My friend Harry
The most controversial figure in the current political scene is Harry Roque, the new spokesperson of President Duterte. And if there’s any person who thoroughly knows Harry outside of his family, it’s me.
We’ve known each other for 31 years beginning when we were freshmen at the University of the Philippines College of Law. For 26 years we were law partners in private practice. And 15 years ago we cofounded the Center for International Law (Centerlaw), which is at the forefront in the filing of cases against extralegal killings in the war on drugs. Harry resigned from Centerlaw last year when he became a congressman.
My first memory of Harry was during our first day in class under the formidable constitutional law professor Perfecto Fernandez. We had been required to read voluminous court decisions. To our utter shock, the first question our professor asked was not covered by our readings: “What is culture?” While everyone froze, Harry volunteered by extemporaneously reciting a long but well-articulated answer that left us gushing in whispers: “That guy is a graduate of the University of Michigan.” But our professor swiftly deflated Harry’s ego by bawling him out: “Mr. Roque, you are as clear as fog!” The whole class dissolved in laughter.
As third year law students, we spoofed the overheated student politics on campus. Our group of nonconformist friends put up the “New Sons Party,” an unabashedly nuisance party, with Harry as one of our candidates. During the miting de avance, the two other parties’ candidates were presented with a uniform introduction: “Elementary, valedictorian! High school, valedictorian! College, cum laude!” When Harry’s turn came (he was weight-heavy even then), we introduced him in classic nuisance mockery: “Elementary, Healthy Baby Award! High school, Healthier Baby Award! College, Healthiest Baby Award!” We lost in the elections, but we had so much fun being featured in the television program “Probe Team.”
One school break, while visiting a classmate in the Visayas, Harry and I climbed a hill to view the other side of an island. We thought it would be an easy climb, so we didn’t bring drinking water. But before we reached the top, Harry, drenched in sweat, suddenly dropped to the ground and stammered that he would die if I didn’t get him some water: “Mamamatay ako, ikuha mo ako ng tubig!” We were far from the nearest house, but I saw a single coconut tree full of fruits nearby. In my panic, I climbed the tree and brought a number of coconuts down. Hydrated by the coconut water, Harry was soothed and soon recovered. Until now I still don’t know how I was able to climb that coconut tree.
As young lawyers, we became active in the impeachment moves against then President Gloria Arroyo. But suddenly, the steel companies that were making our practice flourish dropped us like a hot potato. We later learned that they had been warned by a public official to cut ties with us if they wanted to continue doing business. Undeterred, we took on more public interest cases under Centerlaw.
As a congressman, and more so when he was appointed Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry has become embroiled in controversy and has earned widespread criticism. I have been urged to declare that my positions contradict his own. The fact that I have not succumbed to criticizing him publicly does not mean that I do not privately engage in spirited debates with Harry. Besides, the cases that we pursue at Centerlaw and the risks that we take prove that we continue to speak truth to power.
I have written on issues that contradict the pronouncements and actions of the Duterte administration. If in the course of my writings, Harry throws hollow blocks at me, I will throw boulders at him in return. But we will continue to meet in our gathering of friends, bicker on our contrasting beliefs, ridicule each other, reminisce on bygone days, and laugh at rehashed jokes.
In our life journey, our imperfect selves stride on while intertwined with the lives of our equally imperfect friends.
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