By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter
SENATOR Francis N. Pangilinan of the opposition Liberal Party (LP) on Monday questioned the Presidential Communications Operations Office’s (PCOO) information drive in Europe.
In a statement, Mr. Pangilinan said: “Why is the government suddenly interested in clearing its name before the international community on the arrest of Maria Ressa when before, it ignored criticisms on extrajudicial killings as a result of the drug war?”
“Aren’t the President’s defenders enough to parry the views on the apparently harassment incident? Could it be that Secretary (Martin M.) Andanar and the PCOO people just want a whiff of winter, thus, the sudden urge to go into this information caravan? How much is the PCOO spending for this trip in taxpayers’ money?” he also said.
“Isn’t it more worthwhile and beneficial to spend it in helping the DoH (Department of Health) in its information drive to get as many children vaccinated to help curb the measles outbreak? Let’s use our meager resources judiciously,” the senator also said.
Sought for comment, Mr. Andanar said via text that PCOO officials sent to Europe “are part of the government’s official delegation to clarify the issue on ‘involuntary disappearances,’ anti-communist terrorist groups, among others.”
“PCOO, being a committee member of the National Task Force (NTF) to End Communist Armed Conflict pursuant to Executive Order 70, provides communications support in terms of messaging and content to the anti-Communist Terrorist Groups efforts. The engagement of PCOO in the NTF alongside relevant agencies of government in the security cluster is necessary in the adoption of a national peace framework as directed by the President by putting together the context, messaging and communication plan for the whole-of-nation approach to be executed by the NTF,” he added.
Mr. Andanar further said the caravan “is a side event in-between official meetings with officials from the EU Parliament, Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), European Commission, and leaders of the Filipino community.”
On the arrest of Ms. Ressa of, he said it “happened two days after the official delegation left for Europe. Nobody from the delegation was aware it was coming. In any case, it is just natural for me to instruct the PCOO officials in Europe to answer possible queries about Ms. Ressa.”
“My radio interview was taken out of context. I only used Ressa’s case as an example of what might be raised in the caravan. We didn’t know much about the Ressa case when we prepared for this trip,” he also said, referring to his interview with Radyo Pilipinas last Saturday where he said that some PCOO officials were set to meet with journalists in different European countries. “Para naman kausapin iyong mga European media, for example, marami silang tanong about the press freedom sa Pilipinas (For them to talk to the European media, for example, they have so many questions regarding the state of press freedom in the Philippines),” he said in the interview.
In his statement, he also said: “Rest assured no public funds are wasted in this official mission which came about from a directive from the National Security Council. All engagements in Bosnia, Brussels and Geneva are all part of PCOO’s mandate to deliver and disseminate information in relation to policies, programs, and achievements of the President and Executive Branch. In so doing, the PCOO may also set up and maintain local and international field offices to ensure that accurate information from the President and the Executive Branch is promptly and efficiently relayed.”