Inside Harry’s china closet

By Dean Dela Paz

Cabinet men are presidential alter-egos. In their specific portfolios what they say mirrors the president’s words and thoughts. Such equivalence is critical when the alter-ego is a spokesperson. The umbilical cord is thicker and shorter. The mirror image, sharper.

Where the objective is clarity, consistency, and should display solidarity, achieving those, a spokesperson becomes an effective communicator. Needless to say, the opposite is an ineffective communicator.

Even at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm conflicting signals are taboo.

The criticality of messaging between the president and his spokesperson is even more vital where foreign policy is concerned. It is the domain of the head of state not surrendered to others.

For a dispensation confronted with a myriad of crises and external threats that range from an encroaching hegemonic dragon bearing down on an economy comprised of the jobless and hungry, and more important, on a public confronting an election year where collective disgust seethes, contradictions among ranking officials can be fatal.

A spokesperson who not only does not reflect his principal, but negates and invalidates, virtually reveals from profound confusion to serious duplicity.

Note ominous cases in point inside a metaphoric glass cabinet of cracked crystals and broken china.

Glance around our immediate neighborhood and from there pan our perspective to national concerns and the larger swathe of geopolitical conflicts percolating in the West Philippine Sea.

Last July 28, 2021, employing the presidency and police powers Rodrigo Duterte declared, “I will instruct the barangay captain, not to allow the unvaccinated to leave their houses”.

A week later, after the misinformed panicked and stampeded to vaccination centers fearing they might not receive their ayuda, or worse, be prevented from leaving their homes to work, the presidential spokesperson said, “I think people have been spreading fake news’’.

In 2016, on the unabated national campaign to fulfill a centerpiece platform, Harry Roque called Duterte’s anti-drug offensive a “bloody war where the dead bodies piling up are mostly those of the same poor throng to whom he had promised economic and social salvation’’. Days into his appointment as spokesperson, describing that same war, he said it was “largely successful’’ and is seen as a “model’’.

In 2019, when an encroaching Chinese vessel nearly killed Filipino fishermen within our Exclusive Economic Zone in the West Philippine Sea, Duterte declared in no uncertain terms, “As far as I’m concerned, I’m the owner, and I’m just giving the(m) fishing rights”.

Discern where law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea fortify his declaration. Section 2 of RA 9522 that defines our archipelagic baselines, and the Supreme Court in Republic of the Philippines vs Palawan (GR no. 170867) both confirm the existence of a Philippine continental shelf.

Contrast where Duterte clearly affirmed ownership and his verbal grant of fishing rights, against Roque’s subsequent declaration that, “There is no truth to the speculation of a purported verbal fishing agreement.”

Now pronouncing the president as “the government’s best communicator,” perhaps Roque was simply mirroring the president’s eloquence.

(Dean de la Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor.)