President Duterte last Sunday at the Masskara Festival in Bacolod City endorsed Kabayan Party-list Representative Harry Roque for senator in the 2019 senatorial elections.
At the start of his speech, he introduced Roque to the Negrenses by asking him to stand up: “ 'Ti nga kandidato ko ni pagka-Senador, kadtong ngari ko ga...subong ga kampanya na. Wa pa ko nakalimot kay Harry, ha. Ano lang 'yan. (He's my candidate for senator. My coming is to... now I’m campaigning. I have not forgotten Harry.)
At that moment, I was texting Harry to verify talks going around that he would be replacing Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella. (We tried to contact Secretary Abella to confirm this but didn’t get a reply.)
Sources said Duterte was dissatisfied with the way Abella, a former religious preacher, handled media on the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey results that showed a two-digit decline in his satisfaction and trust ratings. Also on the issue of the President ordering the expulsion of ambassadors of European countries, mistaking them for representatives of non-government organizations who criticized his human rights violations.
Harry did not confirm the info about replacing Abella but said he is scheduled to see the President this week.
Our source said when Duterte offered the position to Harry, he said: “I will not take ‘No’ for an answer.”
The tough-talking Roque, a stark contrast to the soft-speaking pastor, forms the new communications team in Malacañang which also brought in this week the combative Social Services Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, who was appointed undersecretary for New Media and spokesperson of Press Secretary Martin Andanar.
Why Harry Roque, who made a name as human rights lawyer, is now aligned with a president who has repeatedly expressed contempt for human rights and lambasted human rights advocates, is one of the things in life that I find hard to understand.
Disclosure: Harry was our lawyer in the case we filed against Mike Arroyo, husband of Gloria Arroyo, who filed libel cases against some 40 journalists.
He was also our lawyer in the case we filed against military and police officers who arrested us for covering the 2009 Manila Peninsula siege which involved Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim (who is now Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman) and other military officers demanding accountability from Gloria Arroyo on the 2004 Elections 'Hello Garci' scandal.
Roque is one of the founders of Centerlaw, a non-stock, non-profit organization that actively participate in prosecuting the perpetrators of killings of journalists and those sued for criminal defamation. He resigned from Centerlaw when he entered politics.
Under the Duterte administration, Centerlaw has actively represented victims, from poor families, of extrajudicial killings in connection with the government’s war against drugs
Last January, Centerlaw was able to obtain the writ of amparo—a remedy available to persons to ensure their safety, should their security and right to life be violated or threatened, such as in extrajudicial killings—for Efren Morillo, a survivor of the police’s indiscriminate anti-drug operations in Payatas, Quezon City and families of his four companions who were killed.
Last week, Centerlaw, representing residents of San Andres Bukid, Manila, again filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking the writ of amparo against the officers of the Manila Police Department Station 6.
Being presidential spokesman would serve well Roque’s senatorial ambition. His daily media exposure from now until early 2019 would ensure name-recall that anyone harboring senatorial ambition would not be able to match. Not even Philippine National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa with his mascots and mall standees.
I cannot even bring myself to say, “Good Luck!”
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