No apologies: Roque says Duterte's rant vs Robredo 'justified'

Questions about President Rodrigo Duterte's lie-ridden, sexist tirade against Vice President Leni Robredo dominated the press conference of Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Thurday, November 19.

It was his first Malacañang press briefing after Duterte's controversial speech on Tuesday.

"I don't have to explain. Sa mula’t mula, ganoon po si Presidente, tinanggap na po siya ng taumbayan at hindi na po siya magbabago para lang matuwa ang ilan sa ating lipunan. No expalanations required," he said when asked by Rappler why Duterte resorted to falsehoods and sexist comments.

(From the start, the President has been this way and the people have accepted him and he won't change just to please certain people in society.)

When asked by TV5's Maricel Halili if Duterte's behavior was "unpresidential," Roque cited the President's high Pulse Asia approval ratings last September as proof that he was presidential.

"Is that unpresidential? I don't think so because 91% of the people have said that they trust and believe that the President is performing well in his duty," said Roque.

Roque takes issue with Robredo's tweets

Some of the questions in the briefing were about the veracity of Duterte's claims that it was Robredo who started the #NasaanAngPangulo hashtag and that she made it appear that she was "leading" Typhoon Ulysses operations.

Roque admitted he himself did not see any remark from Robredo herself asking where Duterte was during the typhoon.

But he flashed on the screen some screenshots of Robredo which struck Roque as making an impression that she was giving orders to the military.

"Napakadaming tweet ni Vice President na para bagang siya 'yung in charge sa relief operations. Tingnan 'nyo po ito," he said, as Palace staff showed Robredo tweets selected by Roque.

(The Vice President has so many tweets that make it look like she's in charge of releif operations. Look at this.)

The tweets that Roque showed were of Robredo's updates on her coordination with military personnel.

"Asking if possible to deploy air assets now. Waiting for feedback. Was assured Marine Rescue Teams are on their way," she tweeted on November 13.

"Our prayers for Cagayan and Isabela. Reading posts now of people asking to be rescued. We deployed our security team to coordinate with AFP all the calls for rescue we are reading now. Will be monitoring and will post updates," read another tweet Roque flashed.

The Duterte spokesman also took issue with Robredo tweeting that a government responder told her of the difficulties faced by air rescue operations in Cagayan.

Her tweet was: "Update: 'ongoing na daw po mam u planning re air rescue, info fm the ground mam malakas na daw u current kaya.medyo nahihirapan sila mg rescue at u tropa na papuntang Tuguegarao fm Alcala upstream kasi kaya kelangan nila isakay talaga muna sa truck u rubber boats mam'"

(Update: "Maam, air rescue operations are on going, info from the ground is that current is strong so they are having a hard time with rescue operations and the troops going to Tuguegarao from Alcala are going upstream so they need to ride trucks or rubber boats.")

This was the very same explanation given by Cagayan officials on why rescue efforts by boat were difficult to carry out.

Roque claimed the tweets gave the "impression" that "if not for the Vice President, these people won't move." Netizens, however, said Robredo's tweets gave affected residents a sense of assurance that help was on the way.

CNN Philippines' Triciah Terada pointed out that to other people, the tweets are a manner of informing those who asked Robredo for help for updates and other critical information.

Roque also said Duterte's rant may have been due to Liberal Party spokesman Barry Gutierrez's remarks during Robredo's radio show.

Gutierrez had said that Duterte could have found a way to visit typhoon-hit areas quicker, despite security concerns – echoing a sentiment shared by many others.

Where Duterte gets his information

Yet Roque admitted, when pressed by GMA reporter Joseph Morong, that he doesn't know for certain that Duterte even knows about Robredo's tweets.

"Hindi ko po alam (I don't know)," he said.

He surmised that Duterte has his own sources of information, though he could not say exactly what these are.

"Mayroon din siguro siyang  access ng mga bali-balita na nanggaling din siguro sa bibig mismo ni VP Leni although I have no personal knowledge," said Roque.

(He probably has access to news that it came from the mouth of VP Leni herself although I have no personal knowledge.)

Despite all these uncertainties, Roque insisted that Duterte was "justified" in making his outburst.

Some social media users, meanwhile, poked fun at Duterte for his rant, calling it a meltdown. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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