November 24, 2017, 5:17 pm
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The new sheriff in town

MANY people have asked me what I think about President Duterte’s new spokesperson, Atty. Harry Roque. I’ve held my tongue for the most part, and thought long and hard about what my reply would be. 

You see, being spokesperson isn’t a walk in the park. I wish it were. I learned a lot during my stint in government, and one of the first lessons I had to grapple with was to accept that I no longer had an opinion of my own, and whatever thoughts I had on the issue of the day did not matter, at least when it came to speaking to the press. 

As a presidential aide, one must also learn to suggest a course of action at the right time, if and when solicited by your principal. In one of his interviews, Atty. Roque mentioned that access to the President is vital to his job, and he is correct. To be able to speak on behalf of a principal, one must be able to determine with reasonable certainty, if not armed with explicit instructions, the principal’s line of thought on policies and issues. A fair amount of consultation with the President’s official family is a must, especially regarding matters under a cabinet secretary’s portfolio. 

This is part of the reason why giving a cabinet post to a presidential spokesperson is a step in the right direction. The bureaucracy thrives on hierarchy, and a spokesperson must be able to draw information from sources in a short span of time. Cabinet status will enable Atty. Roque to speak to them as their peer, hopefully facilitating a quicker communication of certain positions. 

I am not aware of the circumstances that led to Undersecretary Abella’s removal from the post, but I hope that this does not burden Usec. Abella in any manner. On the contrary, I hope he leaves this post with a lighter disposition, knowing that the task of deciphering Mr. Duterte’s often bizarre tirades will now fall on someone else’s shoulders. 

Sudden shake ups in presidential comms teams aren’t unique to the Duterte administration. On the other side of the world, a few months ago, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was abruptly replaced with Anthony Scaramucci. Scaramucci didn’t last long after a disastrous interview with the New York Post, prompting social media to launch comparisons of things that lasted longer than Scaramucci’s stint at the White House (Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Chris Humphries, the life span of a housefly, Ned Stark’s tenure as Hand of the King) and so on. 

One takeaway from the Scaramucci episode: you can mimic your principal but never allow your voice to be louder than his. Never be more controversial than your own boss. After all, his is the voice that matters, and not your own.

One of the first criticisms of my appointment, being new to government service at an age younger than most (I was 29 when I was appointed to the post) was from Atty. Roque. He asked about my participation in the fight against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (I was still in law school is the answer.) He wondered aloud about my litigation experience as he’d never run into me in court (I didn’t know this was a requirement before one’s practice was considered legit.) But it’s not going to be tit-for-tat this time around. The responsibilities are bigger than petty differences.

Let’s hope that the new appointments to the group that is supposed to manage the biggest mic in town will be for better. The initial antics coming out from the new appointee can probably be chalked up to the need to warm up to Mr. Duterte’s supporters, considering that Atty. Roque was a vocal supporter of former Vice President and losing presidential candidate Jojo Binay. Atty. Roque’s initial salvo aside (Mr. Duterte did mention something about a dramatic entrance of sorts,) I hope that he manages to grow into the role in manner that would help the general public understand the administration more, and not add to the unusual adversarial attitude it has towards the press. 

There are very few people who can truly understand the challenges and difficulties of speaking for the Commander-in-Chief, and no matter how diametrically opposed our politics and personalities are, I wish Atty. Roque luck. He’s going to need it. 
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