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Is nastiness necessary?

We are probably living in an era we can’t wait to forget. It is an era of nastiness that comes from people of all political colors. It is a nastiness that comes from hearts ready to unleash a load of venom on a daily basis. 

Enough nastiness is spilled every minute, every hour to make you want to close your window to the world and go back to sleep. The election was last year… it’s over and done with, but the viciousness goes on… from the bloggers to the Speaker of the House.

I threw my hands up when Martin Andanar made a poor imitation, abroad at that, of the crass and improper language of his boss. 

Martin may not be the most competent communications secretary they could have had, but what he lacked in technical skills to get his job done properly can be remedied over time. But once he started imitating his boss instead of gently coaching him to take the high road, I knew I had to surrender to the reality that nastiness will be the name of the game in this administration.

Then the gentle Ernie Abella, the former evangelist, was discharged as presidential spokesman supposedly because the President didn’t think he was defending him well enough. While the President is the best judge of how well Abella was doing his job, one can also say Abella was given a difficult, if not impossible task.

To Abella’s credit, he stayed on his job longer than Sean Spicer, the similarly harassed press secretary of Donald Trump. We will remember Abella for formulating the Abella Doctrine: to understand Duterte, think creatively.

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Spicer, a devout Roman Catholic who goes to daily mass and communion, insisted after he was replaced by his deputy (a pastor’s daughter), that he did not “knowingly” lie to the American people from the White House podium. I imagine Abella, the evangelist would say the same thing. 

The late Jerry Barican, who served as presidential spokesman under the Erap administration, once told me that it is a position with an expiry date. After a year, he said, you have lost all credibility and goodwill and stink so badly… as if you have been kissing the ass of an elephant, I might add.

But Jerry even had it easy with Erap. The worse thing that ever happened to him was Erap contradicting him even if they had a previously agreed upon storyline. Jerry never had to do the verbal acrobatics that Abella and Andanar has been doing for Duterte. Jerry, the legal intellectual, wouldn’t have survived a week speaking for Duterte.

Now it is Harry Roque’s turn. Because he is a lawyer, people won’t have the same high expectations of truth telling that some might have with an evangelist like Abella. Because of his courtroom experience, no one will see him laboring the way Abella did as he explains controversial presidential statements.

Unlike Abella, Harry is a known entity. He had been involved in many past controversial issues and people are familiar with his combative legal style. The shift from human rights lawyer to Duterte’s spokesman may seem too abrupt for some and the height of ambition, but I see that as par for the course among our politicians.

And I like Harry. He is my neighbor. He was president of our homeowners association at one time and we always have a good conversation when we see each other around. He is also the classmate of my wife in a zumba class in a gym in Libis. My wife says he is a vigorous dancer. They will miss him.

I think Harry also came in at just the right time. Abella is simply too timid and intimidated by Duterte to be of any use to him. I expect Harry to counsel the President not just on the optics of positions they take, but also on the legal implications of issues. After all, with the current presidential legal adviser seemingly more interested to live in a make believe fashion world, heaven knows Mr. Duterte can use sound legal advise from Harry. 

The fact that the President sought Harry out puts him in a very good position to deal with Mr. Duterte. The relationship between president and spokesman just became professional rather than a mere patronage appointment... he isn’t returning a favor to a friend from Davao who helped in the campaign. Harry will never be shy to express his professional opinion to the President whether it is sought or not.

Harry’s reputation of nastiness with those who cross him should hopefully help him gain credibility among the really nasties of the DDS. Then again, it might not. I just saw a post on Facebook by Nic Gabunada that showed how Harry’s views on many key issues differ diametrically from Duterte’s. Nic’s post is obviously a call to arms.

It already didn’t ring well with some of the DDS crowd that Roque said he wants to explain to presidential communications assistant secretary Mocha Uson and her followers the value of critical journalism.

“I am calling out to the DDS (Diehard Duterte Supporters) and I was hoping Asec. Mocha could be here to send the message. In due course, we will explain in a manner that all will understand why rights of the free press are important,” he said in an interview last Monday with Malacañang reporters. He wants the DDS crowd to spare professional journalists who are only doing their jobs.

It really is about time that the palace assumes greater control over their DDS bloggers. Andanar can’t do that because that’s his first line of protection. Without them, Andanar is totally exposed because the government’s media machinery is so badly managed through the years to be useful to them.

Harry’s first salvo against CJ Sereno supports his public image as the new resident Rottweiler of Malacañang. He got the biggest possible leg to bite. I am just not sure if this is because he and the CJ have a history of conflict at the UP College of Law because these UP lawyers are like that with each other. Or if the President put him up to it.

I think people will be surprised that on the whole, Harry is going to be pretty reasonable. He may teach some folks a thing or two about sarcasm, but he knows it is not his business to be nasty just to make himself feel good. He has enough self confidence to need that.

I am hoping Harry would set a new pattern that takes nastiness out of the formula of protecting the President.  Harry knows it isn’t necessary to be vicious at this point when the official opposition is in tatters and scattered.

My guess is Harry won’t be spokesman too long because as Jerry Barican said, being in the public limelight everyday in the nightly newscast (and now on social media) makes the public feel you have overstayed your welcome in their living rooms… specially for someone who comes on strong like Harry.

In the meantime, give Harry Roque a break. Let us see what he is really made of.

Mailbag

 I got this reaction to my column last Monday from a reader:

 Tama ka. DU30 is not doing aggressive lobbying for the TRAIN and other pet legislations. Congressmen/senators are also wondering why. Kasi, they are ready with their own quid pro quo requests. Mahaba ang listahan.

So, ang tanong – is DU30 setting them up for a reason to just abolish Congress and put up a RevGov?

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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