PNoy Press Briefing on Yemen and Spratlys


Press Briefing by President Benigno S. Aquino III:
On the successful rescue of Mr. Ramon de Castro from captivity in Yemen and the Spratlys
Briefing Room, 2/F New Executive Building, Malaca├▒ang, Manila
June 14, 2011; 14:15 hrs. EST
PRESIDENT BENIGNO S. AQUINO III: Magandang hapon po sa inyo.
Itong araw na ito, itong hapon na ito, isa sa pinakagagalak kong meeting ay makaharap si Mr. [Ramon] de Castro. Isa po siyang kababayan natin na OFW na  parang minalas po na kinidnap [kidnapped]. Nagtatrabaho po siya sa Yemen; kinidnap po ng mga rebelde doon. Hinihingi po nila doon iyong mga, iyong schools, roads, et cetera, mga political issues na nadamay po iyong kababayan natin.  Ngayon, tinutukan po nang husto ng DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] ito sa pangunguna ni Secretary [Albert] Del Rosario at ang Ambassador [Ezzedin] Tago sa Saudi Arabia, at na-effect iyong kanyang successful release to include Sri Lankan colleague office  that works in the same firm. He has been there in the Middle East since 2003. I think I will turn the mike over to him, so he can tell you his story.
RAMON DE CASTRO: Unang-una po, nagpapasalamat ako kay President Noynoy Aquino, Secretary Albert Del Rosario, kay Undersecretary [Rafael] Seguis, dahil na-pressure po iyong mga rebelde noong ipadala na ng gobyerno natin iyong representative ng DFA para sa release ko. Kaya maraming-maraming salamat po.
PRESIDENT AQUINO: [To de Castro] Baka puwede mong i-narrate kung ano iyong pinapakain sa iyo?  Paano iyong condition mo ng 19 days?
DE CASTRO: Medyo  nahirapan lang kami ng 19 days  dahil isang tinapay lang.  Tapos, maliit na tubig lang buong maghapon. For 19 days, ganoon iyong tratong ginawa sa amin. Okey na rin.
PRESIDENT AQUINO: [To de Castro] Saka iyong tension.
DE CASTRO: Grabe lang iyong tension, dahil last April 25, naka-schedule nilang putulin iyong ulo ko dapat, dahil wala raw representative o nagne-negotiate. Nabalita nila sa radio na mayroon daw representative iyong government natin. So, iyon, parang na pressure sila. Ini-spare nila ako. Tapos, nag-promise sila na hindi na raw nila ako gagalawin dahil may representative na iyong Philippine government. So, thank you again kay President Aquino and to Secretary Del Rosario at Usec. Seguis at sa lahat  ng tumulong, pati na ang company ko rin. Kasi hindi sila tumigil sa paghanap ng paraan.
PRESIDENT AQUINO: Gusto ko lang i-highlight, iyong company, he works for supplies electricity and what they did was to cut off electricity to pressure the other groups, to pressure this group that was holding him hostage, to release him.
Uulitin ko lang, iyong demands on the Yemeni government not on the Philippines,
nadamay lang tayo dito, at saka talagang nari-raise niya—well number one—ang
dami talagang armas doon sa Yemen. Parang triple the number of citizens. Talagang siyempre, pinagtulongtulungan. I really like to pay special mention to Secretary Del Rosario—all my cabinet members are hardworking, but he is  an exceptionally hardworking  Secretary. As you know, three days after he took his oath, he was already in Libya. He has been addressing the issues for our countrymen in Libya.
So, in this particular case, talagang medyo naging innovative iyong method of securing his release. And we are really just glad that Mr. De Castro was able to reunite with his family and he’s back.  He has been with his family for about a month already.
Celerina del Mundo: Sir, during that time na nasa hostage kayo, hindi ba dumating iyong point na pinanghinaan  na kayo ng loob at  ano iyong  nagpalakas sa inyo ng loob para mag-hold on  na later on makaka-alis kayo doon?
DE CASTRO: Bale nanghina na rin iyong loob ko.  Naging hopeless na rin ako, pero iyong security coordinator ng  company ko, palagi niya akong binibigyan ng advise. So, iyon ang parang nakatulong din nang malaki na huwag mawalan ng pag-asa  ba.
PRESIDENT AQUINO: [To de Castro] Iyong sa negotiation…
DE CASTRO: Iyong araw na ma-abduct ako noon, prinessure [pressured] ako ng mga kidnapper na kailangan daw may negotiator. So, tumawag ako sa company ko para magpadala sila ng negotiator, pero kinabukasan, pinatay din nila iyong negotiator na pupunta sana.
PRESIDENT AQUINO: May negotiator, iyong maraming factions ang nag-o-operate sa dinadaanan. May ibang faction na naka-capture diumano sa negotiator, kaya hinanap kay Mr. De Castro kung bakit iyong negotiator niya hindi nagpakita. At iyon nga nadiskubre nanawalan ng kontak  iyong  kumpanya  sa negotiator, dahil iyong negotiator  diumano ay napaslang ng ibang  grupo doon.
Del Mundo: Mr. President, this was not the first time that a Filipino was held hostage.  There was a time during the previous administration also. So, what action should the government do in order to prevent this kind of incident?
PRESIDENT AQUINO: Well, first and foremost, ang pangako ko ay job generation. We would rather have the eight million-plus Filipinos who were working outside the country, being gainfully employed here. So, dito sa sariling bayan natin, kumpleto ang karapatan at maliwanag iyong mga systems and procedures natin dito, iyong rules o rights. Kapag umalis tayo, subject tayo to their rules and their laws, which might not be consistent with our own. But having said that, hindi pa natin mapabalik to the same level of employment dito. Iyong eight million, that is our primary focus. What we have to do now—and the DFA is actually, the forefront of this and the DOLE—na kung saan ine-reiterate natin sa ating mga kawani sa ibang bansa na ang pangunahin nilang misyon siyempre ay pangalagahan iyong kapakanan ng ating mga kababayan diyan. So, everything from the working condition and their safety, we tasked them to provide us with intelligence from the ground. Lalo na for fast developing  situation like what transpired in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other countries, to include those in Asia, Japan and Korea. So, kumbaga, lalo nating ine-emphasize na ito talaga ang—kung mayroon lang kayong isang dapat gawin, iyan lang. Manigurado na alam  ninyo iyong nangyayari diyan para naga-guide  natin iyng ating mga kababayan accordingly.
Of course, we have limitations. How do you release secure eight million individuals in so many different countries?
Reymund Tinaza [Bombo Radyo]: Kay Mr. De Castro—kasi  baka marami iyong hindi kaagad maniwala na pinalaya kayo dahil sa pagdating lamang ng representative ng Pilipinas. Mayroon ka bang narinig or any confirmation na may binayaran iyong gobyerno  o iyong company mo na Aggreko na ransom?
DE CASTRO: Wala akong nabalitaang ganoon. Kasi  noong May 6, dumating doon iyong apat na sheiks. Sila iyong kumuha sa akin doon sa site na iyon, pero wala silang sinabi sa akin na may money involved na ginawa sila doon noong oras na iyon. Hindi ko lang alam iyong iba pa nilang napag-usapan, pero noong oras na
iyon, wala  akong alam  kung may ibinigay sila o may nai-promise.
Tinaza: Dagdag na impormasyon, kung saan iyong probinsya mo at kung balak mo pa bang bumalik after nitong experience mo na ito?
DE CASTRO: Taga-Ibaan, Batangas ako. By [June] 17, babalik na ulit ako sa Dubai, sa head office namin. Hindi ko lang alam kung saang bansa nila ako ide-deploy ulit, kasi marami kaming project [sa] iba’t ibang bansa.
PRESIDENT AQUINO: Kung sa Yemen, tututol na kami. [Laughter]
Norman Bordadora [Philippine Daily Inquirer]: Mr. President, you earlier said that the way that Mr. De Castro was rescued was in innovative way. Sir, can you detail how innovative this was? Anu-ano iyong mga innovations?
PRESIDENT AQUINO: Number one, we have to credit the embassy—the embassy personnel, the Ambassador—na dumating doon. First, na-discover iyong political… In Yemen, we don’t have an embassy. We have no consulate there. It is under the purview of the Saudi Arabia Embassy. So, we did tasked them, number one, find out ilan ba ang mga kababayan natin na nandiyan? A number of 1,600 came about. Tapos, in the course of checking on their conditions, kung gumugulo nga iyong sitwasyon sa Yemen, natuklasan na na-kidnap nga itong si Mr. De Castro. At mula doon, nakipag-ugnayan na tayo doon  sa Yemeni government, plus also coordination with the company that employs him, a firm called Aggreko.
Now, what Aggreko did—they’re in power generating and power rental business ang description sa akin eh—so to pressure the community to pressure those who are holding him hostage, iyon nga, pinatay nila iyong kuryente.  Iyong demands kasi is more of a political in nature, eh delivery by the government of certain services—schools, roads, jobs, et cetera. Iyong dini-describe ni  Mr. De Castro kanina, sa tubig, una pinakain nga sa kanya tinapay; isang pirasong tinapay raw. Tapos, iyong tubig na ring pandilig iyon na rin iyong parang pinaka-potable water nila. So maraming issues. We will not comment on the internal affairs of Yemen. Pero ito nga, there were… dalawa sila—isang Sri Lankan. Sila ang ginamit para ma-pressure iyong gobyernong i-deliver iyong mga services.  So, noong ginawa nitong kumpanya niya na pagpatay ng kuryente lalong sumama pa iyong sitwasyong masama na. So, iyong ibang mga kampo doon na hindi kadamay ay sila ang nag-pressure at nagsabing—ang pagkakaintindi namin—pakawalan na ninyo iyan, dahil tayo ang napapahamak. Hindi naman dapat ganyan na lalong lumalala pa iyong sitwasyon na malala na.
Bordadora: So, the cutting-off of the electricity was upon the request of the Philippine government?
PRESIDENT AQUINO: That is the idea also of the company that Mr. De Castro works for as a means of adding pressure for them to, number one, safeguard the life of Mr. De Castro but more importantly, to be able to effect his release.
Ulitin ko lang, the coordination between our embassy people and the Secretary himself who was talking to the Foreign Minister—there was a point kasi pinababalik niya iyong kuryente. Eh, iyong to the credit of the firm, they stood path. Nai-release niyang iyong mga engineer namin at doon natin maibabalik iyong kuryente.
Q: Mr. De Castro, ano po ang nag-udyok sa inyo na muling bumalik sa ibang bansa at magtrabaho gayong minsan na pong nalagay sa panganib iyong buhay ninyo sa Yemen?
DE CASTRO: Bale, gustung-gusto ko kasi ang trabaho namin kasi power generation siya; talagang may challenge ba. So, gusto kong maraming matutunan dahil linya ko talaga iyong sa electrical. Magandang kasi iyong trabaho namin dahil araw-araw trouble shooting, masaya.
PRESIDENT AQUINO: Challenging…
Joyce Pa├▒ares: Sir, Mr. President, may we know if you have fresh directives for the remaining OFWs in Yemen?
PRESIDENT AQUINO: We understand the situation is really bad. Nakita naman ninyo sa news, from the international news services, na the President of Yemen—President Saleh—was injured. He is recovering in Saudi Arabia. There was an attack on Presidential Palace. Obviously, that is already a condition that warrants iyong what they call Stage 4, iyong forced repatriation, as much as possible. So prior to that, ang pagkakaintindi natin iyong ating Embassy ay talagang pinuntahan iyong thousand six hundred dahil ina-a-apprise at ina-advice na lumikas. So, there are about 200 that had been repatriated already. Iyong forced is a—paano ba iyon—parang pinaka-strong na pag-udyok natin sa kanilang lumikas na. Siyempre, hindi kaya ng isang Embassy na dadalawampung tao na
maipilit lahat ng ating mga kababayan na literal na i-force mo.
Amita Legaspi [GMA 7]: Sir, iyong Supreme Court finally in-allow na din nila iyong live coverage  doon sa Maguindanao Massacre [trial]. Your comment on this po?
PRESIDENT AQUINO: I’m assuming that is exactly the case. I haven’t seen their “spokesperson” or any formal pronouncement. Pero ang tagal na nating minumungkahi iyon. Uulitin natin; iyong mayroon doon sa kapakanan ng mga pamilya ng Magunidanao Massacre na talagang para malaman kung ano ang nangyayari sa proceedings, kailangan talagang bumiyahe mula sa Maguindanao papunta dito sa Maynila. Talagang magastos iyong pagbiyahe plus iyong pagtira dito. So, kapag live na iyong coverage at talagang pinipilit natin sanang ma-expedite iyong proceedings ay talaga namang masusubaybayan nila  na hindi magdadagdag ng pabigat sa kanilang pamilya. Pero siguro ang mas importante doon, kaya minungkahi natin dati, importante nating malaman kung ano ba talaga ang—number one—nangyari. Paano nangyari ito. At kapag nalaman natin iyong dalawang  bagay na iyon, siguro naman mas madadagdagan natin iyong ating mga batas, ating maikukorek [correct] iyong mga proseso para tiyak na hindi na maulit ang sitwasyon na kung saan nagkaroon ng Maguindanao massacre.
So, tayo ang nagpapasalamat sa Supreme Court. Dininig po nila iyong kahilingan natin at marami pa nating mga kababayan na i-full coverage at i-live coverage itong trial. So, doon po, purihin natin ulit ang Supreme Court. Nakinig po sila. Pare-pareho tayong  servant of the people.
Q: Sir, kanina, during the speech of Ambassador [Harry] Thomas, he mentioned about—apparently, he expressed iyong support on the Philippines regarding the South Chine Sea issue. So, ano iyung comment on that?
PRESIDENT AQUINO: Siyempre, kinatutuwa natin iyan. Niri-reiterate, lalo iyong pagpaalala na strategic partner tayo, na mayroon tayong treaty between us. Siguro, idiin ko lang, parati kapag may nagsasalita tungkol sa Spratlys, South China Sea, or West Philippine Sea na tinatawag natin ngayon, mayroon silang sinasabing adherence to international law. Iyong International Law na applicable is called—iyong abbreviation is UNCLOS  which is United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 1982 ‘yata iyong batas na iyan. Ang sinasabi ng batas na iyon, amongst the provisions, is you have exclusive economic, parang, authority, or we have an exclusive economic zone extending 200 miles from your continental shelf. Iyong Reed Bank, subject ng incidents lately, is located 80 miles from Palawan.  In the closest of the… iyong ating country in contentious with us in Spratlys amongst others. The closest that China is, is about 576 miles—if I remember correctly. So, 576 is obviously greater than 200. So, suddenly, why should there be a dispute if we are all conforming to international law? So, siyempre, they are a super power. They have more than ten times our population. We do not want any hostilities to breakout. Perhaps, the presence of our treaty partner which directly says, which directly ensures all of us will have freedom of navigation, will conform to international law.