MANILA, Philippines — Opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives took exception to the threat of incoming presidential spokesman Harry Roque to hurl hollow blocks at critics of President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a video interview with Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, the outgoing party-list representative lashed at administration critics, saying: “If, in the past, you were able to throw stones without anyone hitting back, be warned that if you throw stones, I won’t just throw stones but hollow blocks.”
Asked for a special message to his critics, Roque said: “So sa akin, ‘yong mga bumabato sa akin ngayon kaaga…mamatay kayo sa inggit (So for me, those criticizing me this early … die of envy)!”
Roque made a name as a human rights lawyer and founder of the Center for International Law, which has handled several freedom of expression and press freedom cases, among them acting as private counsel to families of some of the 32 media workers who died in the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre.
He ran and won a seat as representative of the party-list Kabayan and then identified himself as an administration supporter even as Duterte came under increasing criticism for the thousands of deaths in his government’s war on drugs.
His acceptance of the spokesman post caused consternation among — and earned him criticism from — many who saw this as inconsistent with the work he had done before.
Reacting to Roque’s threat, Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice said every citizen should be allowed to criticize “without fear of retribution.”
“But, Secretary Roque, then champion of human rights, threatens critics with physical harm,” he said.
“Too early that his post has gone to and bloated his head,” he added.
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman called Roque out for his “irresponsible response to well-founded criticisms,” and called his threat a “hollow bluff.”
He even described Roque’s demeanor as “so unlike the moderation and composure of Pastor Ernesto Abella, his predecessor.”
“Roque must realize that criticism and dissent form the bedrock of democratic institutions,” Lagman said. “As the anointed new presidential spokesperson, Roque must not act as a vicious silencer of the responsible opposition.”
Lagman said Roque was wrong to think his critics are envious of his appointment.
“Not in their wildest dreams did his critics wish to be Duterte’s mouthpiece,” he said.
“No one envies Roque’s tragic transformation from a Deputy Minority Leader to an apologist for Duterte and from a human rights advocate to a defender of a gross violator of human rights,” he added.
Lagman also denied Roque’s critics were hurling stones at him, saying they were, instead, “trying to lead him back like a lost sheep gone astray.”
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