Hollow blocks from Harry
On Monday, as the country began to slow down for holidays traditionally devoted to the commemoration of the dead and to reflections on death, former human rights lawyer Harry Roque began a new lease on (political) life, as the new presidential spokesperson.
To the members of the political class who know him best, human rights advocates turned politicians, this was a moment of liberation for Roque.
“The charade is now over,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said of the controversial Kabayan party-list congressman and deputy leader of the administration-approved opposition in the House of Representatives; Roque was now “liberated and obligated to be the President’s official apologist.”
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, of the genuine opposition, said Roque’s appointment “releases him from the challenge of masquerading as a minority leader.”
And Akbayan party-list Rep. Tomasito Villarin expressed what is an open secret in Congress: Roque is “an ambitious neophyte congressman eyeing a senatorial seat,” which makes him qualified to serve as spokesperson for President Duterte. “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.”
Roque has not exactly been quiet or defenseless. On Saturday, he issued a statement of general principles, and then on Sunday night, he gave an interview in which he issued threats of a particular kind.
But the contradictions that characterize Roque’s checkered career — human rights and international law specialist, often accused of being a publicity hound, who took a courageous stand against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was primary supporter of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s presidential candidacy, became a fake minority leader supportive of President Duterte — also define his first statements and remarks as spokesperson-designate.
He said he accepted the role because he wanted to serve as an adviser to the President.
“By taking this position, 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.”
But the role of a spokesperson is to give voice to the principal’s views, not to his own.
Case in point. He said he was “committing to reduce, if not totally eradicate, the impact of statements which appear to support genocide or violations of fundamental human rights.”
How does he propose to reduce the impact of the President’s own statements, which sometimes incite state violence against mere suspects?
More to the point, how does he prevent the President from speaking as the long-time mayor has been accustomed to speaking all these many years?
And how would he advance the cause of fundamental human rights when he signaled zero tolerance for dissent or even criticism?
“Those shameless critics,” he said in Filipino. “If before you were not being hit even though you were throwing stones, now, get ready because when you hit out, it won’t only be stones I’ll throw at you but hollow blocks.”
Even if this is understood as “mere” verbal violence, it still betrays a fascistic streak that calls Roque’s entire previous career in human rights work into question.
If he does not understand that criticizing government and holding it to account are fundamental, what else about basic rights does he fail to grasp?
There was also his retort to the gathering criticism against his appointment: “’Yung mga bumabato sa akin ngayong ganito kaaga pa lang: mamatay kayo sa inggit.” Those who are hitting me now even though it’s still too early: Die of envy.
This is a perplexing statement. Did he expect to enjoy a honeymoon, as though he were a newly elected president? More, does he think his new position in public service is a place of privilege, to invite envy in others? Even wily lawyers are undone by their tongues.
It was obvious that the previous presidential spokesperson, Secretary Ernesto Abella, labored under the strain of defending the indefensible; even though his language could be tortured, that very fact served as proof to many that he was struggling with his conscience.
As can be readily seen from Roque’s first statements, where he proves yet again that he is willing to say anything, that particular problem will not be his concern.
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