MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Tuesday, November 7, hoped to appease both journalists and rabid online defenders of President Rodrigo Duterte, saying he defends the rights of both groups to freedom of speech.
"Citizens should fight for their fellow citizens' right to say a contrary opinion," Roque said on Tuesday, adding that respect applies to "both journalists and social media activists."
Roque said politicians must recognize the role of free expression in strengthening democracies.
"We cannot have a democratic state if citizens are not able to freely discuss issues that concern them in a rational, informed, and peaceable manner," he said.
Free speech, Roque said, should be based on "deliberative and rational discourse" that seeks understanding "conflicting views notwithstanding."
He made the statement after some Duterte online supporters slammed him for allegedly going soft on journalists when he defended their right to criticize the government.
The same supporters had backed Roque when he threatened to throw hollow blocks at President Rodrigo Duterte's critics.
In the space of a week, Roque went from making the threat against critical media, to taking it back after a backlash from netizens, and then again siding with Duterte online defenders.
After intense condemnation from pro-Duterte bloggers, Roque posted on Facebook on Monday night, saying he never incited violence against critics. He said he was speaking figuratively, and that critics should not make a "mountain out of a molehill."
But by then, it was too late. Pro-administration social media accounts continued to call for his resignation or replacement.
Roque pointed out the peculiarity of his position – an appointee of a President with rabid supporters but a government official tasked with involving all citizens in productive discussion about public matters.
"As the President’s spokesperson, my job is to get all of us into a national conversation, when we can all get out of our social media bubbles or privileged positions, so we can really get down to the difficult but rewarding business of being a country that is humane, just, and progressive," he said.
On Monday, took his oath as presidential spokesman in Malacañang. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.