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'Not the first time': FOCAP calls out Roque for response to BBC journalist

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'Not the first time': FOCAP calls out Roque for response to BBC journalist
Maintenance staff disinfect the media briefing room at the New Executive Building in Malacañang Palaceas a precaution against COVID-19 on March 12, 2020
The STAR / KJ Rosales, file

MANILA, Philippines — Correspondents for foreign media outlets on Wednesday said they were "deeply disturbed" at how Palace spokesperson Harry Roque responded to a BBC report that Chinese ships were preventing Filipino fishermen from entry to the Scarborough Shoal. 

Roque sought to refute the BBC report "Our World: The Battle for the South China Sea" that came as the Philippines marked the fifth year since the ruling on the arbitration case the Philippines filed over claims in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

He told journalist Virma Rivera to call as the briefing was underway, so, he said, she could ask Masinloc Mayor Arsenia Lim questions about Filipino fishers being kept away from the shoal off the coast of Zambales province.

"Virma, call us so you can ask mayor, the ship owners, and the coast guard because someone called your report as gossip," Roque said in Filipino. "We will link you up with them so we know who is really telling the truth. Okay?"

Roque's comments and demeanor not sit well with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

"The tone of Secretary Roque dismissing the BBC report as deception and rumor was disparaging and condescending," FOCAP said in a statement, "as he sought to assign ill motive to the network's report and singled out Ms. Rivera for it."

FOCAP added that Roque had the right to answer the claims. But, it said there was no justification for suggesting that the team, which includes BBC correspondent Howard Johnson, "are out to destroy the government."

"This was not the first time Secretary Roque had treated journalists, women in particular, with disrespect," the media organization continued.

Roque has had a complicated relationship with journalists in his years as Palace spokesperson.

In one briefing in May 2020, he extensively berated CNN Philippines reporter Tricia Terada over a story she did not write. He rejected calls to apologize to Terada saying he had already told her in private what he needed to say.

Roque also fumed in an interview with CNN Philippines' Pinky Webb in January, and a month later, was asked by Malacañang reporters not to cut off Rappler's Pia Ranada when she is asking questions.

Manila calls the waters of the South China Sea inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone the West Philippine Sea but China has continued to assert its claim over a large portion of the sea. The Philippines and China have been holding bilateral talks in recent years to iron out issues and to seek areas where they can work together despite the maritime dispute.

The Hague ruling in 2016 invalidated China's nine-dash line claim in the waters. But critics, including Vice President Leni Robredo and former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio have scored the Duterte administration for supposedly not asserting the country's rights in the West Philippine Sea against China, a nation with which the government has sought warmer ties with since 2016.

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES

HARRY ROQUE

SCARBOROUGH SHOAL

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

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