Monday ∗ 06 Nov 2017

A hooray for Harry, a test for Duterte

A week or so since it was announced that Rep. Harry Roque is going to be the new Presidential Spokesperson and I can’t help but cheer him on.

It was of course a rocky start. There was the contradiction that is his statements (and mere existence) as human rights advocate and his willingness to speak for a President Duterte who has mocked, dismissed, and discredited human rights. There’s that hollowblock statement in an interview for Communications Asec Mocha Uson’s FB page (which is not a blog!):

“Binibigyan ko na po ng notice ‘yung mga walang hiya diyan na naninira lamang. Kung dati-rati hindi kayo nababato bagamat kayo’y nambabato, ngayon po maghanda na kayo dahil kung kayo’y nambato, hindi lang po bato itatapon ko sa inyo, hollow blocks.”

But hooray for Harry, that so many days after he was on CNN Philippines’ The Source, clarifying that the above statement was audience- and context-specific.

“I’ve always believed that the kind of style that you use depends on who your audience is. Otherwise, if you don’t use the right style for the particular audience, they get bored.  You’ve been interviewing me since 2004, I don’t think I’ve exhibited that kind of language for CNN or for any of your stations in the past. But it was important for me to get the support of the DDS because I knew without their support I would not be effective.”

This certainly a refreshing — because revelatory — assessment that we can only welcome from the new Spokesperson. Yes, the Asec’s audience is specific, and that DDS audience requires a specific kind of rhetoric that involves throwing hollowblocks at critics. Got it.

Harry was celebrated as well by the informal front-of-the-line communications team of Duterte. DWIZ’s three-person pro-Duterte team on Karambola (see here) looked upon his appointment with approval and excitement, saying things like since Roque would be dropping bombs during the press briefings, this would mean the attention will be on the Spokesperson and not the President, and that means he is doing his job. A spokesperson, according to this DDS radio show, should be the President’s defender and shock absorber, and Roque is perfect for that because he will not only throw hollowblocks, maybe he will even throw grenades.

Also: “Lalamunin niya nang buhay si Pia Ranada.”

It was thus no surprise that the banter between Spokesperson Roque and these same hosts in a succeeding radio show led to the now (in)famous threat against Ranada, Rappler reporter who is part of the Malacañang Press Corps. The Duterte comms people have kept at Ranada (and her boss Ressa), since the start of this government, and it has only escalated to the point of blaming Rappler for the international / global distress, dismay, disgust over Duterte’s drug war.

But that is mere context, of what was this exchange, and its aftermath.

Host: For what it’s worth Sir, I think you’re doing a good job right now, and I feel that the people will support you kahit magkaroon kayo ng kinks along the way, basta tuloy niyo lang po ang ginagawa ninyo, because your press briefing yesterday was a breath of fresh air. Na feeling ng taong bayan nakakapagsalita sila through you.

Roque: Hangga’t kaya ko pong bigyan ng kasagutan, at alam ko ang posisyon ng Presidente, bibigyan naman po natin ng impormasyon ang ating taumbayan.

Host: Pero kahit isang hollowblock mambalibag naman kayo Sir. Pakagat lang.

Roque: Pero kailangang pipiliin ang target. <overlapping voices>

Host: Ako po, si Pia na lang po, si Pia Rañada na lang po Sir. <laughter>

Roque: Yung ilang mga kasama ko sa Kongreso na ngawa ng ngawa, pasensya na kayo, hindi ko kayo pasisikatin, hindi ko kayo sasagutin.

Roque in fact might not have heard Ranada’s name being mentioned, speaking as he was at the same time that the hosts were. Layer that with laughter, and the spokesperson’s belief that for conversations like this one he is speaking only to the diehard Duterte supporters, and well, one can imagine why he even engaged in this exchange at all.

And why he was quick to respond to Ranada’s claim that she had been threatened on live radio by a Duterte front-liner.

To my DDS friends: Please leave Pia Rañada alone. Let us please not throw anything at legitimate journalists. Let’s give them, particularly the critical ones, hot pandesal instead.

Ah, but *his* DDS friends are not quite open to this. Which brings us back to the Duterte supporters’ anger against Rappler, blaming Ressa etal for practically everything: Rappler “slanders” DDS bloggers and “insults” Duterte supporters, “binababoy ng mainstream media” ang Duterte supporters which is what Ressa did when she included the frontliner Duterte supporters in her fake news network presentation in Austria, and Rappler uses its  “extensive international network” to “bash the Philippines.” Roque is being compared to previous spokesperson Abella who was judged to be neutral, never telling the DDS supporters to “stop throwing anything” at legitimate journalists.

It’s certainly a quick turnaround for Duterte’s people, from support for Roque to calling him out for controlling the DDS’ articulations. Which is a surprise, because if anyone cared to listen at all, Roque (thank heavens!) is very clear about where he stands re statements like throwing hollowblocks, as he had clarified in that CNN interview. Him telling the DDS to not throw anything at journalists was Roque showing us that he will be just as critical of Duterte’s own supporters, as he is of Duterte’s critics — and that is what has been missing in the President’s communications office (as I said here last year).

Here’s hoping Duterte knows to keep Roque, regardless of what his favorite DDS tell him. This man might be the best thing to happen to his comms team, and to let him go for doing what is right in this instance, would just tell us all that the President is out to only protect and please the few in his inner circles, never mind the bigger picture, never mind some sanity in the midst.

Re the DDS’s accusations against Rappler, here’s the thing: for people who insist that the President’s violent rhetoric is not equal to the deaths on our streets, it is ironic that they tend to believe that Ressa etal speaking about fake news and the drug war is equal to ruining the Duterte government in the global community. For people who insist that Rappler (and mainstream media) is biased and paid for, dilawan and fake news (and whatever else), they sure give it too much credit. Even more credit than Duterte himself.

And really: to attack Ranada, laugh at her, for having raised a fuss over this statement, which they will of course say was delivered in jest (or sarcasm, hyperbole, whatever other excuse), is just telling of how irresponsible Duterte’s people have become, also how violent, and how they are making things worse for this President.

Finally: I have called Rappler out for its biases, its unexplained ownership (not to mention questionable credibility), its elitism, long before the DDS even existed. To even get me to side with Ranada (and Rappler) at this point is almost unbelievable.

But here we are.

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