Evasco fields questions from Toronto Pinoy media

Community News & Features Jul 14, 2017 at 4:21 pm
Leoncio Evasco Jr.

Leoncio Evasco Jr.

Philippine Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. In Toronto

By Mila Astorga-Garcia and Veronica Silva Cusi

(The replies of Evasco without quotations are paraphrased. Those with quotes are tanscriptions. – Ed.)

TORONTO–Philippine Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, Jr. met the press in a media conference hosted by the Boholano Association of Canada last Saturday, July 8, 2017 at Chelsea Hotel in downtown Toronto.

Present were Ambassador Petronila Garcia and Consul General Rosalita Prospero and consulate staff. Moderator of the press conference was Li Eron of the Bohol Association.

At this conference, Evasco responded to questions by members of the Toronto community media around the issues of human rights violations of the military under martial law in Mindanao, the status of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, anti-poverty measures by the government, inclusion of Cabinet appointees with different ideology, including the Left, and whether this made governing more difficult.

Military abuses under martial law in Mindanao

On the issue of military abuses, media raised the issue of citizens’ complaints of harassment, intimidation and rough treatment as they were being forced to evacuate their homes supposedly for safer areas. Residents interviewed told about how their meager possessions, including their food, chicken and livestock, and household implements were confiscated by the military, leaving them with hardly anything for themselves and their families.

What is the Duterte government doing to deal with these military abuses?

Photos: HG

Photos: HG

EVASCO: If there are specific cases of abuse reported to them, these are investigated and dealt with.

Media followed up with the question that probed whether there was a systemic solution to this systemic problem rather than an individual solution based on individual reports. It was noted that residents forced to evacuate were fleeing from their homes so that it becomes difficult to report individual cases.

Evasco reiterated that there should be specific cases cited so action can be taken.

On the peace talks with the NDFP

What is stopping Duterte from pursuing peace talks, instead of imposing conditions such as a bilateral ceasefire and ending collection of revolutionary taxes by the NPA?

EVASCO: I am not a member of the government’s negotiating panel. I am not privy to the negotiation positions. I have worked with President Duterte since he was mayor of Davao City. I know he’s really concerned about ending the fighting with the armed rebels from the Left. I believe that the objective of negotiations should not be to gain advantage over the opposite side but to find solutions for the benefit of the people.

Presence of the Left in government

Isn’t the presence of the Left, communists, and those with other ideologies in top positions making it difficult to govern?

EVASCO: To be a member of the Communist Party is not a criminal offense. Not because one is a communist makes him or her a lesser person. It is even good that they are in government (citing areas of governance where they are effective since they know the issues well.)

Evasco being interviewed by Lui Queaño of TV Migrante, with Li Eron.

Evasco being interviewed by Lui Queaño of TV Migrante, with Li Eron.

In-fighting in the Duterte Cabinet

QUESTION: Are there still inflightings in the Duterte cabinet?

EVASCO: “Actually, there are no real in-fightings na sabi nila talagang away talaga (that they say were real fights). I tell you, every cabinet meeting, we voice out our positions on certain issues. But at the end of the day, we agree on certain things which the President will have to support. Di naman talaga away na nangyari sa (not real fights that happened in the) past administration. Kaya lang yung away nandiyan sa media nalabas (but the fight leaked in the media). Although there are conflicting positions. For example, I requisitioned to purchase rice not through government-to-government because that is prone to corruption because it’s a negotiated buy. I positioned for the MAV, that is, minimum access volume where private traders will be the ones to purchase rice, and we regulate the purchase and let them pay taxes to government. With that, government doesn’t need to shell out money to buy rice. And in the process, government earns money because of custom duties. Whereas (in) government-to-government, government has to shell out money to buy rice, and yet, a big portion of that goes to corrupt officials in the government. Kaya nagbanggaan kami. Because there are some officials who insist on buying rice through g-to-g. I said no, no way for us to save money.”

Poverty reduction and bureaucracy

QUESTION: Despite the robust economic growth of the Philippines – with the GDP growing at 6.8 per cent in the first quarter – there are still fears that this growth has not trickled down to the poor. What are some of the programs of the Duterte government to help alleviate the plight of the poor?

EVASCO: “It’s unfortunate that immediately after an administration takes over, that Filipinos would expect that it’s automatic change. I also expect that people expect this administration to become responsive to the needs of our people. Yet, we found out that it is not that easy. The bureaucracy is not that simple. Even if the President says “you do this,” it takes a lot of time. Like the president will say, “we will build all these railway systems that will come across our country.” Without you knowing it, there is immediately a TRO (temporary restraining order) that has been filed against the department that is responsible for all these projects. There is a complaint made by a group of people who are living in an area where these railways pass by. All of these make it hard for us to navigate (the bureaucracy). To be fair with past administrations, they also experienced that. So the question is how do we make the bureaucracy complimentary to the plans of any administration which is honest enough to make good its promise. Ganun kahirap talaga. (It is that difficult.)”

EVASCO with Ambassador Petronila Garcia, Congen Rosalita Prospero, media persons and guests.

EVASCO with Ambassador Petronila Garcia, Congen Rosalita Prospero, media persons and guests.