Hairs have been flipped, tantrums have been thrown, and the proverbial microphone has been dropped – in retrospect, the recent spat between CNN Philippines report Pinky Webb and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque seems as though it’s already been archived as a proud moment caught on camera, awaiting its inevitable addition to highlight reels and year-ender specials.
Yet, it was also during this retrospection when we realized that there’s something deeply troubling and awfully recurring about all this: a government official throwing a fit towards a reporter who’s compelled by her job to stay calm and collected during the moment. Ms. Webb, in our eyes, may have “slayed” with her “kween-like” composure, but what exactly did she “slay,” and why does it feel like this won’t be the last time?
What we know is this isn’t the first time.
In February 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte issued an order to his officials and personnel inside Malacañang to bar Rappler reported Pia Rañada from covering the president’s activities and pronouncements inside the Malacañang.
This came after Rañada reported about the alleged intervention of Special Assistant to the President Bong Go in the Philippine Navy’s P15.7 billion frigate deal, which Duterte deemed as “fake news” and an act by which he felt “betrayed.” A previous Senate hearing, however, confirmed the authenticity of all the supporting documents Rañada presented in her report.
On February 20, Rañada was stopped by members of the Presidential Security Group from entering Malacañang, but was later allowed access, but only until the New Executive Building where members of the press are stationed. The following video shows Roque and Rañada debating over the order:
“The Duterte administration keeps saying they respect press freedom and yet we have this incident,” Rañada said in response to the palace order.
In May 2020, Roque cried foul over an article by CNN Philippines about mass testing which supposedly “misquoted” him by writing that the government has passed on the responsibility of mass testing to the private sector, as it cannot commit to the same.
Roque pointed out that the erroneous use of the term “mass testing,” which he used himself, led to the report being misleading, despite using a statement which he literally said during a press briefing the day before.
During a press briefing on May 19, Roque scolded CNN Reporter Triciah Terada for the report, berating her on-air while clarifying that the government does have a plan: expanded targeted testing.
Not only did Roque falsely claim that the term “mass testing” pertains to testing an entire population, but he also falsely attributed the article to Terada, who didn’t write it.
Not only did Roque talked down to Terada, but he also didn’t allow her to speak her side, even after she was erroneously disgraced on national TV. In the aftermath, Roque still stuck to his gut and refused to apologize.
And then, there was CNN Philippines’ Pinky Webb. During Roque’s interview in CNN Philippines’ The Source, Webb read out a tweet by UP Professor Danilo Arao insisting that government officials who are UP alumni should denounce the Department of National Defense’s unilateral termination of the 1989 UP-DND Accord, or else their “honor and excellence” is null.
Webb then asked Roque if he would denounce the abrogation, to which he responded that he was not “duty-bound” to do so and that the question was “unfair.” After the commercial break, when Webb asked Roque about a different topic, Roque circled back to Arao’s insistence, echoed his position, and asserted that Webb was “pursuing” his denouncement.
Aside from twisting Webb’s words against her by making it seem like she wrote the tweet, he also didn’t let her get a word in edgewise by talking over her time and time again. And then, the hair flip happened.
Some may call this a “coincidence”; we prefer the term “pattern.”
In a field already dominated by men, it’s a feat on its own that women get to a stand on the podium to deliver the truth to those very far from it. Thus, it makes sense that when a man, who stands as the messenger for the most misogynistic of them all, is cornered by a determined female voice, he feels threatened, throws a tantrum, and commits every possible micro-aggression without ever having to worry of the consequences for disregarding decorum.
They may not be reflective of the Presidential Spokesperson’s values per se, but they certainly reflect how this administration has been and is willing to strong-arm women, reporters, and women reporters to stifle even the smallest displays of dissent.
It also doesn’t help to think that these happened only by chance – that’s just saying it could happen to anyone.