Panelo named presidential spokesperson
President Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, was again the last to know.
This time, he was not informed that he would be losing his job—news that flew to Manila on Thursday all the way from Bali, Indonesia, where President Duterte was meeting other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go told reporters in Bali that Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo was replacing Roque as presidential spokesperson effective “today, Thursday.”
“For now, the President said that Secretary Panelo will be concurrent presidential legal counsel, at the same time, spokesperson,” Go said.
“Roque is on leave,” Go added. “He is still weighing his options. No one was fired.”
Not yet informed
So, was he informed that he had been replaced? “Not yet,” Roque, who was in China, replied to queries from reporters in Malacañang.
“Let’s wait for next week,” he texted from China, adding: “People: I have not resigned.”
Does Panelo know about this? “Yes . . . So I hear,” Panelo said in a text message to reporters.
Roque last Thursday tried to quash rumors that the President had gone to Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City the previous day for an endoscopy and colonoscopy.
But the President himself said on the same day he might have cancer and confirmed that he did go to the hospital where doctors took “samples” from his digestive tract. On Tuesday, the President said the tests came back negative.
Threat to resign
Apparently embarrassed, Roque, who is also the President’s consultant on human rights, told reporters he could not be an effective spokesperson if he did not know everything concerning the President.
Roque said he was considering resigning and running for senator but that he had made no final decision.
Early this week, Mr. Duterte said Roque threatened to resign. “I said, go ahead. Then immediately I chose a replacement,” he said.
The President said he didn’t have to inform Roque about everything concerning him. “There are things which are limited to the immediate members of the family,” he explained.
In a video message to reporters later on Thursday, Panelo said “nothing has changed” regarding his responsibilities because he was “already spokesperson since Day 1 of the presidential campaign, and Day 1 when [Mr. Duterte] assumed the presidency.”
“There will be no changes. The only difference, I think, would be I would be more visible this time,” he said.
As chief presidential legal counsel, Panelo said he spoke for the President on matters “of national sensitive issues that requires my articulation of the thoughts and ideas of the President.”
“In fact,” he added, “the executive order creating this office, my present position, states that I am the spokesperson of the President.”
Roque said he was “still not sure” if he would run for the Senate in next year’s midterm elections.
He had admitted being taken aback by the President’s statement last week discouraging him from running in 2019 because he had a very narrow chance of winning.
Besides, the President added, “the soldiers do not like you.”
Roque vehemently denied that he had sent “feelers” to his former party-list group, Kabayan, about wanting to be one of its nominees.
“Absolutely false,” he told reporters.
In a statement, Kabayan said its list of nominees was already complete and they had all filed their certificates of candidacy.
The group claimed it received Roque’s feelers through a member of its board of trustees.
Roque allegedly also sought to field another nominee, Jesse Andres, the former chief of staff of former Vice President Noli de Castro.
Kabayan said Roque and Andres could not be nominated because they were no longer members.
Roque was ousted in January 2017 by the board backed by its representative, Ron Salo, at the height of an intraparty dispute.
The Salo-allied board expelled Roque over his sexually charged questions during a congressional inquiry into Sen. Leila de Lima’s alleged involvement in the drug trade at New Bilibid Prison.
Roque refused to recognize the board and disputed the validity of a bylaw amendment that created it. He insisted on a party congress.
He said he would defer further comments until Monday after his return from China. —REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, NESTOR CORRALES AND VINCE F. NONATO
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