MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman said on Thursday he had "no reaction" to two press organization's criticism of his supposedly disparaging remarks against a journalist over her report of alleged Chinese harassment of Filipino fishermen.
"Wala po akong reaksyon," the President's spokesman Harry Roque said of remarks from the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP.)
"Abogado po tayo. Truth is our natural advocacy, pinalabas lang po natin ang katotohanan," he said.
(I have no reaction. We are a lawyer... We only made the truth come out.)
Roque on Wednesday repeatedly told BBC reporter Virma Rivera to call his office while his televised press briefing was already underway.
Rivera before the briefing had asked Roque about Filipino fishers supposedly being prevented by Chinese ships from fishing at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, 5 years since a United Nations-backed court junked Beijing's claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea.
Officials during the briefing denied this. Roque then told Rivera, "Tinawag iyong report ninyo... na tsismis... We will link you up with them nang malaman natin kung sino talaga ang nagsasabi ng katotohanan."
(Your report was called gossip. We will link you up with them so that we can know who is telling the truth.)
WHAT MEDIA GROUPS SAID
The NUJP hit Roque "for turning the regular Palace briefing into his own online channel, where he can engage in antics like calling out a journalist on national television for asking him for comment on reports."
"While government officials are free to disagree with and even try to debunk news reports... it is hoped that this would be done in a civil manner expected of the office of the presidential spokesperson," the organization said in a statement.
"Perhaps it is a good time to remind Roque of the hashtag he has been trying in vain for months to get trending: Kalma lang (just keep calm)," it added.
The FOCAP meanwhile said it was "deeply disturbed" about the way Roque responded to Rivera's question. It said "there is no justification" that the BBC team was "out to destroy the government."
"The tone of Sec. Roque dismissing the BBC report as deception and rumor was disparaging and condescending, as he sought to assign ill motive to the network's report and singled out Ms Rivera for it," said the FOCAP.
"This was not the first time Sec. Roque had treated journalists, women in particular, with disrespect."
Roque last year scolded CNN's Tricia Terada for a report that she did not write. He refused calls to publicly apologize.
In January, he fumed against a question from CNN Philippines anchor Pinky Webb in a live interview.
Referring to his exchange with BBC's Rivera, Roque said, "Bahala na po ang taumbayan na maghusga."
"Ganoon po talaga ang teorya ng malayang merkado ng ideya. Taongbayan na po ang maghuhusga kung sino talaga ang nagsasabi ng katotohanan," he added.
(It is up to the public to judge. That's the way the free market of ideas works. The public will judge who is telling the truth.)