Harry Roque’s protest: ‘I did not lie’
THE former activist lawyer and party-list congressman who has been officially speaking for President Duterte since November last year was expected to decide today (Monday, Oct. 8) on whether (1) he resigns maybe to run for the Senate or (2) he stays in government but moves from the job of spokesman to something else.
Before the weekend, Harry Roque was at some crossroads. He most probably prefers the Senate race but the President himself publicly told him not to run. Recall that he signed up because the title would mount him on the national stage, which he thought would be his ticket to the exclusive senators’ club.
That looks like it won’t be happening. Instead, he is given the option to head the office of press secretary, which still does not exist and if created out of the Presidential Communication Operations Office, might dislodge its present PCOO chief, Martin Andanar. Roque’s staying seems doomed to create an upheaval in the President’s communication apparatus.
But that’s not the point of Roque’s near combustion last Thursday (Oct. 4) when the President publicly made him look like a liar by announcing that he underwent an endoscopy at the Cardinal Santos hospital in San Juan City to check further “growth” in his digestive tract. The day before, Roque told reporters Duterte “just took his day off” after cancelling a Cabinet meeting. “I assume that I have no information that he went to the hospital.”
Was that not saying he did not know if the President was hospitalized? It was but it didn’t sound clear enough to journalists who focused on the denial, not on absence of knowledge, by the spokesman.
The headlines of course were about Roque’s denial, followed the next day by Duterte’s admission.
Roque did not use the tack of White House press secretary Sara Huckabee-Sanders who would’ve said, “I don’t know the answer to that, will get back to you.” A no-comment, not denial. Or police regional chief Gen. Debold Sinas who when asked, “Are journalists safe from arrest?” promptly shot back, “Yes ... for now.” Not iron-clad promise, an assurance just for the moment.
Had Roque known about the Cardinal Santos hospital “visit” and even the previous finding of the “suspected cancer” in an apparently earlier checkup (Wednesday’s diagnostic test was a follow-up), he could’ve sought guidance on how the spokesman should handle it. Maybe he would’ve not even commented until he’d know more.
Which raises the speculation that Duterte must have intended to “burn” Roque and give him a reason to quit or accept another job in the government.
Roque couldn’t say he wasn’t warned about serving as presidential spokesman. Friends and critics alike called out the potential conflict of interest: Roque’s personal beliefs, as expressed in what he said and did before he came aboard the Duterte ship of state, clashed with the President’s views and style.
Roque is now much better known than before he became spokesman but that, he must realize more sharply, may not persuade enough number of voters to send him to the Senate.
He might stay on, as press secretary or some other official n in the government. There will be enough seats to be vacated by Cabinet members who’ll run for elective office.
Or he’ll slug it out at the campaign trail and continue to defend his work with the President, which will be very much an issue if he runs.