Harry Roque

Former UP student Roque gets testy when asked about UP-DND accord

Pia Ranada

Malacañang file photo

The presidential spokesman, who speaks of his 25-year ties with UP, gets irked by a challenge for UP alumni in the Duterte government to denounce the DND decision

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who has long been proud of his University of the Philippines roots, has tried for two days both to defend the termination of the UP-DND accord and not lose face as an alumnus.

Roque, who earned his law degree from the University of the Philippines, has first tried to sidestep questions by saying the termination was a decision of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and that reporters should instead course their questions to him.

“I don’t think I’m in a position to answer. You should ask both Danilo Concepcion and Secretary Lorenzana, because I’m not party to the agreement,” said Roque on Tuesday, January 19, when asked by Rappler if the Palace could cite instances when the accord prevented law enforcement.

Pressed by GMA reporter Joseph Morong about his personal thoughts on the move given his history with UP, Roque could only say that in his experience of studying in campuses in the US and Britain where no such accord is in place, he never experienced police infringing on academic freedoms.

In the same press conference, Roque mentioned that he spent 25 years with UP – 10 years as a student and 15 years as a law professor.

Testy TV interview

But the next day, things got testy when Roque was asked to weigh in on criticisms by other UP alumnus.

He was particularly irked when CNN Philippines anchor Pinky Webb asked him about journalism professor Danilo Arao’s tweet where he called on UP graduates in the Duterte government, like Roque, to “denounce” Lorenzana’s move.

“This disregards everything that UP stands for. Should they remain silent, a six-word question: Where is your honor and excellence?” tweeted Arao.

After Webb pressed him for a categorical response to Arao’s tweet, Roque got visibly pissed.

“You were wrong. You were implying as if I had to follow what Danny Arao says. What’s the basis for that?” he fumed.

“You said I had to follow him and I did not do as he did then I have no honor or excellence. Is that a fair question?” he also asked.

Roque demanded that Webb explain to viewers why he had to respond to Arao’s comment.

Webb clarified that she never said Roque was bound to respond to Arao, merely that she was seeking his reaction to the professor’s challenge.

“Secretary Roque, just to be very clear about this, it was a tweet that I read and I asked for your reaction if you would denounce it,” said Webb.

UP students will ‘fight for their rights’

But the interview did not end without Roque praising UP students and the UP activism spirit, which critics, including Vice President Leni Robredo, have said is endangered by the Duterte government’s move.

Kung ako po’y estudyante, hindi po ako magpapatinag. Kahit anong mangyari, ipaglalaban ko po yung karapatan ko,” said the Duterte spokesman.

(If I were a student, I will not be cowed. No matter what happens, I will fight for my rights.)

“As a UP alumnus, as a former UP faculty, I don’t think UP students will be cowed. They will be undeterred. They will pursue and exercise their rights,” Roque added.

Pressed for his personal stance on the termination of the UP-DND deal, Roque said there was “no such thing” as a personal opinion while he is Duterte’s spokesman.

This despite his giving his personal stance on other topics before, like when he said last Monday that he would personally prefer a Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine.

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But Roque said he “supports” the “steps” taken by UP President Danilo Concepcion and would use his position as presidential spokesman to broker talks between the school and the DND.

“Let’s see why a 30-year accord should not be continued when it has worked perfectly well in the past 30 years,” said Roque.

But when asked if Lorenzana’s unilateral termination violated principle of the mutuality of contracts, Roque, a former UP law professor, said there was no need for UP to have been consulted.

“It’s (accord) an act of benificence by the state in the sense that is suspends the excercise of jurisdiction in a given territory so I don’t think mutuality is required,” said Roque. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.