Senate questions contract service hiring of PCOO amid suspicion of hiring ‘trolls’

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 17, 2021   •   170

MANILA, Philippines—Senators on Thursday (September 16) questioned the contact service hiring of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) amid suspicion of hiring “trolls”.

During the Senate budget hearing of the PCOO, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon demanded records of 1,479 contractual employees of the Palace’s communications group, 375 of which work at PCOO. The senator suspects that the existence of these contractual employees could be “trolls”.

PCOO Undersecretary Kris Ablan confirmed they had hired 375 employees with a “contract of service” status with a budget of P76 million.

Drilon found that “odd” considering that the PCOO has huge vacancies in their plantilla positions. Only 2,107 out of 3,883 plantilla positions have been filled up.

Ito ang mga troll? (Are these the trolls?)” Drilon asked.

Wala pong troll diyan (There are no trolls there),” Ablan responded.

Ablan added that they continue to fill the plantilla positions this year by absorbing contract employees.

“Right now we are reducing the number of contract of service by absorbing many of our contract of service as regular plantilla. But items are still open for filling up,” he said.

Drilon asked for proof that the 1,479 temporary hires are “legitimate and existing” and not “ghost employees”, specifically the 375 employees in the PCOO that were flagged by Commission on Audit (COA). He asked PCOO to submit their records, including their names, addresses and job description. The committee also asked for the employees’ daily time record.

Ablan said they would comply but would have to seek the opinion of their legal office if the addresses can be provided, citing the Data Privacy Act.

In response, Drilon said the information they are requesting are public records.

“Don’t invoke any confidentiality here, because these are public funds and these are subject to audit and if these are subject to audit, these are subject to scrutiny by the branch of the government who is holding the purse,” the senator said.

He also asked the PCOO to submit a draft bill against “troll farms”. Last July, 12 senators filed a resolution aiming to investigate the allegations on using public funds for troll farms. Troll farm is a term used for a group of individuals that spread disinformation online. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)


PCOO confirms Duterte’s order to ‘amplify facts’ on PH COVID-19 response

Robie de Guzman   •   April 29, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) confirmed reports that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government media platforms to carry regular COVID-19 updates and stories about the Philippines’ efforts in battling the pandemic.

PCOO Integrated New Team director Virginia Arcilla-Agtay made the confirmation following the circulation of a document dated April 27 where government media was ordered by Duterte to report “updates about world data on COVID-19, specifically to convey to the public that the Philippines is faring than many other countries in addressing the pandemic.”

The memorandum was signed by PCOO Undersecretary Gerge Apacible and addressed to Arcilla-Agtay and other officials of state media platforms.

 Arcilla-Agtay said there is nothing wrong with the president’s order and that it only aims to “simply amplify facts” about the administration’s handling of the health crisis.

“The President has given the instruction in order to provide adequate information and convey working policies, particularly those that aim to address the effects of the pandemic in the country,” she said in a statement.

“There is nothing wrong with this, nor is it a lie, it is simply amplifying facts,” she added.

Arcilla-Agtay also said that there is a “vast source of information from legitimate research groups available on the worldwide web” and that they intend to include these sources in its list of story references, aside for local COVID-19 data “to give Filipinos a better and wider perspective of the real COVID-19 situation in our country.”

“The President’s directive is to convey these positive messages to the people and these favorable news as part of our good governance outcomes,” she said.

“Rather than proliferate fear, uncertainty, disinformation, and fake news, we want people to put their trust and to work with the government in fighting COVID-19,” she added.

Arcilla-Agtay also stressed that government communication involves “not only sending out messages to the public, but also explaining working policies, and creating awareness.”

“Our mission in the PCOO doesn’t really revolve within the metes and bounds of this directive. We have been actively promoting different communications campaigns on vaccination, quarantine measures, and other COVID-19 related responses, and we will continue to deliver positive, informative, and, most especially, factual information on our current state in our road to recovery from this pandemic,” she added.

Malacañang earlier said that the Philippines’ COVID-19 situation is more manageable when compared to other countries that have reported far more cases.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also stressed that the country has also recorded over 900,000 recoveries as its total case count reached over a million.

IATF approves uniform travel protocols for LGUs

Maris Federez   •   February 27, 2021

A security officer (C) with a trained dog inspects passenger luggage at a provincial bus terminal in Quezon City, Philippines, 29 October 2019. EPA-EFE/ROLEX DELA PENA

MANILA, Philippines — The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) has approved the uniform travel protocols for all local government units (LGUs).

An advisory released on Saturday (February 27) by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) said the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) crafted these uniform travel protocols for land, air and sea.

It is in close coordination with the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, League of Provinces of the Philippines, League of Municipalities of the Philippines, and the League of Cities of the Philippines.

The uniform protocol provides that “travelers shall no longer be required to undergo COVID-19 testing except if the local government unit (LGU) of destination will make testing as a requirement prior to travel. Testing will be limited to RT-PCR test.”

“Travelers shall no longer undergo quarantine unless they exhibit symptoms upon arrival at the LGU of destination,” the advisory further read.

Minimum public health standards, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and wearing of face masks and face shields across all settings shall continue to be strictly implemented by authorities concerned.

Ports of entry and exit personnel shall strictly implement clinical and exposure assessment as health assessment of passengers shall also be mandatory upon entry in the port/terminal and exit at point of destination.

Meanwhile, the travel authority issued by the Joint Task Force COVID Shield and health certificates shall no longer be required.

However, authorized persons outside of residence (APORS) from national government agencies and their attached agencies must provide their identification card, travel order, and travel itinerary. They must likewise pass symptom-screening at the ports of entry and exit.

The PCOO media release further read that the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)’s Safe, Swift, and Smart Passage (S-PaSS) Travel Management System will now be institutionalized as the one-stop-shop application/ communication for travelers.

“The System shall be utilized as the primary contact tracing system. Other existing contact tracing applications, such as Traze App, must be integrated with the System,” it added.

Ports and terminals must have sufficient quarantine or isolation facilities, as well as a workable referral system wherein symptomatic travelers shall be immediately transferred to quarantine or isolation facilities to enable the Bureau of Quarantine for airports, or local health officials for LGUs, to take over.

All buses in Metro Manila bound for the provinces, on the other hand, shall be required to use the Integrated Terminal Exchange as the central hub for transportation.

“At the option of the LGUs, they may provide transportation for all travelers who are transiting from one LGU to another in cases of arrivals at air and seaports to their end-point destinations,” the IATF said.

The DILG, the DOST, the Department of Health, the Department of Tourism, the Department of Transportation, and the Philippine National Police, as well as the LGUs, shall jointly ensure that these protocols are smoothly implemented.

Andanar cries ‘unfair’ over int’l media reports linking Duterte to ABS-CBN closure

Marje Pelayo   •   May 8, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar on Thursday (May 7) decried claims that President Rodrigo Duterte had a hand in the decision of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a cease and desist order (CDO) against media network ABS-CBN. 

The PCOO Chief said the NTC’s decision to stop ABS-CBN’s radio and television broadcast was ‘independent and impartial.’

“We decry any claims and assertions associating President Duterte with the National Telecommunications Commission’s independent and impartial decision to impose a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN Corporation,” he said in a statement.

Andanar said such action of the NTC is not an issue of press freedom. He emphasized that freedom of speech under the Duterte administration remains protected. 

“This is not an issue of press freedom but an issue regarding legislative franchise. Democracy, and the free press and free speech that come with it, is very much alive in the country and effectively protected,” he said.

He stressed that tagging Duterte as the person behind the shutdown is “bereft of truth and just a rehash of an old malicious imputation to bedevil the President and his administration.”

“One should understand, first and foremost, the Philippines’ legislative processes and rule of law before connecting any precedents as being orchestrated by the President,” he said.

Andanar said the assertion that NTC’s decision was driven by Duterte’s previous rant against ABS-CBN is a “false narrative” and “remarkably erroneous, lacks objectivity and scant on factual basis.”

“It is, therefore, totally unfair and objectionable for some parties and some international media to insist that what happened to the network is due to ‘having incurred the ire’ of the President,” he explained.

Similar to the statement of Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque, Andanar reiterated that the President has already accepted ABS-CBN’s apology through the network’s CEO and President Carlo Katigbak in February and that the President holds no grudge against the network.

He noted that the NTC is just bound by law to decide and execute what the Constitution dictates and that the CDO is part of the NTC’s “independent, regulatory, and quasi-judicial undertaking.”

Duterte’s intervention to it, Andanar said, “would be in violation of the law or a Constitutional infringement.”

Andanar emphasized: “No one is above the law,” even ABS-CBN.

“ABS-CBN’s shutdown was brought about by the expiration of its 25-year legislative franchise last 4 May 2020,” he said. 

“It is within the purview of the Constitution that NTC, as a regulatory body, disallows the continued operation of any broadcast network with an expired franchise,” he added. 

READ: ABS-CBN may ask SC for TRO against shutdown order — NTC

The PCOO chief emphasized that at this point, the fate of ABS-CBN’s franchise is “within the purview and wisdom of Congress.” 

“The mandate of a broadcast franchise issuance and renewal is within the authority of the Congress, and not solely of the President, who only signs the law to be executory,” Secretary Andanar concluded. 


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