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Roque: I remain a committed defender of free expression

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Roque: I remain a committed defender of free expression

/ 05:12 AM November 10, 2017

I knew that when I decided to accept the position of presidential spokesperson, I would make an easy target, given my wide girth and my background as a lawyer who has taken up many unpopular causes.

But I did expect that whatever criticisms may come my way—especially those from respected media institutions—I would get a fair shake. After all, even the law on libel requires that opinions and inferences still reasonably draw from established facts.

Such however may not be said of your paper’s editorial “Damaging the Court” (11/8/17).

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First, your editorial alleges that my questioning of Ronnie Dayan during the congressional inquiry on the proliferation of drugs in the New Bilibid Prison was “salacious” and “sexually charged.”

My line of questioning had to do with Sen. Leila de Lima’s statement excusing her immoral and illegal affair as a consequence of her “frailties” as a woman.

Hence my question whether Dayan took advantage of her “frailties” in having the relationship. Not only does it smack of sexual harassment—hiring a driver and having an affair with him two months later—but reducing such a transgression as a “frailty of a woman” is an affront to those fighting for gender equality.

That one statement of De Lima is a disservice to every woman who said she was one with her.

It is too convenient an excuse especially for a practitioner of law who has possibly violated Republic Act No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees), RA 7877 (Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995), and RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).

As far as my other statements were concerned, “salat” was mentioned by Dayan thrice in describing how he handled a package of money from Kerwin Espinosa: “Sinalat ko at mukhang pera.” Moreover, Dayan admitted to getting De Lima to appoint certain personalities to certain positions.

That is how I got to “nagsamantala” in that he took advantage of his influence to get what he wanted.

The official transcripts will bear me out, but these finer details got lost in the media brouhaha over
the hearing.

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Second, your editorial also contends that it was my “unbecoming conduct” during the said hearing that caused my supposed expulsion from Kabayan party-list. It is a mistake. To be clear, I was never ousted
from the party.

The Kabayan “board of trustees” that supposedly expelled me—formed by Ron Salo, the party’s second nominee—is illegal as its existence is not provided for in the party’s constitution and by-laws.

Please check with the Commission on Elections whether Kabayan’s constitution and by-laws have been amended after submission in 2009.

I have in my possession a certification issued by the Comelec on May 4, 2017, stating that “NO amendment of [the] Constitution and By-Laws of [the] Kabalikat ng Mamamayan (Kabayan) Party-List… was filed and received in the Office of the Clerk of the Commission, as of this date.”

If so, it is a big wonder how Salo’s group could claim to have any legal basis for creating a board of trustees peopled with his handpicked nominees, when under the party’s extant constitution and by-laws, it does not exist.

In fact, the Party Congress, the highest policymaking body of the party that approves any amendment to its constitution and by-laws, has recognized and affirmed my own nomination as party representative.

Also, Salo was expelled as a member of the party-list as decided by the voting delegates during the Special Party Congress of Kabayan on Feb. 11, 2017, over “egregious and numerous violations of Kabayan party-list’s constitution and by-laws,” including his having set up his own board of trustees without warrant from the Party Congress. That, and his hand in the P3.8-billion car plate scam at the Land Transportation Office, where he was both corporate secretary and counsel for the winning bidder PPI-JKG Joint Venture.

The decision to expel was also arrived at unanimously by 32 out of 43 Comelec-registered voting delegates who attended the Party Congress.

But Salo’s oft-repeated lie about his board of trustees has become media’s gospel truth, apparently.

Although I remain a committed defender of free expression, the capacity of fake news such as his to victimize even such a venerable institution as the Inquirer makes me wonder whether the marketplace of ideas can ever survive its onslaught in the digital era. I find it ironic that your editorial was published on the same day your paper ran a story on my defense of press freedom.

Third, your editorial declared that I “sought to impeach” Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Had due diligence been done, it would have been found out that I never endorsed any of the two complaints filed against the Chief Justice. It was the impeachment complaint against former Comelec chair Juan Andres Bautista that I endorsed, and nothing more.

Finally, to argue that to save the courts, the Chief Justice should step down and avoid an impeachment is
not to overstep my boundaries as a spokesperson for the President. There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits me from saying that.

It is a political solution to what is ostensibly a sui generis procedure that nevertheless carries with it the stark realities of the political realm.

And it is not idle speculation on my part, as I have the President’s words to back me up, as your editorial itself noted.

H. HARRY L. ROQUE

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TAGS: Free expression, Harry Roque, presidential spokesperson
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