all the people, get them out.

Yolanda was a great tragedy. But, remember this was the biggest storm ever to hit land in human history. We lost nearly 7,000 people and that’s… One and a half million families were displaced. It’s a huge tragedy. But we learned from that.

Subsequently, we invested further. We were able to, now, forcibly evacuate people from the coastal areas whenever there was a warning of the storm and that’s why the casually counts of subsequent storms have diminished substantially.

So, when it comes to storms, which is what hits us most regularly, forecasting resiliency, building capacity of the LGUs to themselves be able to respond to these calamities. For example, very, very simple, have a genset [generator set] for every munisipiyo, for every rural health unit, for every hospital that’s along the Pacific coast of our country. That will require investment, but that’s something that all we sorely need, and for, you know, the countries on the western side don’t go through what comes in from the Pacific eh. So iba naman ang pangangailangan dito sa western side.

So, the point I’m trying to make is definitely we need to build greater resiliency. We’ve come very far. We need to build greater resiliency, but the most fundamental element here is the information. So, we’ve invested in that already. We need to build better models; weather pattern models. If we need to, we need to buy or get access, by time, to this supercomputer, so, our weather pattern models are the best that we get so, that we can, in fact, inform our people.

I’ll just give you a tidbit. This is an interesting tidbit. In the United States, their weather bureau is, guess who it reports to? Department of Agriculture. Historically, in the U.S. their government, their people, invested in the weather bureau so that they could tell the farmers when to plant, when to harvest, when to expect the cold front, and so on and so forth. The point I’m trying to make is, it’s not investing for the sake of investing. It’s investing so that what we can save our people from the calamity, so that we can build resiliency in our communities, so that we can rise up after these calamities hit much after, and that’s why we need to invest more in these technologies. [Applause]

JAZA: I think given the time, Perry, maybe you’d take the last question.

PE: One more question for you. ask.

ROXAS: That looks like a novel. Ang haba niyan ah.

PE: I know, I know, I know. [Laughs] Again from the audience, Sec. Mar, ha.

You’ve been very loyal to this Aquino administration to the point that your current campaign calls for the continuation of Daang Matuwid. But, if I may cite an actual case, the Mamasapano, President PNoy did not include you in the planning and the actual operation for the capture of the terrorist Marwan. This is despite the fact that you were the DILG Secretary and despite the fact that the then PNP chief was administratively suspended. What were your thoughts about this snub? Did you feel like resigning from the administration then? 

ROXAS: Well, I did resign. I did offer my resignation, at least, on two occasions. The president was surprised when I did that. Then I said, “Well, you know, if you have no more confidence in me…” [He said,] “No! No! I thought that you knew. And, in fact, I ordered them to tell you”

And, as you know, from all the Senate hearings, and all of the other statements by everybody else, uncontested, that General Purisima told Napeñas, “Wag mo na sabihan si Roxas at si Espina.”

You know what’s the hardest thing for me to take of Mamasapano? It’s not the snub. I don’t see it as a snub. The snub is about me eh. It’s like, it’s not that. It’s that 44 guys who fought for our flag went in an operation where they lost their lives. And it could have been prevented had there been coordination.

My relationship with Sec. Volts Gazmin is one of the most solid relationships in the Cabinet. We were together 21 days in Zamboanga during the Zamboanga siege. We we’re together in Yolanda. Both of us, while the winds, and the storm, and the waves, and everything—We were there, huddled.

If there were such an operation, my own common sense, I know PNP does not have helicopters, does not have gunships, does not have armored personnel carrier, does not have howitzer, does not have mortar. All of these things that those 44 soldiers would have needed had they entered this very dangerous territory. So, that’s what’s really very, very difficult for me to take. But, you know, “what if, what if, what if…”

I was not given a chance. I am sad about that, because 44 people lost their lives.

Now, as it relates to the question of trust, many people tried to intrigue between the president and me. But here’s the thing, how can you say that he didn’t trust me, eh he said, “This is the guy upon which Daang Matuwid will continue?” [Applause]

I’m not loyal to PNoy as a matter of political back scratching. He is a decent guy. He’s worked hard. He’s been through a lot. Many times, unfairly criticized—but I mean, you guys, everybody here, look at your bank accounts. [Laughter and applause] Look at the value of your land. Look at the economy. Look at the number of people who have moved out of the poverty line. Look at the infrastructure that has been built. We’ve come a long way. [Cheers and applause]

And I just want say, the best is yet to come. [Cheers and applause]

JAZA: We’ll take this as the last question, Sec. Roxas. And apologies to everyone who sent so many questions. I think the secretary has addressed many issues on the economic front and I’ll take the liberty of just asking my own question at the end, which is not an economic one, but maybe to finish off the day.

You’ve been traveling around the country, secretary, and [you] had the chance to see it at close range in many ways although, you have a history, obviously, with the DILG and various other posts. As you reflect on the country, at this stage, has anything struck you on your trips and your visits? You’re seeing the Philippines up close at this time of the year. Maybe, as a parting set of remarks, as we close this forum, maybe just some thoughts on how you see the country? What’s inspired you? How have you seen it, as you’ve seen it up close, across, outside Manila?

ROXAS: That’s a great question because really wherever you go, and I hope that you continue to travel around our country. And not just stay at the resorts, but go out and talk to common people, real people. I know that you do, Jaime.

We’re a great people. People work hard. They sacrifice. They do without, so that they can give to their children all that they can. Even in the midst of calamity—Yolanda, we were walking around there in a hovel, really tarpaulin cover. Sec. Volts and I, we were walking around, inspecting, trying to figure out how to clear the streets, etc. People will smile at you and offer you a hot cup of coffee because they’re steaming coffee by a small fire that they’re doing. We’re a generous people and our people deserve so much more than what they’re getting. And that’s what this journey is all about. It’s giving them what is their due, a due that many of us here already enjoy, perhaps, even take for granted, but for them is still quite unreachable.

All the way north from Abono, all the way south to Tawi-Tawi, people work hard. Fishermen—They do what they can to earn a living and they’re quite innovative on how they save their money and manage their resources, meager as it is, to try to make it through the day and to set something aside for the future. And their hopes and dreams, when they talk to me, is not very different from your hopes and dreams. Maybe, just differentiated by the number zeroes. [Laughter] But really, I mean and when I think that we, you, part of the governing elite, the businessmen, the educated, those who have made it—we owe them, we owe our people what we can. Not because it’s a handout, not because of paawa, but simply recognition of what they do—the hard work that they do. Unfortunately, their hard work is not compensated properly because of just the system that’s in place. And those are some of the blockages that we need to remove, so that they can unleash their own potentials and receive the just wage, compensation, income that they so richly deserve.

We’re a great nation and we can do so much better.

Maraming salamat. Thank you all.

PE/JAZA: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.