Roque as spokesperson hopes to advise Duterte on drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 28) — Newly appointed Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque promised to uphold human rights amid the government's bloody war on drugs. 

In a strongly worded statement on Saturday, Roque, a human rights lawyer, said he won't compromise his values as he takes on the job of speaking on behalf of President Rodrigo Duterte.

"By accepting this position, I am not condoning the violence surrounding the government's anti-drug campaign," Roque said.

A human rights advocate, Roque said he will "continue to value the right to life and dignity of every person and... not support the arbitrary killing of any person by the State."

He said he sees his new job as an opportunity to "advise the President directly regarding the manner and methods he has used to tackle the problem of drugs."

"I am committing to reduce, if not totally eradicate, the impact of statements which appear to support genocide or violations of fundamental human rights," he said.

Government data show almost 4,000 drug suspects have been killed in police operations since July 2016, when the drug war began.

Local and international human rights groups said Duterte in his public pronouncements ordered or encouraged policemen to kill those involved in the drug trade. They said this resulted in more than 13,000 extrajudicial killings in the drug war.

Malacañang has, however, repeatedly said there are no state-sponsored killings and committed to investigate officers who violate and abuse their power.

Roque also said he will address possible misinterpretations of the President's tough-talk and controversial statements.

"I intend to refocus the attention of the people more towards the fundamental position of the State, and less towards the manner by which such has been declared," he said.

 

The 51-year-old lawyer, through advocacy group Center for International Law, represented victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, the kin of Palawan-based environmental advocate and journalist Gerry Ortega who was gunned down in 2011, and the family of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude, killed by a U.S. Marine in 2014, among others.

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Lawmakers divided on whether Roque is a good choice

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman in a statement on Saturday said Roque's appointment "confirms his dubious role in defending the President's wayward policies even as he is nominally a Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives."

He cited Roque's stand on the "unabated extrajudicial killings" in the drug war, the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, the reduction of the budget of the Commission on Human Rights, and what he called the President's "predisposition to authoritarian rule and intention to declare a revolutionary government."

Bagong Henerasyon Party-list Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy, on the other hand, said Roque was "a good choice" given his years of practicing law. She added Roque is "well -liked" by the news media.

"Harry is also a man who likes and practices order and sense, which are badly needed now at Malacanang where some of most bewildering and bothersome mysteries have been unfolding as how the Palace is using the many powerful communication tools and agencies at their disposal," said Herrera-Dy, who chairs the Committee on Public Information.

Birthday gift

Roque replaces Ernesto Abella, Duterte himself announced during Roque's birthday celebration in Davao City late Friday.

"Hindi na congressman, secretary na siya (He's no longer a congressman. He's now a secretary)," Duterte said.

He said Roque will attend a Cabinet meeting on November 6.

READ: Harry Roque is new Duterte spokesman

Roque will have to vacate his position as House Minority Leader once he officially assumes his new post as Presidential Spokesperson. He won as Kabayan Party-list Representative in the 2016 polls.

Duterte earlier endorsed Roque for the 2019 senatorial elections.

It is unclear why Abella was replaced and if he will be given another post in government.

Abella was a former pastor and social entrepreneur who crossed paths with then Davao City Mayor Duterte when he was kidnapped by bandits in 1996. Abella was freed in 24 hours after Duterte sought the help of Moro National Liberation Front leaders.

This story was updated on October 29 to add the statements from Representatives Bernadette Herrera-Dy and Edcel Lagman.