MANILA, Philippines – Kabayan Representative Harry Roque said on Saturday, October 28, that he agreed to be the spokesperson of President Rodrigo Duterte so that he can advise the Chief Executive on human rights issues, among other things.
Roque said in a statement a day after Duterte himself confirmed the appointment that he accepted the job only after “much deliberation and careful consideration.”
“I considered the position with the specific purpose of getting an audience with the President to address key human rights issues in the Philippines….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,” he said.
“I have already expressed my willingness to serve as an adviser on the matter,” the human rights lawyer added. (READ: War on drugs a ‘major catastrophe,’ says Etta Rosales)
Roque said Duterte’s pronouncements on human rights issues “are precisely what drew me towards the position of spokesperson.”
He said he observed the “pivotal role” of the spokesperson in disseminating information on administration policies.
“By taking up this position, I intend to refocus the attention of the people more towards the fundamental position of the State, and less towards the manner by which such has been declared. 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 said.
Roque stressed that he would not change his human rights advocacy once in Malacañang.
“ I am a firm advocate for the protection and preservation of fundamental human rights of all persons…. By accepting this position, I am not condoning the violence surrounding the government’s anti-drug campaign, nor do I intend to further the same.” he said, and cited his advocacy for measures that promote human rights in Congress.
“Regardless of whether I am a member of Congress or of the President’s Cabinet, I continue to value the right to life and dignity of every person and do not support the arbitrary killing of any person by the State,” Roque added.
‘Lawyer for the media’
In a subsequent radio interview with Radyo Pilipinas, the new spokesperson said in Filipino “it is as if I’m only dreaming,” adding that the new position has yet to “sink in.” He admitted to calling Presidential Communications Undersecretary Ernesto Abella before meeting with the President, adding that he thanked Abella “for his understanding.”
“I told him, ‘neither of us expected this,'” Roque recounted, “but both of us are brothers in prayer, so I asked him to pray for me while I pray for him.
Asked about what the media should expect, Roque said he was “not just a partner of the media, but a lawyer for the media.”
“Everyone charged with libel, everyone killed, we handled their cases. There is no difference in our relationship, we will only strengthen our relationship. And I have always been a supporter of the right to free speech.”
He said he planned to remain accessible to reporters, adding that “it’s not my style not to be responsive to those asking questions.”
‘Charade is over’
A group of legal and human rights organizations had strongly urged Roque to reconsider accepting the position. Bertha Justice Network, a network of 14 international groups, urged Roque in an open letter on Thursday, “We ask you to stand on the right side of the struggle for human rights and justice in the Philippines.”
Albay First District Representative Edcel Lagman, for his part, said Roque’s appointment “confirms his dubious role in defending the President’s wayward policies even as he is nominally a Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives.”
“The charade is now over as Roque is liberated and obligated to be the President’s official apologist,” Lagman said in a statement.
The opposition lawmaker said that Roque’s new job requires one “to be an expert mortician undertaking the post-mortem embellishment of the President’s crude and unfounded pronouncements and policies, and must be able to subdue one’s conscience in order to emote platitudes.”
“We wish Roque well in his job of justifying the unjustifiable and defending the indefensible pronouncements and policies of the President,” he said.
Lagman also recalled positions that Roque has taken, as a lawmaker, which ran counter to the latter’s human rights advocacy. He said Roque “has minimized the grave import of the unabated extrajudicial killings” related to Duterte’s drug war; voted for the confirmation of the declaration of marital law in Mindanao and its extension; and “even called for a zero budget” for the Commission on Human Rights.
“Roque failed to criticize Duterte’s predisposition to authoritarian rule and intention to declare a revolutionary government and he advocated for the creation of a panel to investigate the Ombudsman and recommend her impeachment for unwarranted and politically motivated reasons,” he said.
Roque later said there was “no difference between the law regarding human rights and the official position of President.”
Roque is expected to assume the post on November 6, when Duterte completes a trip to Japan next week. – Rappler.com