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    Q&A with Vice President Leni Robredo FINEX “Meet the Presidentiables: Economic Reforms in the New Frontier”

    Q&A with Vice President Leni Robredo
    FINEX “Meet the Presidentiables: Economic Reforms in the New Frontier”

    [START 00:00]

    ATTY. MICHAEL TOLEDO: So, with that, ladies and gentlemen, again welcome to this series. Allow me now this honor of introducing to you our featured presidential candidate for today. Maria Leonor “Leni” Gerona Robredo, an alternative lawyer and public servant, is the 14th Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines. Determined to bring the Office of the Vice President closer to the people, VP Leni led its transformation into an advocacy-heavy organization. Inspired by her years of experience as a lawyer for the poor and the marginalized. The OVP’s flagship anti-poverty program, Angat Bahay–or Angat Buhay, rather, started by addressing needs in 6 advocacy areas: food security and nutrition, women empowerment, education, health care, rural development, and housing, and has since grown to disaster response and empowerment of key sectors. As the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, VP Leni has led the OVP in the comprehensive COVID-19 response operations which supports frontliners and communities through interventions. From PPE supplies, free shuttle services, relief aid, livelihood opportunities and testing and teleconsultation services, among others. Believing in the power of collaboration and of faith in the people, VP Leni vows to keep working to help her fellow Filipinos, especially those in the fringes of our society. Ladies and gentlemen, let us now welcome VP Leni Robredo for opening statement. Magandang hapon po, VP Leni, and welcome to the forum, Ma’am.

    VP LENI: Magandang hapon, Mike. Good afternoon, everyone. I would like to thank Finex and of course FFCCII for taking the lead in organizing this opportunity for me to spend some time with you as I share my plans for our economy and the country.

    In 9 days, June–January 30 of 2022, it will be 2 years since the country confirmed its first case of COVID-19. And as I speak, more than 50,000 people have died and millions have lost their jobs. And almost every aspect of our lives has had to change.
    This has brought unparalleled levels of uncertainty, and we have all asked the hard questions. How do we imagine a brighter future for our nation? For those who look to us for direction, strength, and hope. How do we move our country from a state of response and survival to one of growth and prosperity? And now, again, sa backdrop of the presidential elections this coming May, the role of government in answering such questions has taken on greater focus and urgency. How can government create an environment that enables positive social transformation? What steps must it take to reverse the current national trajectory? And what kind of leadership can we trust to take those steps? After I filed my Certificate of Candidacy last October 7, I released 2 sets of plans that outline my vision in broad strokes. The Kalayaan sa Covid plan and the Hanapbuhay Para sa Lahat jobs plan. These two are part of the series of policy platforms that we’ll be putting up every month. We are set to come up with our third this week.

    The first set of policies is aimed squarely at addressing the virus. The anxiety it brings in terms of our health, putting food on the table, and aspiring for better lives for our children through education.

    The second is a roadmap to create more opportunities through jobs and livelihood, which entails unleashing the potential of industry and reinvigorating key sectors of the economy. The glue that holds both plans together: a government that is faithful to the law and that is true to its mandate. That means, as I’ve said in other venues, a government that listens, one that has nothing to hide, and therefore engages and actively seeks feedback, which it then crafts into a consensus that considers all views. It also means a government that is adding–that acts with urgency because its actions are pointed towards a constant moral north. It is a government that acts ultimately in a manner that cultivates trust among the people it has sworn to serve. And with a trustworthy government, our people begin to understand that aid can be expected, that it arrives when it should in the way that it should. And that no one faces any crisis alone.

    For the business community, it sends a very clear message: that laws will be applied fairly, that our institutions are resistant to corruption, and that if vested interests try to game the system, government has the will and strength to correct the situation and prosecute those who try to take advantage. Results can be predicted more reliably and that risk and volatility can be managed effectively. The energies of the entire nation can thus be focused on the projector nation building. And that means ensuring that the engines of the economy are engaged, ah, full throttle, from the centers of industry to communities in the margins. Ito ‘yung sinasabi namin laging “Gobyernong Tapat, Angat Buhay sa Lahat.” In real policy terms, this means filling the ranks of government with people of character, competence, and integrity. Agencies will be led by experts in their fields and decisions on the ground will emanate from the best available science and data.

    The spirit of transparency is apparent in measures like the Full Disclosure bill, which was the very first bill I filed when I was in Congress. This makes financial transactions and documents of public interest readily accessible to the public. And it’s something I will prioritize should I get elected.

    [05:00]
    Existing loans will be reviewed. Their usage tracked, particularly loans that are made for COVID response. Spaces for dialogue, sectoral feedback, and consensus-building will be created, enabling continued sustainable collaboration. A fully functioning national competitiveness council will be one such space. Its task will be to bridge the gap between government and the private sector, and to craft and mine a comprehensive strategy which involves all stakeholders, to make the country more globally competitive. Through the entire process, the imperative will be to unlock the energies of the economy, ensuring that the Ease of Doing Business Act is implemented for example. Or that roadblocks in the form of outdated policies and laws are removed.

    In the same spirit, we will accelerate the digital transition and reduce the amount of human intervention that can often be an avenue for corruption. Under a more transparent, ethical, more trustworthy government, the right national priorities necessarily open the gates to progress.

    My commitment to the business community: we will create an environment where enterprises have a chance to compete fairly. We will not fixate on restrictions or merely wait to pounce and penalize those who step an inch out of line. Your voice will be heard as we work for the common good, as those of you who have worked with me before can attest. Simply sitting at the head of the table and playing arbiter between the left hand and the right as they assert conflicting interests is not my idea of leadership. My government will listen, find points of commonality and harmonize everyone’s steps towards a single national horizon.

    Over the next months, the public will hear from the candidates plans and policies on a wide range of issues, and I am sure that among those of us applying for the highest position in the land, those with a capable enough policy team will come up with proposals that are strategic, creative, or even commonsensical. Some will be said in a forceful enough manner so as to capture the imagination of the public. But the most important question cuts through all the policy clutter and goes back to trust. Who can you trust to be true to their word? To follow through with action, to actually put into practice the plans that are pronounced on the campaign pulpit? To this, I respond only with what we all know to be true. The leader you can trust beyond the elections is the one that should have already earned your trust today– through their track record, and through the unshakeable proof of what we have so far done with our time in public service, and in fact our entire lives.

    I have worked with many of you over the past several years–not only during the time of the pandemic, when we reoriented the OVP's operations to fill the gaps in government response, but through our Angat Buhay projects, where we leveraged our linkages to help the farthest reaches of the country. My track record is out there for all to see. You know how I work. You know what I believe in. You know my intentions. I have absolutely no doubt that our values and our dreams for the country align. I ask only that you consider all of these–my history as well as those of my fellow candidates'-- as you reflect and decide in the coming months.
    Thank you very much and good day. I look forward to our conversation for the rest of the event.
    ATTY TOLEDO: Thank you, thank you so much, VP Leni. That was a very clear presentation of your plans moving forward and, indeed, I am sure members of this business community are very much appreciative to hear that you will definitely play a part as far as policy making is concerned because you will listen to them and that you have assured them that under your administration it will be leveling the playing field, everybody’s allowed to compete and the rule of law will prevail and that is music to the ears of many who intend to invest more in this country. So, thank you so much. At this point we begin the– the open forum session. I understand that you really have to go by 2:30 because of a previous engagement.

    [10:00]

    So, let me go straight to the point. We’ve been talking a lot about the need for foreign direct investments to come in. And that has been always been heard day in and day out in all campaigns. And one of the issues being raised is that the reason why foreign direct investments are not coming into the country is the fact that our Constitution provides limitations for the foreign investors to come in. Do you think that there is a need to amend certain provisions of the Constitution to allow and entice more foreign investors to come in?

    VP LENI: You know, Mike, I– you know, I do understand the long-standing concerns regarding some of the economic provisions in the Constitution. In fact, when I was still a member of the 16th Congress, there was a lot of discussions on amending the 1987 Constitution specifically for this purpose. I am very much open to exploring any proposed constitutional amendment that would unlock current roadblocks that are thrown our way, as long as we ensure that the process is open, transparent, and people are given the opportunity to participate. Kasi, Mike, ‘yun naman parating worry ng tao, that some of the other provisions not needing any amendments, baka pakialaman. But having said that, I believe that the most urgent among these concerns can already be addressed without going through the tedious, contentious process of amending the Constitution. And one such way is through a more responsive public service act which opens up the Philippine economy to larger scale investments and holds the potential of unlocking key industries and expanding opportunity for our people.

    Ang alam ko, Mike, a version is currently being discussed in the Bicam Conference by Congress. ‘Yung House version merong– it– it is a little contentious kasi sinasabi kulang ng safeguards. ‘Yung Senate version naman sinasabi sobra ang safeguards, and baka ma-defeat ‘yung purpose. But it is my hope that, you know, the strong are put in place during the bicams, during the deliberations. So that our national interests and the welfare of the Filipino are protected.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Thank you very much. Well said, indeed. Now I don’t want to put you in a spot, but if you can, if you have an idea already, who will be part of your economic team? Just off the bat, I mean, who are you thinking? Maybe you can come up with several names and uh, but who? If you want to share of course.

    VP LENI: You know, Mike, since– since I– I started my terms as Vice President, we have constantly been receiving briefings from– from many of our economic–uhm, economic experts. But I think it will be prudent on my part not to name names at this point. But they will have the same characteristics I look for when choosing heads of office. Number 1, they must be experts in their field. Number 2, they must be respected by the sector they lead. And number 3, mahalaga din ito, Mike, they must be good managers. They must be great managers because they will be managing an entire bureaucracy. And number 4, they must be empowering and must believe as I do that inclusivity is an engine of growth. Kailangan nagkakaintindihan kami dito, Mike. And number 5, mahala din ito, they will– they should all agree to work together.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Well, Madam Vice President, we all know that because of this pandemic, government had to borrow so much money because we are in debt definitely because of the health cost that was also caused by this pandemic, of course. And with that, clearly, whoever will be president or if you will be president, you will be faced with a limited fiscal head room. Will you be giving priority, for example, to infrastructure, Build, Build, Build? And if so, will you put more emphasis now on PPP? Because for a time, PPP was set aside and there was more emphasis on ODA and other types of funding. But would you now encourage private sector partnership?

    VP LENI: Most definitely, Mike. Infrastructure will most definitely remain a priority. But we must ensure that we are building in a strategic, impactful manner and not just building for the sake of saying we’re building. And to this end, we’ll focus our infrastructure policy on three priority areas.

    [15:00]

    The first one of that is water resources management, the second one is public transport and rural development, and the third one is reconstruction of public infrastructure and housing projects in calamity-stricken areas. Let me just give a brief summary of the three priority areas, Mike.

    ATTY TOLEDO: Please.

    VP LENI: The– the MWSS has already raised concerns that water levels in– in the Angat Dam– Angat Dam might go below minimum by April. Nakakatakot ‘to. In fact, before the pandemic nagkaroon na tayo ng problema with water supply. And while being prudent in consumption will help, the long term solution really entails investing in critical infrastructure and ensuring that it is well-maintained. So–so sa ’kin talaga, Mike, importante sa ’kin ‘yung focus on water resources management that– that will provide clean water for all by harnessing available water resources, implement projects for water impounding in major rivers of the country.

    Meron na rin itong study, Mike, there is already a study of how this should be done, anchored on alin ang mga river sa bansa natin ‘yung pwedeng gamitin.

    And the second priority area is public transport and rural development. Alam natin ‘yung public transport, Mike, matagal na natin ito problema. People are stuck in traffic for hours, and private cars still dominate the roads and our mass transport system remains inefficient. And, para sa ’kin, this is really one key stumbling block to growth. People are– are wasting so much time inside their vehicles, or waiting for rides, wasting valuable time that can otherwise be used more productively. So, we must build with a mindset of moving people rather than just cars. And that is why public transport must be top of mind in any infrastructure agenda. But having said that, we would also like to prioritize the decongestion of major population centers such as NCR, Cebu, Davao, and all the other major metropolitan areas.

    We will provide major food production centers with better access to markets. Tapos, ‘yung pangatlo, and ito talaga I am sure everyone will agree, but we should invest in digital infrastructure, especially in the countryside.

    And the– the third priority area, Mike, ‘yung sabi ko kaninang reconstruction of public infrastructure and housing projects in calamity-stricken areas, kasi the recent calamities, typhoon Odette last December, and typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses in 2020 have just brought into sharper, more painful focus the cycle we are stuck in. ‘Yung a cycle of devastation and reconstruction that has stunted our economic momentum for so long. Umikot ako nang umikot after typhoon Odette and– and really, the devastation is– is huge pero maraming mga areas na sila din ‘yung tinatamaan each and every time. So, we plan to create resettlement sites for fully-damaged houses, in dangerous and climate vulnerable areas, and we will provide climate-resilient public housing for affected families as permanent resettlements. Ito kasi it has been drain– ’pag hindi natin pinag-isipan nang maayos, it has been draining our– our coffers year in and year out.

    ‘Yung you were asking about PPP, para sa ’kin Mike, we should push for more private-public partnerships because we have seen the amount of good that collaboration with the private sector can produce ‘pag ginawa ito ng tama. At the Office of the Vice President, we were able to do so many things despite the limited mandate and resources because of the private sector. This will help conserve government resources saka ‘yung borrowing capacity natin for critical public projects like, ‘yun nga, water impounding infrastructure, rail projects, seaports. So, we will encourage private sector participation in critical PPP projects such as ‘yung roads, expressways, airports, sea ports, ‘yung water concession projects, tapos meron na ngayon, Mike, mga hybrid models for mass transportation. Ah, so– so that will be– PPP will really play a very big role in–in my administration.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Thank you so much, Madam Vice President for that very comprehensive answer. Let’s go to another topic but still of course within the economy. The Philippines has been said to be blessed with so much minerals. Trillions underneath the ground.

    [20:00]

    But if they remain underneath the ground, they’re worth nothing. And yet, somehow, this issue on– of allowing mining to flourish so it can actually help lift the Philippines out of poverty and perhaps even fund a lot of the funding that is needed post-pandemic, especially since as you already know, as we already know, we are deeply in debt precisely because of the need to address the health concerns, the health crisis. In your administration, Madam Vice President, how will you treat the mining industry?

    VP LENI: You know, Mike, I am for responsible mining. We must ensure first and foremost of course that the environment will be protected and that the benefits we gain from mining activities go back to local communities and contribute to holistic national development. Ito naman, Mike, ‘yung pinag-aawayan for so long. We must always respect the rights of indigenous peoples. I have done a lot of work on this when I was still an alternative lawyer and involved in an NGO called Saligan. So– so, sa akin, Mike, an honest to goodness consultation with local communities is crucial to ensure that any project that will be rolled out should not just be accepted by the community but should in fact benefit them. And I will also certify as urgent the passage of the NALUA, National Land Use Act. I was one of the authors of NALUA when I was still a member of the 16th Congress. But pending its passage, ish– already issue an executive order, part of which will identify parts of the country which should be declared no mining zones. Ano naman ito Mike eh, uh, most of the– most of the advocates are just pushing reforms in the mining sector. Protection of the environment and making sure that the rights of– it should be rights- based always, rights of the indigenous peoples and the local communities should be taken into consideration first and foremost.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Thank you, Madam Vice President. About 51 percent of, I believe, registered voters now, they have about something like 62, 63, I think, are women. So what piece or pieces of legislation or initiative have you supported that will help or help empower economically especially, women? And if you become President, what will you continue to push for to make sure that women’s rights are properly protected?

    VP LENI: You know, Mike, just to give it context, when I was still– when I was still a member of Saligan, I was the only woman lawyer in our branch. And I–you know, most of the violence against women cases were assigned to me. So, I have been handling many of those domestic abuse cases, etcetera, etcetera. And one of the biggest lessons that I learned, uh, out of, you know, taking care of all those cases is that women empowerment really is key. Women empowerment is the one weapon that women need for them to thwart the abuses that they have been getting from their abusers. So, when I was a member of Congress already–when I was a member of Congress already I was very active in– in pushing for many legislations. Many legislations that will not only equalize the status of women as far as our laws are concerned. But to give a lot of space for giving them economic empowerment. When I became Vice President already, women empowerment has been one of the– was one of the six key key priority areas of our Angat Buhay program, and what we have been doing is really training women, training women to become entrepreneurs, training women to– to earn their keep while taking care of their families. We– we were able to roll out a lot of programs already. We have an ongoing sustainable livelihood and development program, we workshop for aspiring women entrepreneurs. During the pandemic, uh, we have been– we have been helping a lot of women– women groups. Siguro niyo Mike ‘yung local production of PPEs, and in fact, we– all of the– most of the sewing groups that we tap are– are mainly women sewing groups. But the very is really giving them the opportunity. Giving them the opportunity to earn while they are taking care of their household and their children.

    [25:00]

    And when we say opportunity, it’s really access. It’s access to skills training, it’s access to capital, it’s access to mentoring, it’s access to markets.


    ATTY. TOLEDO: Madam Vice President, a lot of talk now are ongoing globally and locally about the possibility that we should tax the super rich because studies have shown from certain groups that during this pandemic the billionaires became more billionaires– became richer. In other words, the inequality gap has really grown so big and exacerbated when this pandemic happened. Will you be amenable to such a– what you call a super rich tax, let’s say, between 1 to 3 percent. A progressive annual super rich tax perhaps? Will you be open to that?

    VP LENI: You know, Mike, it will always be on the table. Pero– pero sa’kin kasi, Mike, you know, our experience in our Angat Buhay program, ano naman talaga, a lot of– a lot of people who are more privileged than the others, gusto talaga nila to help eh, they just don’t know how. So, I think it should be the role of government to– to, you know, to set up those mechanisms, where people who are in the margins are more empowered, they are given more opportunities, they are prioritized as far as government programs are concerned. So– so, para sa akin taxing more does not resolve the entire, you know, the entire spectrum of inequality. Para sa akin, Mike, it’s really systemic. There– there are a lot of– there are a lot of avenues where government should take the lead in making sure that we close the gap.

    I was in a– I was in another economic forum yesterday. I was just in the audience and they were presenting a– they were presenting data on the inequality in the Philippines and how the pandemic has exacerbated that. And para sa akin, Mike, ang government should take the lead. Government should take the lead in putting up mechanisms so that those in the margins are really given the opportunity to, you know, really given the opportunity to succeed. And when I say given the opportunity to succeed, it’s a whole range of many things including education, including focusing on local industries where we have a competitive advantage, including providing for social protection for them. So– so, para sa ’kin, Mike, while I’m open to taxing the rich more, I don’t think that should only be the solution that would be given.

    ATTY: I guess that’s music to a lot of people listening to us right now. [laughter] Thank you very much, Madam Vice President. We’ll take a short break and we’ll come back right away. So, to all of you out there, don’t go away. Don’t touch that clicker. Stay with us.

    [BREAK: 28:15 - 31:02]

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Welcome back! You are watching Meet the Presidentiables: Economic Reforms and the New Frontier, and of course we have with us as our guest, the Vice President herself, VP Leni Robredo. Thank you again, Madam Vice President for being with us today, this afternoon despite your very very busy schedule. I can just imagine. Now, the– the pandemic has clearly exposed the vulnerability of the healthcare infrastructure in the country. If elected president, how do you intend to strengthen this?

    VP LENI: Alam mo, Mike, when I– when I put out my Kalayaan sa COVID plan, we discussed in detail all the vulnerabilities of our health sector that we should focus on. Ano ba ‘yung mga nakita natin which was exacerbated by the recent pandemic? Kasi ‘yung sa ’kin, again, I mentioned already earlier, that, you know, more than 50,000 have died already, millions have lost their jobs already. Around 53% of the population have been vaccinated. Our target was originally 70% of the population by the end of 2021. Hospitals are overcrowded especially during surges, lalo na ‘yun Delta.

    We are in, again, in the middle of an intense surge that even absent lockdowns have– have again emptied workstations as more and more people have gotten sick. Pero, best practices around the world already show us an effective containment strategy. Aggressive testing, integrated mobility databases for tracing, strengthening the capacities of our healthcare system for us to be able to provide the treatment required. ‘Pag sinabi nating effective treatment, it means equipping hospitals and frontliners with the tools and support that they need to hold the line. ‘Yung bed capacity should be addressed so that the country reaches a more responsive hospital bed to population ratio. Ang ambition na lang muna natin, Mike, ngayon na we think is doable is 1 is to 800, 1 bed to 800 people. ‘Pag tinignan natin ngayon, nasa 1 is to 1,000 tayo, pero if you look at the regional data, about 4, I think about 4 of 12 regions, less than .5 to every thousand ang bed to population capacity. So, there is so much to be desired.

    We have to ensure also that we have the healthcare workers to man the additional beds and that they of course afforded the dignity of fair benefits and salaries at par with neighboring countries. The reason why we are unable to hold many of them is that because our compensation is not competitive if we compare it to the compensation being offered by– by Asian countries. We also have to stockpile medicines and protective equipment to prevent shortages. We do not want– we do not want to happen what happened in March and April of 2020 to– to happen again. Vaccines are of course paramount. We have to create a permanent vaccine distribution network, so that when the next pandemic comes and a vaccine is developed, we would no longer have to do ad hoc vaccination drives. This network can also be utilized outside of pandemic situations, especially for regular vaccines such as flu shots. And–and, you know, ito Mike, ang mahina tayo ‘yung data gathering. Robust data gathering allows definitely a better decision-making and government would be more proactive ‘pag maayos ‘yung data natin.

    [35:00]

    And more effective communications to the public on the true state of infections, the steps necessary to address them, because doing so lessens social anxiety and cultivates a more solidarity-driven mindset during a crisis, saka ‘yung targeted and data-informed strategy that could minimize shocks to the economy and allow our economy to remain more open, as opposed to the massive slowdown that happens during a generalized lockdown, because we are mostly being reactive. Pero ‘yung long term nito, Mike, even without the pandemic, we were already able to pass the Universal Healthcare Law. We just need to– we just need to effectively operationalize it. I am for strengthening community-based public health, making sure that all our barangay health centers, all our rural health centers, are equipped with the basic– basic equipment that are needed, should a have a nurse of its own. ‘Yung ginagawa namin ngayong Bayanihan E-Konsulta, we saw how, you know, we saw how–how useful it has become, how helpful it has become to people needing medical help. This is something we can institutionalize. So, there are a lot of many things, Mike, but we have to focus more on getting through this pandemic first.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Thank you, Madam President, rather, Madam Vice President. You know, energy and supply, energy price supply problems abound. I mean, this has been happening for the past two years and seems like there’s no real light at the end of the tunnel thus far. Not just talking local but globally – China, Europe, India, may be heading into this head first into a power supply shock, that will really hit China much worse than it hit it financially during the Evergrande crisis which sent teutonic shockwaves to China’s financial system. And this could happen on the– as far as the energy situation in China and if it hits China and the United States, it’s definitely going to hit the Philippines. It’s not even a question of if it would happen but when. And if that happens, that will really be very difficult for an emerging market like us, especially reeling from the effects of this ravaging pandemic. So, how will you address, if elected president, the energy price and supply problems?

    VP LENI: You know, as I have said, my– the number one concern now is really energy supply. In the Philippines, the Malampaya Gas Fields is running dry very soon. There are pending applications for service contracts that have not yet been acted upon. So, number 1, there should be an immediate review of all these applications and award them as soon as possible. And government should provide support to private companies to fast track development of all fields. Medyo nakakatakot ito, Mike, kasi ano na siya, the– it’s around the corner already. And, you know, we have been talking to many different energy advocacy groups and, uh, ang nakuha talaga namin, ‘yung– ’yung expansion of EVOSS, ‘yung Energy Virtual One-Stop Shop, saka ‘yung ARTA, Anti-Red Tape Authority, should– because this– both of this can help boost project development because this can help streamline permit approval processes. ‘Yun daw ‘yung napakatagal.

    And– and also, Mike, we have committed to be carbon neutral by 2050, but the first step of course is to accelerate this because we don’t have a very clear transition plan yet. We need to immediately reorient the– we already have a Philippine energy plan, but we need to reorient this into a roadmap to increase our levels of energy self-sufficiency with clear milestones. Ano ba ‘yung strategies? Ano ba ‘yung trackers for exploration? How do we plan to retire our coal plans if we need that? ‘Yung nakikita natin na ‘yun, ‘yung– ’yung LNG, Liquefied Natural Gas, is the only practical option as of now, and to ensure supply as we transition to– to perform our commitments for a more–more carbon neutral Philippines in 2050, ang kailangan ‘yung transition, transition na road map and to ensure the supply of– of LNG, DOE should take the lead instead of just allowing parties to import individually. There is a need to build LNG terminals, and sabi ko nga, because of our COP26 commitments, we already need to aggressively develop indigenous renewable source of energy.

    [40:00]

    And, ito, I mentioned earlier already we don’t have a road map for retirement of coal plans. ‘Yung– ’yung prioritization of low-cost indigenous energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, will aggressively promote utilization of non-coal indigenous fuel sources for immediate deployment to avert a power shortage. ‘Yung problema naman nito ‘yung–’yung presyo, so we need to also focus on that, develop more geothermal energy resources. A few years ago, pangalawa tayo in the world as a geothermal energy source. But–but to review having an exploration risk fund, kasi napakamahal, ng early exploration phase na ‘to. You know, one sustainable alternative also which are being pushed by some sectors is to encourage high-consumption volume consumers to put up their own solar panels, for those who can afford. Putting up panels in ecozones, for example, can shave off the peak to manage the supply, promote mini grids, and off-grid technologies for remote communities. We have also been discussing–[VPLR loses internet connection: 41:15-41:46]

    [41:46]
    ATTY. TOLEDO: I think we got disconnected. We lost the sound.

    VP LENI: Can you hear me now?

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Yes, yes.

    VP LENI: Sorry about that, sorry about that. I lost my signal for a while. But can I continue with the discussion?

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Yes, please.

    VP LENI: I just–I just–energy price. I got lost somewhere but I just– energy price because it’s something that I have not discussed earlier yet. Again, we have been talking to many different sectors on this. One suggestion is to update the interpretation of the VAT implementing laws. In implementing rules and regulations, to exclude components of the power bill that do not have value added will help lower the cost of–of electricity. And, you know, legislation can also–is also needed for the Executive branch to calibrate. This has been very, very controversial also to calibrate excise tax rates to respond to changes in global prices, to compensate for increase and decrease on VAT collection. There have been groups who have also been pushing on a review of the systems loss– systems loss allowance to check if it would affect the decrease in– in, you know, price–cost of electricity. So, there are many suggestions coming from many different groups and we are– we continue to– we continue to discuss these discussions with many of these groups.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Before we take a short break, might as well– since we’re on the topic of energy, it’s very important and crucial, are you open to nuclear power?

    VP LENI: You know, it’s definitely on the table. It’s definitely on the table, Mike. So, while we are–while I am open to discussions, it is very, very clear that the priority now is–should be moving away from fossil fuel dependence towards a shift to renewable technology. We should also ensure that energy costs do not hamper our economic trajectory. And, you know, this is a very contentious issue, but as I’ve said, it’s on the table, we are open to discussions, but it is very clear to us. It is very clear to us that we are focusing our–our goals on really moving away from fossil fuel dependence. And, you know, when you talk of nuclear power, we always talk of what are the proper safeguards and technology for safety to minimize environmental impact. These are very crucial as well.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: We’ll take a short break. When we come back, we’ll have more of Vice President Leni Robredo. So, don’t go away. Stay with us.

    [BREAK: 44:44 - 47:48]

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Welcome back! You’re watching Meet the Presidentiables and we are honored with the presence of VP Leni Robredo. Maraming salamat ulit, Madam Vice President.

    Since we touched on energy, and you also touched on energy supply in Malampaya, perhaps this– this is a question that I think must be asked as well. We all know that in the Reed Bank, it has been said that there are a– huge gas and oil deposits in there. Unfortunately, the government and the private sector are really unable to make a determination of how much, because of our problem with China. Are you amenable to enter into a joint venture agreement – compliant with the Constitution – to allow both countries, after agreeing to certain parameters, legal parameters, and specific issues as to taxation, jurisdiction, etcetera, to allow both countries to actually go there, find out how much is really there, because if there’s nothing there, what’s there to quibble about? Would you be open to a joint venture arrangement with China?

    VP LENI: Una sa lahat, Mike, para sa ’kin talaga, ang atin ay atin. Our foreign policy will always put the interests and our people first. We will have to address challenges always with courage and honor, and we should be unrestrained by fear and be free from the influence of any political power. Having said that–having said that, we will– we will make sure that, you know, our relationship with China or any other country for that matter will always be based on mutual trust and respect. And, you know, recognition of the international laws.

    So, any– any, you know, agreement. Any agreement with China, especially, in so far as the West Philippine Sea is concerned, must first be premised on China’s recognition of the arbitral ruling. ‘Yun ‘yung sa’kin, Mike, dapat ‘yun ‘yung step 1, na if we are to enter into any joint venture or joint exploration activity with China, dapat ang unang requirement natin, that China recognizes our arbitral win. Dahil ito ‘yung premised on that. And para sa ’kin, a good neighbor and a real friend is– is really fair and follows international law. Para sa ’kin dapat naiintindihan that, iyon– might does not make right. It does not bully or take advantage. And any leader should have the courage to stand up for the dignity of our nation. Ang pinuno ng bansa, dapat handa tayong ipaglaban ‘yung ating karapatan. Hindi tayo dapat nakikipag-kompromiso sa ating kasarinlan at teritoryo. So, sa ’kin, Mike, I will be open to that only if ‘yung step 1, recognition of the arbitral ruling first.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: There’s a lot of talk going on about our participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP. It has been signed but it still needs ratification in the Senate, and we all know that the main purpose of this particular treaty or arrangement is to harmonize a number of existing bilateral trade agreements, and it involves practically 30 percent of the global economy. And for us, a lot of people say for us not to be part of it or to delay participation will have its negative impacts as far as the Philippines is concerned. So, what is your position, Madam Vice President, on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership?

    VP LENI: Ako ang sa ’kin kasi, Mike, ang belief ko, dapat ‘yung Pilipinas has to actively participate in many regional, and bilateral, multilateral talks especially with our ASEAN neighbors. Kasi we have to–we have to assert our–we have to reassert the integrity of our country. Para sa’kin, we have to be very open and in fact take a very active role in many of the regional and multilateral talks with many countries. Sa akin, without exception. Halimbawa, even if our relationship with China is complicated, I am all for nourishing, you know, nourishing our relations as far as trade or, you know, trade is concerned. Kasi wala naman tayong disagreements doon and so with many other countries. Para nga sa akin, even our arbitral ruling we can use that to leverage forming a coalition of nations so that we would have a–a better standing as far as pushing for our rights are concerned. So, para sa ’kin, Mike, we have to take a very active role. We have to take a very active role in everything that is happening around us. That is one way by which we can reclaim our dignity as a country and our integrity as a nation.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Maraming salamat, Madam Vice President. Maraming nagdagsaan ang mga tanong na galing sa ating mga tagapakinig at nanonood, Madam Vice President, na pati ako nahihilo na rin sa kakabasa at hindi ko na rin mabasa lahat sa Viber, sa chatbox, etcetera. Kaya napapansin niyo minsan ‘yung mata ko kung saan-saan na napupunta. Pero nakikinig po ako sa lahat ng sinasabi niyo, at nare-record po natin ‘yan. Pero allow me now, Madam Vice President, to read a question from one of our keen listeners and audience. Sabi sa tanong na ito, the isang Sambayanan has, as part of the coalition, organizations which are left-leaning. How much of their agenda do you subscribe to?

    VP LENI: You’re referring to 1Sambayan, Mike?

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Yes, 1Sambayan. Ito po ang tanong sa isang tanong na galing sa ating mga tagapakinig na nanonood. Kasi, I think ang sinasabi nila, maraming– may mga left-leaning groups doon sa coalition na ‘yun, ‘yung grupo. Siguro, gusto lang nila malaman, how influential or do you subscribe to what they stand for on certain policies like for example, their protectionist policies, for example.

    [55:00]
    VP LENI: ‘Pag tinignan natin, Mike, yung membership ng 1Sambayan, not just left-leaning organizations, but also those perceived to be ultra-right. Parang, ‘yung membership naman ng 1Sambayan reflects a very broad spectrum of the many forces in our country. ‘Yung pagtingin ko doon, kahit iba-iba ‘yung pinanggalingan, sabi ko nga from the ultra-left to the ultra-right, I think they are all united in the desire to institute much-needed reforms along the principles that we also aligned with. Halimbawa, the need for honest, competent, credible governance that can unlock our people’s potential.
    In the few assemblies that I attended with 1Sambayan, ito naman ‘yung pinag-uusapan eh. We have a healthy respect for the differing points of view that many of the members share, but we are working on–many of the members are united in this desire to institute the much-needed reforms as far as governance is concerned. Sa akin naman that will always remain my guiding light. As for the particular issues, basta ang commitment ko to your sector is to really create an environment where enterprises have a chance to compete fairly. ‘Yun naman– doon ako sumusumpa. We will not fixate ourselves on over-regulation. ‘Yun ‘yung– ito ‘yung sinasabi ko kanina in my speech na sometimes government over-fixates itself on restrictions, parang policing, laging tinitignan. Para sa akin, ang role ng government is to encourage, make sure that all the processes are fair and transparent. Kasi our belief is that inclusivity should always be the driving force for real growth, pero ang commitment ko din that your voice will always be heard as we work for the common good.

    Ito namang mga groups na who are all together now in one umbrella, pinag-uusapan doon what unites them. And, ‘yun nga. What unites them is really the desire to–to push for the much-needed reforms especially along the principles of governance.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Thank you, Madam Vice President. Isa sa mga issues din na lumabas ngayon ay ‘yung Supreme Court decision na Mandanas ruling na nanalo si– the petitioners won, and Supreme Court has said that taxes from both the BIR as well as from the Bureau of Customs should be devolved to their local governments and it’s also–of course it’s enshrined in the local government code. But there are some sectors that are saying that this might–this is not exactly a good move because the local governments do not have the expertise on how to want to use these funds. The usage of funds is put into question. Their ability to absorb the funds and of course the expertise themselves in certain local governments. If elected president, how will you ensure that the Mandanas ruling, which in principle is a good ruling in compliance with the Constitution, will be effectively executed, implemented, to the benefit of course of the local government and eventually the people?

    VP LENI: Alam mo, Mike, we have to admit that not all LGUs have the same capabilities. So, really, it is very important to match the level and the nature of support to their specific needs. Ang sa akin lang, for example, regardless of the state of–specific state of each LGU, I think we can all agree that strengthening the basic services sa community level ng per LGU is paramount.

    Halimbawa na lang, Mike, ‘yung example, ‘yung health. ‘Yung ating health-related responsibilities in the time of the pandemic. ‘Yung COVID responsive infrastructure and logistics need to be improved to contain the virus and ensure the safety of workers and patients. So– so akin Mike, kailangan talaga ng– kailangan talaga ng may, again, to put up a mechanism where yung guidance, the hand-holding should be every step of the way. Kasi sabi ko nga, not all LGUs are on the same footing. Those who need more help should be given more guidance. Makakatulong siguro, Mike, if DILG for example, provides for a menu of, you know, ’yung menu of programs that the LGUs can choose where to put the money from Mandanas ruling on.

    [1:00:00]

    VP LENI: Marami– even with the LGUs I have talked to– to a number of them already, talagang ‘yung confusion andoon. ‘Yung confusion kung ano ‘yung puwede, ano ‘yung hindi. So, ako– ako ang suggestion ko dito, Mike, a lot of capacity building has to be– you will have to invest in a lot of capacity building. Also, incentivizing LGUs to– to use the additional funds in– in programs na mas lasting ‘yung effect.

    ‘Yung nakakatakot lang kasi nito, Mike, kasi baka, you know, again ‘yung absorptive capacity also. May problema sa absorptive capacity also of LGUs and ‘yung pinakakinakatakutan natin kung papaano ito– baka masayang. Baka masayang kung mahina absorptive capacity. So ako, Mike, especially for the first year of implementation, which is 2022, kailangan talaga sobrang tutok. Sobrang tutok as far as the parameters are concerned. Ano lang ba ‘yung puwede, ano ba ‘yung hindi puwede? ‘Yun ‘yung capacity building. Ang suggestion ko na ‘yung mga different line agencies should be given their specific responsibilities on monitoring and again capacitating LGUs if the programs were under their administration from before the Mandanas ruling took effect.

    So, maraming gagawin, maraming gagawin. There have been a lot of capacity– capacitation programs already, still the confusion is still there. Every time I went to talk to local government officials, parating– parating sinasabi, hindi namin alam kung puwede. Or excited kaming gamitin for this. Pero, para sa kin national government should incentivize para the– the additional funds can go a long, long way.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: Maraming salamat ulit, Madame Vice President at again, titignan ko po ulit ang mga katanungan galing sa ating nakikinig. Marami po talaga. Siguro ‘yung iba dito ipapasa na lang namin sa inyong staff, you may want to answer them also eventually. I’m sure the secretariat will take care of that.

    Itong mga katanungan, it’s– it’s personal but at the same time it’s also actually an official question. Because, ang tanong dito ay, who will be your official escort as President? Kasi nga noong panahon ni President Cory, andoon naman si President Noynoy.

    Kung kayo po ay mahalal bilang Pangulo ng Republika ng Pilipinas, sino naman po ang iyong matatawag nating official escort, or perhaps, if I may say, your First Gentleman?

    VP LENI: Ako, definitely, there will be no First Gentleman. ‘Yan ‘yung sigurado. Pero, the question of who will be my official escort, I honestly have not considered it yet. I honestly do not [inaudible 1:03:06]. Pero if I would, siyempre the default would be any of my three daughters.

    Although, of course, this will have to be a family decision. All my– all my daughters are all adults now and they have their own careerss and plans. And siyempre, their thoughts and sentiments regarding such a duty will carry the most weight. Ano naman, Mike, none of my– none of my children are involved in my work. Puwera na lang– puwera na lang in crisis situations.

    Like during the pandemic, my second daugh– in fact all of them– all of them tumulong na sa amin. Halimbawa, ‘yung panganay ko tumulong siya to set up Bayanihan E-Konsulta, ‘yung second ko has been volunteering in many of our COVID response initiatives, di ba she’s a doctor? ‘Yung pangatlo ko naman who’s studying in the US, because she’s home now, dahil school from– ano ‘yun– ano sila no face to face classes now.

    She has been– she has been helping me, she’s a volunteer also. She’s a volunteer call bridging agent in our Bayanihan E-Konsulta kasi kulang na kulang kami ngayon ng volunteers and their has been a deluge of– deluge of patients. Pero that only happens in extraordinary situations. Pero in ordinary situations, I would rather that they– they do their thing para hindi nakatutok sa– sa trabaho ko at saka politika din ‘yung mga buhay nila.

    So, kung kinakailangan ng escort it would definitely be one of them.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: That was a very direct and honest answer. And we appreciate it. So, tandaan niyo po, wala pong magiging First Gentleman.

    [1:050:03]

    VP LENI: Sigurado na ‘yun, Mike.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: [Cross talk 1:05:07] interesadong manligaw diyan, sorry na lang kayo. Madame Vice President, ayan nga, andaming tanong, with your kind permission kasi we’re running out of time, konting oras na lang po tayo, tanungin na rin mga iba pang tanong dito. Isa naman ang tanong ay, paano mo daw palalakasin ang ating mga government financial institutions?

    VP LENI: Pinaka– pinakamahalaga kasi talaga, Mike, siguraduhin natin na good governance is the norm. Pag sinabi natin good governance is the norm, it sets in motion so many other things. So, ako– ako I– I will not be promising but I will go back to what we did at the Office of the Vice President.

    When I became Vice President, the first thing that we did was to apply for ISO certification. Why was it important? We wanted to– we wanted to convey the message that we are serious in the work we are doing, that we are making sure that all our processes comply with international standards. After we were able to– we were able to get our ISO certification, we made sure year in and year out, nagre-recertify kami.

    After that, we exerted all effort in making sure that we get the highest COA audit rating. So, for three consecutive years now, we have been getting an unqualified opinion from COA, which is the highest. And not only that, we make sure that all our programs are really strategic, are efficient. Two of our COVID response programs were awarded as two of the six– two of the six best COVID response programs in the entire bureaucracy. We have also just been awarded excellence in human resource management by the Civil Service Commission.

    So, kaya ko ito, Mike, sinasabi kasi I would like to believe that really creating mechanisms to make sure that good governance is the norm is very important. I am very big on transparency, I am very big on accountability. Even the way we handle the day-to-day operations of the office, we make sure that we are very professional as far as that is concerned. With the financial institutions in government, what is crucial is choosing the right people to head the agencies.

    Sinabi ko naman kanina kung ano ‘yung hinahanap natin, not just experts, but people who are– who are respected, who are good managers, who are not corrupt. Kasi, a lot of decisions will be hinged on the character also of the people they will be appointing to these positions. They should share my– the way I look at things on how governance should be– should work. They should also be big on transparency and accountability.

    Kanina sinabi ko na din they should share my belief that, ayun, inclusiveness is the engine for growth. So many other things but it’s basically institutionalizing governance in all levels of government.

    ATTY. TOLEDO: You know they say, Madame Vice President, time flies when you’re really having fun. And sadly, for all of us, we ran out of time – there’s a deluge of questions coming, and I’m sure you’ll take time out to take a look at them and perhaps answer them. So, tt has been a very very productive, insightful, engaging afternoon, One of my most engaging afternoons, in fact.

    And on behalf of FINEX and the other business organizations as well Cignal TV and the other media partners of the Manila Times, we would like to thank you so much for spending your afternoon with us today. Maraming maraming salamat po and kita-kita po tayo sa mga susunod na araw. Thank you very much, Madame Vice President.

    VP LENI: Thank you, Mike.

    [END 1:09:28]

    Posted in Transcripts on Jan 21, 2022