Roque: I'll resign if Duterte tramples on press freedom
MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Saturday, January 20, that he will leave the Duterte administration once he is convinced that his boss has trampled on press freedom.
Roque said in a press conference in Kalibo, Aklan, that as far as he was concerned, Duterte "valued" press freedom.
The Palace official made the statement in response to University of the Philippines professor Danilo Arao, who dared him to resign as Duterte's spokesperson since Roque had always portrayed himself as a human rights advocate and a champion of freedom of the press.
"Bakit po ako nagpapatuloy bilang isang Spokesman? Dahil naniniwala ako at naninindigan din po ako na ang Pangulong Duterte ay sang-ayon din at sumusuporta sa malayang pamamahayag," he said.
(Why am I still the spokesman? Because I believe and I am of the position that President Duterte also approves of and supports press freedom.)
"Kung sa tingin ko po talagang lumalabag sa karapatan ang Presidente, hindi po ako mag-aatubili, magreresign ako (If, in my view, the President is really violating such right, I will not hesitate, I will resign)!" he added.
The move is widely seen as an attack on press freedom, since Duterte has been repeatedly attacking the news group for its critical reports on his administration, particularly the war on drugs. (READ: The Impunity Series)
Roque said proof that Duterte valued press freedom is the fact that he never filed any libel case during his decades in public service.
"Malinis po ang konsensiya ni Presidente. Halos 30 taon na pong nanunungkulan si Presidente, ni minsan hindi iyan nag-libel. Alam po niya ang halaga ng malayang pamamahayag, alam niya na pupulaan siya ng media. Hinahayaan lang niya kasi alam naman niya na ang taongbayan, hindi nadadala sa mga fake news and fake reporting," he said.
(The President has a clean conscience. He was in office for nearly 30 years and not once did he file a libel case. He knows the importance of press freedom, he knews that he is being criticized by the media. He's just letting them be since he knows that the people would not be swayed by fake news and fake reporting.)
Duterte has no libel cases against journalists but he allegedly ordered the killing of Davao broadcaster Jun Pala in 2003, according to self-confessed Davao Death Squad member Edgar Matobato and corroborated by retired Davao cop Arthur Lascañas. (READ: Duterte's enemy: Jun Pala)
Shortly after he won the presidency, Duterte said in press conference that journalists are legitimate targets of assassination "if you're a son of a bitch," and that Pala – a Duterte critic – "deserved" his fate.
The President has also attacked news organizations that publish reports critical of him and his policies, and had theatened their owners in public. (READ: Duterte says he'll file 'plunder case' against Prietos)
Following the SEC order against Rappler, Duterte called on the media to criticize him and his administration "with moderation," but in the same interview called Rappler a "fake news outlet" and again brought up his accusations against the Prieto family, former owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
'Nothing more to prove'
Still responding to Arao's challenge made at the #BlackFridayforPressFreedom gathering on Friday, January 19, Roque said that he had nothing more to prove in terms of his human rights and press freedom advocacies.
“Naku, wala na po akong dapat patunayan pagdating doon sa aking paninindigan para po sa kalayaan ng malayang pamamahayag at pananalita (I have nothing more prove when it comes to my position on the freedom of the press and speech),” he said.
“Napakarami na po nating ipinaglaban na mamamayan [laban] sa libel. Madami na pong pinatay na mamamahayag na aming nilitis ang mga pumatay sa kanila,” he added, referring to his days with the Center for International Law (Centerlaw).
(We already defended many citizens who faced libel. We help prosecute the killers of many slain journalists.)
He recalled the time he served as legal counsel of a group of journalists in a class action suit against then First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, who had filed multiple libel complaints against media practitioners critical of him and his wife, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Roque is among the founders of Centerlaw. He left the law firm in 2016 when he joined Congress as a party-list representative. – Rappler.com