Duterte picks Harry Roque as new spokesman
President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque as his new spokesperson, saying they were a good match because both of them had “naughty mouths.”
“To make his entrance dramatic, he will be attending the first Cabinet meeting on Monday,” Mr. Duterte said during Roque’s belated birthday celebration in Davao City on Friday. Roque turned 51 on Oct. 21.
Roque later told reporters the Cabinet meeting would be held on Nov. 6, following the President’s trip to Japan next week.
“To get the message clear, sabi ko [I said] Harry will fit the (bill) … kasi medyo malikot ang bunganga namin [because we both have naughty mouths],” Mr. Duterte said.
The fast-talking former law professor at the University of the Philippines served as a human rights lawyer before running for a congressional seat as Kabayan representative. Roque supported the presidential candidacy of former Vice President Jejomar Binay in last year’s election.
His advocacies included seeking justice for victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, the worst election violence in the Philippines, and transgender woman Jennifer Laude, who was killed by a US Marine in Olongapo City.
He has constantly defended Mr. Duterte in Congress and attacked the President’s critics, particularly detained Sen. Leila de Lima. More recently, he backed the impeachment complaint against Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres Bautista, who has resigned as Comelec chair.
Roque will replace Ernesto Abella, a pastor and businessman. There was no immediate word from Malacañang on whether Abella would be given a new job.
In a statement on Saturday, Roque said he remained “a firm advocate for the protection and preservation of fundamental human rights of all persons” and indicated that as part of the administration he would be closer to the President’s ear to advance human rights than as a legislator.
“I considered the position with the specific purpose of getting an audience with the President to address key human rights issues in the Philippines,” he said.
“By taking this position,” he said, “I hope to be able to advise the President directly regarding the manner and methods he has used to tackle the problem of drugs. I have already expressed my willingness to serve as an adviser on the matter.”
He said he would play “a pivotal role in confirming the policy of the state” after observing that the public had always turned to the presidential spokesperson “to determine the true intention behind the President’s statements.”
“By taking up this position, I intend to refocus the attention of the people more toward the fundamental position of the state, and less toward the manner by which such has been declared,” he said.
“Similarly, I am committing to reduce, if not totally eradicate, the impact of statements which appear to support genocide or violations of fundamental human rights,” he added.
Critics of both Mr. Duterte and Roque said the President’s choice for spokesperson may be intended to balance his reputation for undermining human rights.
“They both deserve each other so it’s a win-win for them. A principal who advocates mass murder and a lawyer who masquerades as a human rights defender,” said Akbayan Rep. Tomasito Villarin.
The appointment of Roque as the President’s new spokesperson was “politically opportunistic for both,” Villarin said.
He said Mr. Duterte “faces imminent trial” at the International Criminal Court for human rights violations in the antidrug campaign, and Roque’s credentials as a professor well-versed in international law could help in his defense.
Villarin described Roque as “an ambitious neophyte congressman eyeing a senatorial seat” who will ride on Mr. Duterte’s popularity.
Roque’s appointment “releases him from the challenge of masquerading as a minority leader” in the House of Representatives, according to Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr.
“As a self-proclaimed human rights advocate, I wish him luck in defending the horrendous human rights record of this administration,” Baguilat said.
Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said “the charade is now over” as Roque would be “liberated and obligated to be the President’s official apologist.”
Lagman castigated Roque for failing to criticize “Duterte’s predisposition to authoritarian rule.”
He also slammed Roque for minimizing the impact of “unabated extrajudicial killings” in the antidrug campaign, supporting the extension of martial law in Mindanao, seeking the investigation of the Ombudsman and calling for the defunding of the Commission on Human Rights.
It was unclear who would take over Roque’s seat after he leaves the House amid a serious dispute with fellow Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo. The party-list has two seats in the chamber.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.