Interview

Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo by Christian Esguerra (ANC – Early Edition)

ESGUERRA:  Before the New Year, he attacked the Catholic Church yet again. This time ridiculing and describing as silly the central mystery, something very, very important to Christians such as Catholics.

SEC. PANELO:  You know, the President has evolved an unorthodox, unconventional way of shaking certain religious tenets that should be given a wide range of discussion. You know—I don’t know if you are a Catholic; but I am.

ESGUERRA:  I’m a Catholic.

SEC. PANELO:  There have been many discussions regarding certain religious dogmas inside the Church. And what appears to me – anyway as a Christian – is that there are beliefs that instead of making the individual evolve into a righteous individual makes religion as an opium. In other words, they are more on the religiosity and not on the spiritual side.  Because there is a whale of a difference, Christian, with religiosity and spirituality. When you say religiosity, you are more concerned with the spiritual—or rather with religious rituals and not the practice of whatever God we believe in teach us.

ESGUERRA:  But what is the President—of course, we know that he has been attacking the Catholic Church. But in this case, what he is up to? Why go to the extent of question the central mystery, this belief, it’s how the trinity. Earlier, he called the God of the Christian stupid.

SEC. PANELO:  By the way, he is referring to another God. Meaning to say, he is serious that the God that I believe in is one of forgiving God, a compassionate God; God that teaches through his/her or its personification values. But when the very people who teach those teachings of this God do not practice it, then to the mind of the President not only are you hypocritical, you are believing in a false God, because you don’t believe in that God.

ESGUERRA:  But the same thing can also be said of politicians including the President. He talks about hypocrisy, but he is also can be accused of hypocrisy.

SEC. PANELO:  In what way?

ESGUERRA:  Just because he talks about… or talks against hypocrisy, doesn’t mean that he is not also practicing it. So, the point here is that just because certain members of a religion are not that… let’s say faithful when it comes to following the teachings, it doesn’t mean that the religion itself or the core beliefs are questionable; there is a difference between the belief and the person.

SEC. PANELO:  Remember, Christian, that when the President’s speaks of certain hypocrisy he points it out. Like for instance when under the Christian doctrine or the Catholic Church, priests should be celibate. But as we have seen, there are now thousands of cases against the priests—

ESGUERRA:  That’s true.

SEC. PANELO:  Because of sexual abuse.

ESGUERRA:  That’s true. But it doesn’t invalidate the religion itself or the belief; the same way that politicians are not supposed to steal but thousands, if not millions of them are stealing.

SEC. PANELO:  Nevertheless—

ESGUERRA:  It doesn’t mean that governance itself is problematic.

SEC. PANELO:  Nevertheless the President cannot be deprived of criticizing the Church, especially with the practice of those who advocate the doctrines of the Church.

ESGUERRA:  In that case, why not focus his criticism on the persons who made mistakes not on the central teaching or the central mystery itself?

SEC. PANELO:  I cannot even understand why people in the Church will be offended by this when certain people question your doctrines. It is your job to explain, to justify.

ESGUERRA:  In your case, you said that you are Catholic, weren’t you offended by what the President, your President said?

SEC. PANELO:  Oh, definitely not. Because I’m open to anybody questioning my religion and it is my duty to explain, to expound, why I believe in the doctrine.

ESGUERRA:  In your statement, you said that of course, somehow, that was meant to shake the tree once more.

SEC. PANELO:  Yes, as he aptly describes.

ESGUERRA:  So, you have your President who was trying to sound like a theologian. What did you tell him, did you explain your faith to him?

SEC. PANELO:  No, he never asked me.

ESGUERRA:  But you said that.

SEC. PANELO:  We never discussed it.

ESGUERRA:  But you said that was a purpose.

SEC. PANELO:  But I know, during our discussion as friends, I’ve been hearing that.

ESGUERRA:  But don’t you think it’s quite… this issue is quite simple, he is attacking the Catholic Church simply because the Church or Church leaders have been critical of the rampant killings under his watch, iyon lang naman ang isyu eh.

SEC. PANELO:  Not necessarily, even when he was a Mayor he was like that.

ESGUERRA:  To his critics.

SEC. PANELO:  No, not, really. You know individual have certain dogmas whether one of politics or religion and you cannot deprive that particular individual to expound his views on that, that’s part of the freedom of expression.

ESGUERRA:  You mentioned freedom of expression. So he’s testing the boundaries or limits a freedom of expressions.

SEC. PANELO:  It’s part of it.

ESGUERRA:   Okay, but how about the freedom of certain people to practice their religion devoid of abusive language coming from the leader of their country.

SEC. PANELO:  I would not call it abusive. I’d call it intellectual discourse questioning the validity of certain doctrines of your religion.

ESGUERRA:  Why doesn’t he do it with other religions, other faiths?

SEC. PANELO:  When he speaks, he speaks in general. It points to every kind of religion that teaches goodness and yet practices evil or wrong.

ESGUERRA:  But not all religions believed in the Trinity. So, he is being very specific here. I don’t know whether he knows a difference between Catholic and Christians in general. But basically that statement goes against the belief of all Christians.

SEC. PANELO:  Well, he doesn’t believe in the Holy Trinity. So—I mean, what’s wrong with that, with the particular—there are atheists, there are agnostics. So, let’s leave it at that. Let’s convince him or persuade him to believe in our doctrines. But if he doesn’t want, how can we be forced or how can we force him into believing.

ESGUERRA:  Isn’t the President just being bully here?

SEC. PANELO:  No. You know when you say a bully, you create fear, you intimidate people.

ESGUERRA:  Isn’t he doing that?

SEC. PANELO:  I don’t think so. You do that to defenseless people, the Church is not defenseless. It is in fact an authority on certain doctrines and it can defend itself. You bully somebody who cannot defend oneself. That is not bullying. That’s expressing one’s opinion of a particular matter.

ESGUERRA:  The victim doesn’t have to be defenseless or entirely defenseless. It’s all about the power play.

SEC. PANELO:  Oh, but its—

ESGUERRA:  It’s all about the power play. Someone is more powerful than another person or institution.

SEC. PANELO:  I disagree. To my mind when you when you bully it means that person has no capacity to defend himself as against a force, as against a power. Kaya nga merong mga batang binu-bully, kasi takot sila or hindi nila kayang ipagtanggol ang sarili nila.

ESGUERRA:  Okay. Now let’s respond to this New Year’s Eve letter that became public coming from the former President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas. So basically, he described the actions of the President as anti-Christ; not exactly the President being anti-Christ, but he outlined the actions of the President.

One, he said – he was actually addressing his God’s son here – ‘The name of God is sacred; promise me never ever to disrespect the name of God.’ And here’s more important, ‘You might not be able to understand God always, our minds are too limited, do not force the infinite God to fit into our limited minds.’

Isn’t this the case with the President, trying to sound like a theologian, trying to understand something which is actually mysterious which is the beyond the grasp of reason?

SEC. PANELO:  I will consider his statements as an indication that he doesn’t know what Anti-Christ means. When you say anti-Christ, you go against the teachings of Christ.

ESGUERRA:  And the values that he teaches.

SEC. PANELO:  And the values that he teaches. So, when the President gives specific instances of wrongs done by a particular church or the followers, then those acts are anti-Christ. But when you questions doctrines, it doesn’t mean you are anti-Christ. You are questioning that concept and it’s for you to explain to the non-believer.

ESGUERRA:  Can the President say it nicely, because you talked about—you are trying to put in context the idea of being anti-Christ. For example, he says here, shameless crass people use such dirty words do not imitate they are anti-God. So, basically, disrespect of other people that goes against the teachings. So that makes you anti-Christ. Can the President be somehow respectful at least?

SEC. PANELO:  But the President has already been like that ever since. In other words, that is his style. That was why he was voted into office, because of his style.

ESGUERRA:  But it doesn’t make it right?

SEC. PANELO:  It doesn’t make it also wrong.

ESGUERRA:  Why not?

SEC. PANELO:  Why not, because that is his style and it’s very effective. You know when he for instance, concocts stories like about the maid—

ESGUERRA:  We are going to that, okay. He said it was concocted, okay.

SEC. PANELO:   He created a story to dramatize the sexual abuse committed by the priest on him and the other students and then he spice it or splice it with some mischief to create attention and people who listen laughs, but the message being given him is not lost on listeners.

ESGUERRA:  I’m sorry, but you lost me there. How did you actually concoct that explanation?

SEC. PANELO:  That was the explanation of the President, I asked him directly. But even before I asked him I knew that he meant that way. But to be certain I asked him exactly what was—that’s what you said, it’s a concoction. It a concoction, because I wanted to dramatized the behavior the Priest who keeps on asking me since when I do not have it.

ESGUERRA:  When he didn’t have any sin?

SEC. PANELO:  No, he was referring to that particular sin.

ESGUERRA:  He was making a confession, so invented a sin – that is what you are saying?

SEC. PANELO:  Didn’t you hear what he said? He was being sexually abused while he was making a confession.

ESGUERRA:  Why did he talk about the molestation that he did?

SEC. PANELO:  To dramatize nga the sexual offense being committed against him.

ESGUERRA:  So, because he was allegedly being abused by the priest, he concocted a story to dramatize what?

SEC. PANELO:  To dramatize the sexual abuse committed by the priest and to show that this priest even if you have no sins keep on insisting that you have.

ESGUERRA:  Isn’t that somehow a silly rationalization of an actual confession made by the President when he was a teenager.

SEC. PANELO: Maybe silly to you, but now to others who understood the message being conveyed to them.

ESGUERRA:  Okay. I’ll leave you to that particular explanation of yours. But a lot of people might also think that that was in itself concocted. But the impact of that statement he made against women in general basically; because you have here the President talking about a molestation that he did when he was a teenager. Of course, he had his defender saying, well that happened a long time ago, he was still a teenager. But the impact now is the President talking about it. So the impact of that particular statement on women in general also in the context of other misogynistic remarks that he has made.

SEC. PANELO:  You know, Christian, if you are monitoring the President during the campaign, he already mentioned that and I’ve heard him say that and every time there is an addition to the story. So, that makes it very authentic that he indeed was creating a story. Nadadagdagan iyong kuwento niya eh. Iyong unang kuwento niya, wala pa iyong pagpasok ng kamay niya. In other words, talagang pinapatawa niya lang iyong mga audience at para   naiintindihan kung ano ang gusto niyang sabihin.

ESGUERRA: But we’re talking here about the President eh.

SEC. PANELO: Oh, even then. But you know, are you saying… are you telling me that when you are the President, you cannot make those kinds of stories to deliver a message allegorical? You can.

ESGUERRA: You can make those statements in the privacy of your conversation with friends; let’s say nag-iinuman kayo. But to use the platform of the presidency to make such statements, that makes it very questionable.

SEC. PANELO: Well, maybe questionable to some but to others, you know, kumbaga let leave.

ESGUERRA: And don’t you think as President, he has to somehow set an example to reach for an ideal not exactly just talk about hypocrisy. Of course, hypocrisy is all around us, but you are in a position to reach for something better.

SEC. PANELO: But he does. He shows—

ESGUERRA: In terms of values.

SEC. PANELO: Exactly. Look at him, he is a very compassionate person. He is outraged by any irregularity or illegality, and he does something about that. He responds to cries of anguish or help; he sympathizes. He does everything that is, as far as he is concerned, the teachings of what we know to be the Christ teachings.

ESGUERRA: By the way, how do you respond to those who are criticizing the President for making these statements—basically, they’re raising the question: Is the President in fact sick?

SEC. PANELO: Definitely, he is not. He is not. What do you mean sick? Sick in what?

ESGUERRA: Sick in the head, as far as his critics are concerned because they are trying to make sense of these statements coming from the President.

SEC. PANELO: This President is a thinking President. This President is profound. He is deep. He is a very wide reader – he reads a lot of books. He is a philosopher if you haven’t noticed.

ESGUERRA: Philosopher.

SEC. PANELO: Yes.

ESGUERRA: Okay.

SEC. PANELO: If you notice, he has his own political and religious dogmas. He believes in one super God. And he believes that that God is the almighty, compassionate, all kind and all loving; and that’s why he tries to emulate him or her or it – because we don’t know whether it’s female or male.

ESGUERRA: But again, you go back to the observation that the President is doing all these things despite all the contextualization that you do or people who support him do, it’s all about the President going after an institution or people who actually criticize him. It’s all about that.

SEC. PANELO: I don’t think so. He speaks his mind on certain practices that he doesn’t like or certain beliefs that he doesn’t believe in. Ganoon iyon eh. Kasama iyon sa freedom of expression.

ESGUERRA: Okay. Now let’s go to the other issues. I’ll take advantage of your presence here. Number one, is the rice tariffication bill. Has the President signed it or has he allowed it to lapse into law?

SEC. PANELO: I think, I asked that in the Office of the Executive Secretary. Wala pa akong response.

ESGUERRA: Okay, no response yet. Okay. Now let’s go to this complaint coming from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers. Of course, this is seen in the context of the breakdown of peace negotiations by the Maoist rebels. So they’re complaining that teachers are being monitored, or the members being monitored or surveilled by police operatives supposedly for … to give them an idea of the members of this group. Is this happening really?

SEC. PANELO: I think the PNP has already denied that. Perhaps, one or two of those who are hardcore, who are identified with the left, they’re being monitored. If they have shown any acts that will be inimical to the state, then they will be monitored. That’s the job of the police.

ESGUERRA: Is this part of the crackdown of the government on these rebels especially since the peace talks, formal peace talks have bogged down?

SEC. PANELO: No, I do not think so. You know, the teachers are one group that is very … that this President is sensitive to their needs. In fact, he wants to increase their salaries. And if understand from Secretary Diokno, a few months from now there will be a new salary hike for them.

You remember that—I think the …I don’t know, if I remember it right, if the matter was a teacher.

ESGUERRA: But here, we’re talking about a progressive group, left-leaning basically complaining that they’re being monitored by police operatives. Of course, there was a denial but—

SEC. PANELO: Maybe they’re just paranoid. You know, you must remember that ACT is identified as a leftist organization. Maybe most of the members are not, but the leaders are.

ESGUERRA: But is there something to be paranoid about as far as that group is concerned?

SEC. PANELO: Them?

ESGUERRA: Yeah.

SEC. PANELO: On their part. Because if you are doing certain illegal acts or you are identified with the left which is now considered, I mean, the organization – the CPP-NPA – as a terrorist group, then there is something to fear if you are identified with that group.

ESGUERRA: That’s based on the pronouncement or proclamation by the President but—of course, there’s still an ongoing prescription case before the courts. By the way, the President, again, last week issued another statement that seemed to indicate an opening, a possible resumption of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. What gives?

SEC. PANELO: But he hasn’t changed his stand. We’ve been saying that we are open, provided they comply with the terms of the peace talks; but they never do that. They’re always violating the terms and the conditions of the peace talks.

But the President has been saying that he does want to end this war because this has been going for 50 years; and Filipinos are killing Filipinos, and he doesn’t like that. So any opening that he sees true, he would.

ESGUERRA: What kind of opening is Malacañang seeing here? Because prior to that statement by the President last week, his order to the military, to the government troops was to destroy the New People’s Army and the communist rebels in general.

SEC. PANELO: Well, for instance, if they stop attacking civilians, as well as men in uniform, these ambushes, or they stop extorting money, then that’s an opening.

ESGUERRA: By the way, is the President meeting anytime soon with members of his peace panel and also with other stakeholders, including people from the military? Is there any forthcoming meeting here?

SEC. PANELO: There’s a regular command conference among them. There is a Cabinet meeting today.

ESGUERRA: So what is the instruction from the President here? Because it is very hard to, somehow, grasp certain pronouncements from the President because they can change.

SEC. PANELO: Not really. If you listen closely to him, he says, I want to end this war but you have to comply with the conditions set for the resumption of talks. But if you keep on violating, how can I? In other words, you’re just using the discussion to do your thing.

ESGUERRA: But how do you move forward with peace negotiations when a lot of things have already happened coming from both sides. Of course, there were the attacks coming from the left; the atrocities coming from the left, but also you have pronouncements coming from this administration, actual orders. You’re talking here of localized peace talks, the formation of task force to end the communist insurgency and, of course, the order to destroy. So—

SEC. PANELO: But that was a response, Christian, on what they did. If you monitor their activities—

ESGUERRA: Yeah, I know. My point is: how do you move forward given the present context now?

SEC. PANELO: They should stop what they’re doing now, and certainly we can monitor that. The Armed Forces will know whether they are still engaged and what they’re doing or not.

ESGUERRA: Like what specific actions – attacks?

SEC. PANELO: Attacks. They destroy properties, if the people they’re asking money from do not give in.

ESGUERRA: The extortion activities.

SEC. PANELO: Yeah, extortion activities.

ESGUERRA: How about the election season is—

SEC. PANELO: Also that. If they, for instance, ask money for candidates, that’s another extortion activity.

ESGUERRA: So you think, let’s say the collection of permit to campaign fees—

SEC. PANELO: That’s illegal.

ESGUERRA: Yeah, that’s illegal. But this would—

SEC. PANELO: If they stop that, then that’s an opening.

ESGUERRA: But if they continue, that would complicate the resumption of talks?

SEC. PANELO: Certainly. They cannot be doing those illegal things and then at the same time you’re asking for a peace talk – niloloko mo lang ang gobyerno. They’re using that tapos bumabanat ka rin.

ESGUERRA: Is there a regret on the part of the President that—

SEC. PANELO: Is there a what?

ESGUERRA: Regret. That at the start of his administration, he provided openings to—of course, there are different ways of looking at this but this is one perspective – that he provided an opening to the communist rebels and yet, according to you, basically they made a lot of violations. Of course, they would not agree to this particular perspective. But looking back, more than two years, after the talks were resumes and of course they bogged down, is there a regret that somehow the President provided all these openings to the left, yet we’ve come to this point?

SEC. PANELO: Not really, because he opened precisely doors or windows for an end to the rebellion but they’re not taking advantage of it. So you cannot be regretting something good that you have done.

ESGUERRA: Okay. Now, let’s move to the other issue: the extension of martial law in Mindanao. Of course, there was another petition filed by lawmakers from the House of Representatives basically questioning the basis for the extension of martial law for another year.

SEC. PANELO: Yes.

ESGUERRA: So do you think there was really an honest to goodness deliberation in Congress that happened? Because that was the question before, it seemed that this third extension, like the second extension, was granted to the President on a silver platter, basically no questions asked.

SEC. PANELO: Not really. He would be insulting the intelligence of the members of Congress. There were presentations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They have demonstrated that there is a continuing rebellion and public safety requires the continued imposition of martial law.

Now, I heard Congressman Lagman saying that, ‘no arrests were made, or if there were arrests, no charges were filed. So how can there be rebellion when there were no people being arrested?’ With more reason, if there are no rebels being arrested, that martial law should continue because it means the rebellion is still going on, it still persists.

ESGUERRA: But you can also look at that particular point raised by Congressman Lagman from the other perspective why all this time, there’s been no arrest. Baka naman walang rebellion?

SEC. PANELO:  No, actually, actually there were arrests except that, you know, you have to file a case within three days. And kung kulang pa ang ebidensiya mo, madi-dismiss iyon. So ang ipa-file mo lang ay iyong bailable offenses, kaya iyon ang nangyayari doon.

I understand there were four, according to … even Lagman. But definitely, if you have not arrested rebels on the run, then that means the rebellion is still on.

ESGUERRA: But do we have a situation here that after the third year, the President might ask for another extension again? So basically, it’s a martial law for the rest of the administration of President Duterte.

SEC. PANELO: It depends. Like when Congressman Lagman says we admit, we concede that there are acts of terrorism. Eh ano ba iyon? Rebellion – siyempre kasama iyong mga… when you say acts of terrorism, ‘di ba you assault, you destroy, you kill. Oh kasama sa rebellion iyon eh.

ESGUERRA: What do you think of the chances of this petition before the Supreme Court now?

SEC. PANELO: Well, they have cited similar grounds as in previous petitions. And those petitions have been dismissed by the Supreme Court. So case law says that kung ganoon pa rin ang grounds mo, eh kitang-kita naman na mayroon, madi-dismiss din iyon.

ESGUERRA: Pero iyon nga, let’s go to this interesting point raised during the previous oral arguments. So basically, what additional powers does the Armed Forces, for example, actually enjoy, or the President enjoy in this martial law regime in Mindanao something that he cannot do unless there’s martial law proclaimed?

SEC. PANELO: When there’s a lifting of the privilege of habeas corpus, eh di madali mong maaresto kaagad. Kaya lang mayroon din constitutional restriction – you have to file kaagad din, otherwise iri-release mo rin.

ESGUERRA: But he also have the calling out powers? You can call on the military, the police to act on certain terror activities. So meaning, he is not exactly powerless?

SEC. PANELO: Oo, pero walang suspension ng privilege of habeas corpus. Mas mabuti na iyan. In fact, ‘di ba iyong mga tao doon, they’re saying na okay sa kanila ang martial law. Kasi siyempre, kung may rebellion doon, palagi silang takot. They’re safety is always endangered, imminent pa.

ESGUERRA: But of course, the declaration of martial law should not be a popularity contest. It has to be based on facts.

SEC. PANELO: Exactly. There’s a rebellion going on and public safety requires and demands that martial law continues.

ESGUERRA: Okay. Secretary Salvador Panelo, thank you very much for joining us.

SEC. PANELO: Thank you for having me.

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SOURCE: PCOO – NIB (News and Information Bureau)

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