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)