Hypothesizing Harry Roque

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

ONE interprets it as the quickest turnaround. From being hailed as a rock star for threatening to throw metaphorical hollow blocks at the President’s critics, Harry Roque instantly became the most hated official of the Duterte administration on the day he was sworn in, and this is not even coming from Duterte critics, but from Duterte supporters.

He drew the ire of the Duterte base for what was seen as his defense of mainstream media, and then being patronizing to blogger Mocha Uson, now a Malacañang official, by offering to school her on the virtues of the mainstream. Harry Roque later justified this as his way of reaching out, of establishing a common ground.

But the Duterte base, or at least that sector that is enabled by social media, wouldn’t buy his excuse. Angry birds visibly flew like crazy on screen during the live coverage of his press conference. And the online posts and comments were just as unforgiving.

Social media enablers of the President, most notably Mocha Uson, Sass Rogando Sasot and RJ Nieto aka Thinking Pinoy who are the top three in the pro-Duterte social media hierarchy, almost in unison, led their millions of supporters in the condemnation. Nieto even publicly called for the resignation of Roque. Others went to the extent of calling the President to fire his newly appointed spokesman.

As an academic, I would rather see this as an opportunity to offer several hypotheses as a way to make sense of this sudden turn of events.

The null hypothesis is of course the more convenient explanation. Harry Roque was simply afflicted with the metaphorical foot and mouth disease. He allowed his garrulousness to take over his rationality, and spoke beyond what is comfortable. He transgressed his boundaries, and in the process provoked the diehard Duterte supporters, or DDS, to anger. And as a result, he placed the President in a very difficult situation.

To buy this explanation, however, is to accuse Roque of stupidity, and of cluelessness. While people can disagree with Harry and his style, it is hard to believe that he is totally ignorant of the limits of his role as a spokesman. He is a lawyer and a politician. He knows the political landscape. And if he has political ambitions, as people allege, he knows that pissing off the DDS hardliners is one sure way of crash-landing his higher political ambition even before it can take off.

And he knows that whatever he does will rub off negatively on the President.

And it is at this juncture that I offer an alternative hypothesis.

One may have to entertain the possibility that Harry Roque was in fact performing a role in a deliberate story arc, and that the President may either have given him tacit approval, or if not, allowed others to direct him to pursue such a line.

I entertain this alternative hypothesis as a possible scenario for the simple reason that aside from the fact that there was no visible disapproval coming from the palace, there are events that point to the development of a particular narrative, which is that of constructive engagement with sectors adversarial to the President.

It is interesting that after appearing to be lawyering for the mainstream media to Mocha Uson and her social media followers, Roque came out with another statement, this time specifically saying that President Duterte was eyeing a complete reconciliation with the Catholic Church.

And what makes it even more interesting is that all of these came on the heels of Mayor Sara Duterte’s initiative towards unity when she launched the Tapang at Malasakit movement.

But something may not appear right in this whole picture, if one entertains this alternative hypothesis.

Why would Harry Roque reach out to mainstream media at the expense of social media? And why would he begin his tenure with a threat of throwing metaphorical hollow blocks?

There are two possible sub-hypothesis that I can offer on this matter.

But first, it has to be clarified that Roque did not specifically target any group that will be the recipient of the hollow block treatment but only those who would be overly and unfairly critical of the President.

On offending the DDS, one explanation would be that he was simply careless, and over-eager, and failed to take into consideration the deep animosity that exists between the DDS social media enablers and mainstream media, particularly Rappler, ABS-CBN and the Inquirer. His actual message was simply to invite the DDS to make an effort to understand where mainstream media was coming from, except that the way he said it ended up being patronizing towards Mocha that did not sit well with the DDS.

The other possible explanation is however more controversial, and intriguing.

Could it also be possible that the intention was that this would be a reminder to the pro-Duterte social media, some of whom are becoming exceedingly pushy? Could it be that some sectors in the President’s immediate circle are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with, if not offended by, a social media that keeps on reminding him that he owes his victory to them? Could it be that Harry Roque was brought in to flush out the arrogance not only in mainstream media but also in social media?

Since the President is not running for re-election, he is not interested at all in winning for himself. However, he would need to enable a broad coalition of politicians in 2019, something which would require him to reach out to persons who may be unpalatable to the DDS, most of whom have adversarial opinions against Congress. Could this be the reason why the story arc is now about reaching out to the mainstream media, reconciling with the Church, and unifying political allies through the Tapang at Malasakit movement?

What I offer here are alternative explanations to the phenomenon of Harry Roque. I could be wrong.

But then again, what if one of these, more so the alternative hypothesis I offered, is right?

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