One of the more interesting things to come out of this short period of having Harry Roque as Presidential Spokesperson: it has revealed that the frontline informal communications team of the President cannot be told that they are doing something wrong.
They will not be reprimanded. Their faults will not be pointed out. And anyone who even so much as dares call them out will be considered an enemy. These Duterte social media leaders will turn their followers against you, allowing people to call you names and bully you. They will then call on the President to reverse his decision to hire you. They will watch as this happens, throwing their weight around because how dare you — how dare anyone! — tell them that they need an education? That they need to (gasp!) change?
This is what has happened to Harry Roque.
After these same people praised him to high heavens, saying that he is the right one for the job, because he will shield the President from issues, that he will not only throw hollowblocks but even maybe grenades at critics (and mainstream media), the tides quickly turned when Roque (thank heavens!) had the daring and intelligence to actually throw a monkey wrench into the DDS social media strategy of hate, trolling, and disrespect. Now they want him out, and quickly!
One hopes Duterte does not listen.
Because in fact this government needed to rein in its supporters since last year: they were — and continue to be — one of his biggest liabilities. It’s one thing to give the President the freedom to articulate what he wants. It’s another to let his supporters do the same. The President was voted into office by the people, and therein lies our need to adjust as much as we can to his articulations. His frontline social media team? We voted for none of them. Yet some of them are in government positions and some are obviously working for government in whatever informal capacity — this requires a certain decorum if not actual rules and ethics to abide by as government officials and as the President’s people.
Besides: when Duterte supporters engage in troll discourse and violent rhetoric, does it not ultimately reflect on him as President, as well?
But DDS discourse likes to spin every reprimand, every act of calling them out, into a question of free speech. For example: Asec Mocha is a citizen, therefore she has a right to speak and cannot be made to give up her blog. But while she has free speech like the rest of us, as an appointed government official she is bound to a set of rules, requirements, and demands. Every employee needs to abide by the rules of the office she works for. This is all that’s asked of people like Asec Mocha, who shifted from being private citizen with her FB page, to being public servant with an office and salary paid for by public funds. This is very simple, and her violations of the rules of her office is very clear if she cared to read the code of ethics for public officials.
Now, after Roque asked that his “DDS friends” don’t throw anything at legitimate media, and after he said that he hoped Mocha would be his student, and that “in due course, <he> will explain in a manner understandable to all the importance of press freedom,” these Duterte frontliners again invoke free speech — as if learning to do things better, as if handling things differently, is even about repression. If education and learning, if rethinking strategy, is to be seen as a form of restraint, then what does that say about you?
To mess things up even more, Asec Mocha and her friends have skewed the discussion to talk about DDS supporters in general, which is not what Roque was talking about. He was talking solely about Mocha, and that is because she is an Asec, a government official for whom the rules for communications and social media use are different from other regular DDS. Mocha etal have spun it to say that the DDS have their own minds, and the Spokesperson cannot control them. Yet only the arrogant would think themselves beyond reproach, only the egotistical will imagine that s/he has nothing more to learn, because look! we elected Duterte into office!
But getting him into the presidency was one thing, keeping him there is another. And no, troll discourse, anger and hate and kabastusan, will not keep him there — even the President himself has shifted his rhetoric after all, and given back the drug war to the right organization. One of many things Duterte needs is for his own people to actually start acting like government officials, and start serving all of us, and not just their social media followers. But that’s not going to happen with DDS leaders who think they can do no wrong, and who think being told to change their tack is a violation of their right to free speech.
For a government that promised change, it seems the first step is for Duterte’s own people to get with the program. Roque is probably the best thing to happen to the President’s communications team the past 17 months. Duterte keeping him would tell us that the President himself knows, believes, that his own supporters need to be kept in check, precisely because they are important.