February 25, 2018, 5:59 am
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When Harry met Rody

Understandably, this is not going to sit well with a lot of people. Not with the deluge of derogatory reactions from those who feel betrayed by someone they thought shared their advocacies, defended them and bravely articulated for them un-spoken fears. But rather than dwell on the partisan and political aspects of the appointment of human rights lawyer Rep. Harry Roque to the all-important post of presidential spokesman allow us to momentarily cast aside the vitriol of criticism best suited to kitschy show business gossip. 

While the ad hominem might indeed be important to many these tend to overwhelm the debate and through their negativity petrify among the hardening pile of hatred already characteristic of Philippine politics, burying even legitimate discourse in solidifying slime, dirt and mud.

Our contention when we set aside the ad hominem issues in favor of the managerial and communications aspects required of the position is that Roque is indeed eminently qualified and competent for the job. Perhaps more than those who’ve gone before him in previous administrations and even in this one where the communication responsibilities are shared by some lesser qualified and questionably competent.

Indulge us our bias. Cognizant of the challenges to discipline the undisciplined, our criteria centers on what are required and the current conflicts confronting Malacanang’s communications group. There is a need for someone to do a better job of clarifying the all-too-frequently blurry, instill discipline and decorum, better articulate the crass innuendo that obscures the real messages, and clarify when these wallow under colloquial confusion.

On paper the scope of responsibilities for the presidential spokesperson are well-delineated. The requisites also. A limited budget, the klieg lights cast on it, and the strict scrutiny through which these are subjected, virtually threaded through the eye of a needle by a competent secretary of the budget ensure that. What responsibilities are documented and it does not take frequently shifting political chameleons and other reptiles overstaying at the Lower House to repeatedly take the grandstand to lecture Roque on what this job entails. 

That Roque can advise the president as the latter’s spokesman may not be among the strict requisites but that he can counsel informally on human rights and international law given Roque’s expertise is a bonus. We would rather that he have the president’s ear than some slick sucker-up gunslinger or an un-vetted sycophant simply gifted on the basis of a fishwife’s mouth. 

There are a number of problems afflicting the current presidential communications strategy that Roque would be in an excellent position to, at the very least, mitigate, given his analytical mind, his inherent articulation skills, his human rights background, his international law expertise and finally, his inwardly focused freshly minted purpose -- the latter interpreted by some as a blinding ambition to attain loftier heights. 

Of course the portfolio is a springboard to higher positions. But can Roque, with his career path so predetermined, its trajectory long set, be so suddenly seduced to defy the natural laws of inertia and self-destruct from Jedi to Sith Lord?

Every columnist and his cousin has at some point correctly analyzed the problems faced by the communications team at the Palace, specifically the portfolio of the former presidential spokesman -- a fine gentleman who spoke like one, dignified, calm, articulate and, as a pastor, to many, perhaps antithetical to his principal. The divergent imageries alone were insurmountable. And it took its toll on credibility.

At the top, the key communications strategist was directly plucked from mainstream broadcast media. He was un-vetted but was in the room when critical decisions were made. A multi-media veteran, he is educated, dynamic and driven, as intelligent as the best are in the industry and as articulate if not more.

Stricken with inordinate idealism in a toxic industry enamored with negativity and controversy, communicating the positive seems impossible. Worse, it is unfortunate that he virtually climbed out of a bucket of crabs with each crustacean colleague clawing at his coattails, trying to outdo one another to nitpick, pull down and incessantly peck away at the only professional among the team media-savvy, qualified, knowledgeable and experienced in mass communications.

Two others joined the hierarchy of visible communications officials. Their intellect, education and professional backgrounds are irrelevant and might even be distracting. What substantiates their appointments is their fanaticism. That reduces the vetting process to nothing more than blind loyalty. Credibility, all-too-critical, lay nowhere.

The gaps created by each of the foregoing remain gaping. Roque speaking for Duterte might however work. Maybe we’re cockeyed idealists. Or just stupidly naive. Thinking Malacañang can benefit from Roque, we pray that those yawning chasms between spin and reality, yarn and truth, and the need to communicate clearly, accurately and truthfully will finally be filled.
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