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[OPINION] How Harry Roque Bends His Principles for Convenience

By Kezo Andre Javier

Cartoon by Francesca Diane Tan


Amid public backlash over his malicious remarks against healthcare workers, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has yet again earned the ire of many as he vies for a seat in the International Law Commission (ILC) of the United Nations. As his nomination drew widespread criticisms, Roque defended himself – saying that his track record speaks for itself. But whatever the past tells of his story, his history – no matter how good it was as he claims – can never justify his actions today.

The executive committee of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman – where Roque taught law for more than 15 years – issued on Tuesday a strong statement, citing that the spokesperson's possible election to the ILC will be detrimental to the commission itself. UP Diliman officials also stressed that Roque has a "very poor track record of promoting, defending, and fulfilling human rights and the rule of law, especially during the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte in which he serves as a cabinet member." 

Being a part of the UP community, everyone is compelled to live up to the University's motto – honor and excellence. While this principle is especially highlighted inside the campus, all members of the UP community are expected to continue living by this mantra beyond the borders of the University. Roque may have done some things excellent in his previous career, but his present actions did not merit him honor.

Apart from UPD execom, over 220 groups have also opposed Roque's nomination to the ILC. These include the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) who stated that although Roque may have degrees and mastery in law, he has continuously disregarded the rule of law. The National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) also joined the growing opposition to Roque's nomination citing his justifications of President Duterte’s "several questionable and even bizarre policies and pronouncements on the rule of law, due process, justice, and international accountability.” 

For his part, Roque hit UP for its strong opposition, branding his nomination as being 'politicized'. The spokesperson furthered that UPD's comment on his track record is false, saying he has always been an active advocate for human rights and even cited his role in fighting for the justice of slain transgender Jennifer Laude. However, it is ironic that Roque now speaks for Duterte who recently pardoned Joseph Scott Pemberton, the convicted murderer of his former client Laude. Roque – being a good servant of the President – had been expectedly mum on the pardon, saying he respects Duterte's wisdom. He may talk all day about how he championed human rights with the cases he handled. Nevertheless, if his actions today tell otherwise, that same track record means nothing.

It can be recalled that the presidential spokesperson is known to be a strong critic of the administration of the late President Benigno Aquino III. He even actively campaigned against the presidential run of his current boss. But as the mouthpiece now of the person whom he condemned years before, it can be said that Roque is a political turncoat that changes his principles to whatever the situation demands. From a former human rights lawyer, he apparently took a 180-degree turn of becoming a defender of alleged human rights violations under the Duterte administration. 

Principles are not principles when people choose when to follow them. Administrations will change, so will the government. But as people of honor, we must always stand by what we believe – even more so on what is morally right. The presidential spokesperson may have the necessary knowledge for the job. However, Roque deserves neither his nomination nor his potential election to the UN law body since he can easily bend his principles for the sake of convenience.