“He is often likened to Doctor Faustus.”
Harry Roque’s quest for a seat at the International Law Commission has ended in failure. He received only 78 votes from the 191 voting countries.
In hindsight, it probably would have been better for President Duterte to have withdrawn Harry’s nomination. For one, our relationship with the United Nations has not been smooth in the last few years. President Duterte when he assumed office, toyed with the idea of withdrawing from the United Nations labeling the organization as a toothless tiger. We also withdrew from the International Criminal Court and the country is now under investigation by that UN body.
The candidates from Thailand and Vietnam however, were elected easily in spite of the two countries being under some kind of strongman rule. The reason perhaps is that both countries were never confrontational in their relationships with the United Nations.
It is not only because Harry Roque’s candidature was opposed by his fellow lawyers and his alma mater which of course says a lot.
It could also be in the way we have conducted our external affairs in recent years. In world affairs, the country is nowhere near the big leagues and must therefore be circumspect in the conduct of its affairs. Trash talking is never the best way to go. In my little experience in working within the United Nations, it is always better to have friends in case we need their help someday.
What was surprising was the intensity of the opposition against the election of Roque. It did not only come from cause-oriented organizations identified with the left like Bayan but mainstream non-government organizations like the Integrated Bar Association of the Philippines, the Asian Lawyers Association and to top it all, his own alma mater.
One of the major objections against the election of Roque is that he has gone way beyond his duty as a spokesman in defending the President. To them, it is not Roque’s duty to defend President Duterte regarding the accusations against him related to his anti-drug campaign that resulted in the death of thousands of Filipinos. This should have been done perhaps by his legal adviser. They are also questioning why Roque would want to join the United Nations considering that he has been criticizing it whenever he defended the president.
To his critics, Roque is like Dr. Faustus of Christopher Marlowe who sold his soul to the devil for 24 years of glory. They even criticized the reception he hosted in New York which is done by all countries in cases like this to be able to solicit votes.
Personally, having worked in government I was conflicted about the intense opposition to the candidacy of Harry Roque to the ILC. This is because of my familiarity with the culture existing within the government service. With regard to Roque’s government position, it is obvious that he is performing functions other than simply being a spokesman and this was the problem. Whenever he went to the defense of his boss, it was hard to distinguish whether he was doing it as the spokesman or as a lawyer. The lines often get blurred.
If we observe the people within the President’s inner circle, like for instance his cabinet, we know that there are cabinet members who are more equal than others and Harry Roque was reputed to be one of them. This is not necessarily objectionable in itself but in his case, the job of a spokesperson is pretty much defined. It is simply to announce decided government positions and policies. Whether he did go beyond the call of duty defending the President is something that will be debated in the coming weeks because of his failed candidacy.
The more relevant question is how this will affect the Secretary’s future standing with the public, his alma mater and his fellow lawyers. Will he be the template of what future presidential spokespersons’ duties should be or it is something to be studied but not to be followed by future spokespersons?
With my own experiences and observations in government service, I believe we can be loyal to the people we work for while at the same time remaining within the bounds of what is allowed by regulations, propriety and morals.
Unfortunately, in the Philippine government service, we do find individuals like Dr. Faustus. Whether Roque indeed carried his loyalty way beyond the norms of what was expected of him in order to achieve his personal goals, only he can answer that question. Given his background, his election to the ILC would have been the culmination of a cherished dream. Unfortunately, it was not to be. There are good lessons to be learned by what happened.
Lastly, I hope he can find redemption in his Senate run.