Harry’s dilemma

"What would you do if you were him?"



The last few days for Secretary Harry Roque has been anything but good. He was not only blindsided by the President’s medical check-up at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center. He was also told that if he runs for senator, he would not have a chance of winning because the military will not back him up.

The President of course did not explain the connection between winning an election and the necessity of military backing. Taken at face value, it could mean that in order to win a national election, a candidate must secure the endorsement of the military.

The President also said that if Harry does resign, he will be immediately replaced by Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo so that there will be no interregnum in the event of a resignation.

Mr. Duterte defended himself for not informing Harry Roque about the medical check-up by saying that there are certain things that his spokesman does not have to know especially those involving family matters.

If you are Roque, what would you do? Run for senator as originally planned, resign, or accept the newly created position of Press Secretary? It’s a tough position to be in. The President’s assessment that Roque could not win in next year’s election could have been handled in a better way. He could have told Harry that privately to avoid any embarrassment.

We know that the President is not like that. He does not worry about proper timing. He says what he wants when he wants to say them.

Roque built a reputation as a defender of the oppressed and as a human rights advocate. He had nothing in common with the President except that both do not like the United States. Roque was elected as a party-list representative before resigning from that position to become the spokesperson of the President. It is a position tailor made for him and to be fair to him, he has done a superb job. As a consequence, some of his critics have even accused him of selling his principles in order to achieve his higher ambition of becoming a senator. Whether they are right or not, Harry was able to perform a good balancing act of deflecting all the criticism leveled against the administration and the President both domestic and foreign. After all, a major part of the ongoing tussle of the President with his foreign critics is all about human rights, an area where Harry is well versed. Hence, he has been able to parry all the criticisms.

I doubt whether anyone could fill in that position as effectively as Roque did. But the President’s saying that he cannot win in the senatorial race must have hit Harry like a bolt of lightning. That was a political death sentence.

Even if President Duterte eventually agrees for Harry to run for a Senate seat, his earlier pronouncement would be difficult to overcome. Roque must therefore weigh his options carefully.

It seems to a lot of people, including myself, that the most important to Roque right now is to be able to run for the Senate and win. The acceptance of the position as spokesman was clearly simply a vehicle for a much higher objective. He could accept the OPS offer but if he does opt for this position, it would mean that he will be clearly stuck with the Duterte administration. This was not in his long-term plan. From what I was reliably informed, Roque from the very beginning realized the damage from his acceptance of the spokesperson job but he was willing to pay the price if he could accomplish his goal to become a senator.

It seems, however, that this goal is becoming distant which is now putting Harry in a quandary.

He has a few days to decide whether to run for the Senate, accept the OPS job offer (if it is still available) or simply resign and start rebuilding his career as a lawyer and crusader.

As of Tuesday night, Roque’s fate remained unclear.

* * *

The President’s pronouncement on the candidacy of Roque shows the way his mind works in relation to the military establishment. In many of his monologues, he would often address the military as if the military holds the balance of power in this country. In some instances, he would sound off the military as if he were asking for clearance on something that he wants to do. This is probably the reason why his cabinet is full of military men.

This is not necessarily bad. The work ethics of people in uniform are focused to the accomplishment of the assigned mission. As the mayor of Davao City, the President had a lot of interaction with military men which must have impressed him. He is also very comfortable with them; he does not have to repeat instructions. All he has to do is bark an order and he is assured that his order is followed.

Sometimes, he does not even have to keep on issuing orders because military men are trained to anticipate what is in the mind of the boss and as such, do already what is expected.

For instance, the pending appointment of retiring Army Chief Lt General Rolando Bautista as DSWD secretary is being criticized. The simple answer to this is that the President is confident that General Bautista could deliver the “goods.”

Topics: Harry Roque , Cardinal Santos Medical Center , Rodrigo Duterte , Rolando Bautista
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