Things to know about Harry Roque, Duterte's new spokesman
MANILA, Philippines – Starting November, it will be Harry Roque explaining President Rodrigo Duterte to the world.
Among his many tasks will be holding regular Malacañang press conferences, clarifying Duterte’s often shocking and vague statements, and answering media queries about a host of public interest issues.
Most know Roque as a congressman. But he has worn many hats, and has been under the public eye even before his days in government.
Who's the man replacing the former pastor Ernesto Abella as Duterte’s voice? Here are some quick facts about Harry Roque.
1. He’s 51 years old. This makes him almost two decades younger than 68-year-old Abella. It was during Roque’s birthday celebration that Duterte announced his appointment. His age puts him in the median age range of Duterte’s Cabinet – the youngest member being Public Works Secretary Mark Villar at 39, and the oldest members being the same age as the President at 73.
2. Ties with Duterte. Roque says he has known Duterte for a long time. He and the former Davao City mayor were both on the side of Davao radio commentator Alex Adonis, who was convicted for libel and imprisoned in 2007 for reading on air a report about an alleged extramarital affair of then House Speaker Prospero Nograles, Duterte’s political rival. Roque was Adonis’ legal counsel. Duterte publicly declared support for Adonis. It was in lawyering for Adonis that Roque got to know Duterte.
3. Travel buddy. Roque surprised some journalists covering the President when he joined Duterte’s delegation to major foreign trips, including those to China, Japan, and Russia.
4. Clashing opinions with Duterte on key issues. But the biggest challenge awaiting Roque is how he will resolve his differences of opinion with Duterte on crucial issues. According to his own website, Roque is against the death penalty and against lowering the age of criminal responsibility – both issues close to Duterte's heart.
Roque has also said he is "wary" of the shift to federalism, another of the President's main advocacies.
5. Qualified to represent Duterte at the International Criminal Court. Roque says he is the only Filipino qualified to represent clients before the ICC, as he was admitted to practice there in 2005. On Monday, October 30, he even said Duterte may be considering him to represent him in the specialized court. "Maybe he will consider me as his lawyer since I am the only Filipino there," Roque said in a Monday DZBB interview.
6. Representative of a partylist representing the marginalized. No doubt the perceived nature of the partylist he represented in the 17th Congress helped gloss up Roque’s suitability for his new position. The Kabayan Partylist, a Left-leaning organization, says it represents the marginalized sectors, including the disabled, senior citizens, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), fishermen, farmers, and the poor. These are the same sectors Duterte professes to fight for. Duterte himself says he’s a “Leftist” president.
7. His own partylist wanted to oust him. Kabayan Partylist has tried twice to oust him from the House of Representatives. They said his “dishonorable behavior” in a hearing about the Bilibid drug trade was “severely damaging” to their organization. They were referring to Roque’s line of questioning toward Ronnie Dayan, Senator Leila de Lima's former lover and alleged bagman, at a congressional inquiry on November 24, 2016. (READ: The House's 'climax' congressmen: Who are they?)
8. Supported Binay in the 2016 elections. Roque initially considered running for senator under the United Nationalist Alliance, political party of former vice president Jejomar Binay.
9. Human rights lawyer. Before running for congressman, Roque was already a familiar face because he was a lawyer representing victims in many high-profile cases through an organization he helped found, the Center for International Law Manila (Centerlaw).
He was the legal counsel for the family of slain transgender woman Jennifer Laude in their case against US marine Joseph Scott Pemberton. Roque and his team also represented victims of the Ampatuan Massacre, comfort women abused by the Japanese during World War II, and the family of environmental activist and journalist Gerry Ortega. Roque’s background as a lawyer likely helped Duterte decide in his favor when choosing a spokesman.
10. Educated abroad. Duterte likes to poke fun at his Cabinet appointees for their fancy education and impressive grades, in comparison to his own mediocre performance in school. Roque will join the school achievers in Duterte’s Cabinet. After graduating in 1986 from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Political Science, Roque studied law at the University of the Philippines, then got a Master of Laws degree with Merit, from the London School of Economics in 1996.
11. Law school professor. Roque taught law at the UP College of Law for some 15 years. He taught the following subjects: Public International Law, Contemporary Developments in International Law, Transportation and Public Utilities. He was also director of the college’s Institute of International Legal Studies.
12. College dorm mates with Vice President Robredo. Roque shares a history with Vice President Leni Robredo. As UP freshman students, both dormed at the Kalayaan Residence Hall. Roque spent only one year as a UP undergrad before studying in the United States. The two attended the recent Kalayaan Batch '82 Reunion.
13. Dreams of running for senator. Roque is widely believed to be eyeing a Senate seat in the 2019 elections. Asked on Monday to confirm this, he only said, "My motto is, 'thy will be done.' I will go where the Lord leads me."
In these changing times, courage and clarity become even more important.
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