Lightning rod – Manila Standard

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This early, it’s becoming clear why  President Rodrigo  Duterte picked former Kabayan Party- List Rep. Harry Roque as his presidential spokesman. The answer is becoming obvious. Aside from speaking the President’s  same  acerbic language, Roque has become Digong’s lightning rod.  Harry has drawn more flak now than his boss. Smart move, Mr. President.

Roque upon his appointment came out swinging threatening to throw hollow blocks and adobe bricks at critics who cast stones at his boss. Well, here’s a list you can start throwing hollow blocks at, Mr. Secretary. First was Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman who said Roque was actually Duterte’s mole in the House who supported  all of Malacañang’s moves in the lower chamber, including abolition of the Commission on Human Rights by voting for the CHR’s P1,000 budget. Roque also supported the move to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Last Monday, Roque called on Sereno to resign to “spare the institutions from further damage.”   

The camp of the chief magistrate issued a statement saying resigning is never an option. Indeed, if Malacañang  wants Sereno to resign, is it because it is not sure  whether it has the numbers in the Senate if and when the House submits the articles of impeachment to the upper chamber?  Although everyone knows  the President wants Sereno out,  was Roque in this instance speaking for himself or  President Duterte? The last time I checked, Roque was not yet president. Don’t be in a hurry, Harry!

A closer reading of the Roque statement urging Sereno to “resign to spare the Supreme Court from further damage” gives us the impression it is the administration that Roque serves which wants to spare itself the tedious process of impeachment. That, and the prospect of possible defeat in the Senate, would be a setback—something Duterte cannot accept. I’m not saying the Senate is going to acquit Sereno for sure. But 2019 being an election year, seanators seeking reelection do not want the baggage of having ousted another chief magistrate after they did the late and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. 2017 is almost over and 2019 is just around the corner. 

Rep. Tom Villarin also stepped up to say Roque is carrying a sinister and devious plot for Duterte’s extended hold on power. The President fueled speculation on his agenda to stay longer in power with statements of emergency rule and a revolutionary government after abolishing Congress.

Although not explicitly, Kabayan Party-List Rep. Ron Salo said Roque might have his own long-term agenda and not just his ambition to run as senator in the 2019 elections. Please, Ron, don’t tell us he’s got his eye on the presidency!

Salo noted that Roque seems to be promoting himself with his mind-blowing statements that have nothing to do with his job as presidential spokesman.

There is, however, a soft side to Harry Roque’s tough-guy approach. Last Monday, he brought not hollow blocks, but bags of pan de sal to Malacañang reporters. Di pala pusong mamon but pusong pan de sal.

Salo, the arch critic of Roque in the House, is asking why his former party mate in Kabayan still wants to keep his grip on the vacancy he created when he resigned to accept the post of presidential spokesman.    

“Roque is already speaking from a more powerful podium. Why does he want his own chief of staff Rommel Bagares to replace him as Kabayan Party-List candidate?  Roque’s  nominee is not even a Kabayan Party-List member,” said Salo whose own candidate is a certain Ciriaco Calalang that the party endorsed.

The Asean Summit is set to be held in Manila next week with no less than US President Donald Trump attending and meeting with President Duterte. Other heads of state from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Dialogue Partners are also coming over. I  promised to myself  not to criticize President Duterte while he’s hosting this very important global event. 

Politicians should observe a moratorium  and refrain from engaging in toxic politics. Let’s give President Duterte space so he  can play the gracious host.

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