MANILA— President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman on Wednesday said it was "unfair" that he was asked about honor and excellence in relation to a government move allowing troops inside his alma mater, the University of the Philippines.
The defense department this week unilaterally ended a 30-year-old pact that prevents troops from entering campuses of the country's biggest state university after authorities accused it of being a breeding ground for communist rebels.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque reacted to UP professor Danilo Arao's call for all alumni of the university who are top-level government officials to "denounce" the pact's termination.
"This disregards everything that UP stands for. Should they remain silent, a six-word question: Where is your honor and excellence?" Arao said on Twitter.
In reply, Roque, a former UP law professor and human rights lawyer, said: "I’m asking the DND Secretary and the President of UP to sit down, and I have offered my good offices to facilitate this meeting.”
CNN anchor Pinky Webb then pressed Roque to give his personal opinion, separate from his role as Duterte's spokesman.
"There’s really no such thing when you are a Presidential spokesperson," Roque replied. "All I’m saying is let’s talk about this, I support the steps of the UP President, and let’s see why a 30-year-old accord should not be continued when it has worked, apparently perfectly well, in the past 30 years."
"I’m not duty-bound by anything that Prof. Areo says," he added.
After a commercial break, Roque told Webb, "I have to highlight the fact that I think the question on Arao was unfair. In the first place, why am I duty-bound to follow anything that Prof. Arao says?"
“You made it appear as if it’s compulsory to follow it," said Roque.
Webb told him, "Don't get me wrong. I’m not saying you were duty-bound."
"What was the basis for that?" Roque asked, prompting the journalist to reply, "It was a tweet, sir."
"But you said I had to follow him, and if I did not do as he did then I have no honor or excellence," said Roque. "Is that a fair question? That’s not."
"No I didn’t say that," Webb told him. "Just to very clear about this, it was a tweet that I read. And I asked for your reaction if you would denounce it. And then after that—”
"It’s implying that I should follow what Danny Arao says," Roque said, cutting her off.
"And where is the basis? Tell your viewers now. Where is the basis that I should follow what Danny Arao says? It’s not just you asking for a reaction, you were pursuing, ‘Will you denounce?’” he said.
Webb replied, “Okay then. If you say why should you answer it, and if you answered it that way, sir, then I would have to take it as is. It was just a challenge—"
“Yes, but you’re pushing the point, going beyond asking for my reaction,” quipped Roque. “‘Will you denounce it?’ You said it on record, the TV recorded it. You have to be fair.”
“I am trying to be fair Secretary Roque," the anchor told him. "I was not—”
“You were not,” Roque said, cutting her off again.
"It’s as if I don’t agree with Arao, that I have no sense of excellence or honor," said Roque, who once told a forum not to vote for Duterte, calling him a "murderer," then later joined the President's Cabinet as his spokesperson.
“Absolutely not. I never meant that," said Webb. "Please don’t think that, Secretary Roque. I would have never meant that.”
“Just to end this topic, how would you like to end this?” she asked.
“I have said it, I have never experienced being in UP with soldiers or military. And I’d like to facilitate the discussion between the UP President and the Secretary of National Defense," Roque said.
"I’m offering my good offices for them to have this discussion,” he added.