Travails of being spokesman

Travails of being spokesman"Harry Roque has an unenviable job."



One can only commiserate with Harry Roque, legal activist, and scholar turned presidential spokesman twice over.

It is a very difficult job, even if Harry obviously relishes being in the limelight.

Somewhat cruel have been the memes generated by netizens whenever the presidential spokesman says something they do not like, or worse when the statements do not square with the realities on the ground.

He cheered when the COVID case numbers reported by the Department of Health on June 30 fell short of the 40,000 case prediction of his alma mater by just a little over a thousand cases. “Nanalo tayo!”, he exclaimed, as if reveling in the outcome of a basketball game where the Maroons lost in a varsity game.

The jeering and hooting that came after Harry’s triumphal cheer were almost universal. And days after, the numbers rose with a vengeance. Clearly, hundreds if not a few thousand cases were not released by the DOH, and many suspect these were deliberately kept in the freezer just to give the lie to the UP professors’ predicted numbers.

Pinahiya si Harry. All because as a spokesman, it was but natural for him to rely on the unreliable numbers churned out by the department in charge of health.

Being spokesman especially in times of crisis is a thankless job. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, as you speak for government in the midst of daily developments with deadlines to meet. And a president whose body clock does not coincide with media deadlines.

It is my friend Harry’s second turn at the bat. He was doing quite well in the first inning, when the crises government met were few and far between, and even a high spike in rice prices in the second half of 2018 failed to dent the president’s public approval ratings.

He wanted to run for the Senate in 2019, but he had second thoughts and did not proceed. Who knows if he would have been carried by the president to victory the same way Bato de la Rosa and Francis Tolentino were, though not as spectacularly as Bong Go triumphed in early 2019?

Though pre-campaign surveys showed he had already high awareness ratings, the conversion to votes was rather low. Which should remind him now, on his second turn as spokesman, that awareness is the easiest to increase, especially now that his ubiquitous presence is all over, even with ABS-CBN crippled. But converting high awareness to public approval is a function of credibility, among others.

Spokesmen are like lightning rods for leaders who employ them. And being the presidential spokesman at a time like this can only be very, very challenging.


Meanwhile the rise in the COVID cases is terrifying. On Monday, DOH reported a sharp rise to 44, 264 cases, with 1,297 deaths. We should be surpassing Singapore’s numbers by Tuesday night, which last Monday stood at 44,800. The remarkable thing about Singapore’s second wave cases is that only 26 have died due to the novel coronavirus. The consolation is that our reported deaths due to Covid, while much, much higher than efficient Singapore are still lower than Indonesia’s.

Still, many countries have begun to welcome travelers from Singapore precisely because they trust Singapore’s health system and case reporting transparency, and the high numbers have been traced to dormitories of foreign workers, who have since been effectively quarantined, thus preventing widespread community transmission.

It will take some time before air travel normalizes, even as travel bubbles among “safe” countries are being planned for limited coverage, but at the rate our country is managing the health pandemic, tourism will continue to suffer, and with it, the economy. Which is tragic for the hundreds of thousands whose jobs in the travel sector will remain lost.


Meanwhile, security concerns envelop our region, in the light of military exercises by both China and the US in the South China Sea bordering our own West Philippine Sea, the continuing and unpredictable tantrums coming from an economically-ravaged North Korea, and the events in Hong Kong after the passage of stern security legislation from China.

We live in not just interesting times, but dangerous times. Mistakes can happen, and such could trigger unforeseen and troubling conflict in the region.


Correlated to this is Xi Jinping’s obsession to annex Taiwan. Continuing surveys since 1992 have shown that nowadays, 67 percent of people here identify themselves as Taiwanese. When the surveys began in 1992, only 17.6 percent held that identity view, with the majority calling themselves both Chinese and Taiwanese.

Now it is 67 percent purely Taiwanese (a sharp increase from only 57 percent last year), and only 27.5 percent hybrid Taiwan and China. The percentage of those who want to be called purely Chinese has dropped to a low 2.4 percent.

With the national security law constricting Hong Kong citizens further, there should be a demonstration effect in Taiwan as well. Which could further rile the mandarins of the People’s Republic.


In my haste to write last week’s column, in between meetings about our post’s financial crisis, I made an embarrassing mistake, which was to state that “dar”, the Spanish verb for “to give”, was synonymous to the agriculture secretary’s surname. “Dar” is not “to do”; which is “hacer”.

In any case, without diminishing this apology whatsoever, Secretary Dar needs “to give” our farmers, long languishing in neglect, the attention and assistance they need. And as I keep saying, it is nice comfort that Secretary Dar knows what he is doing.

Topics: Harry Roque , COVID-19 , Department of Health , Xi Jinping
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