Many are familiar with her pretty face. Asec. Celine Pialago has graced many a local news program. As Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) spokesperson, she is tasked to deliver updates on flood control, solid waste and traffic management, public safety and other MMDA projects. Some people say her calm demeanor is a good contrast to the rage urban commuters feel over our long-standing traffic problems.
This weekend, however, Pialago caused quite a furor herself, not for an MMDA-related issue but for a tweet many deemed “uncalled for,” “inappropriate,” and “lacking empathy.”
Pialago decried local media and netizens’ show of sympathy towards activist Reina Mae Nasino who recently lost her three-month-old daughter baby River to pneumonia. She asked the public to stop making a soap opera of the burial—where Nasino, surrounded by heavily armed prison guards, was not even allowed to hold her child for the last time.
“Hindi lahat ng inang nakakulong ay nakapunta sa libing ng kanyang anak,” Pialago wrote on Twitter, a tweet that has already been deleted from her feed. “Kaya yung mga sumisimpatiya kay Reina Mae Nasino, pag-aralan niyo mabuti ang dahilan bakit sya nakulong at kilalanin niyong mabuti kung sino siya sa lipunan. Masyado ninyong ginagawang pang-drama serye sa hapon ang paghininagpis. Tigilan niyo!”
The tweet struck a nerve among Filipinos online, especially those who were following the story of the mother and child.
Born pre-mature in July, baby River was separated from her mother mid-August as Nasino stayed in jail while awaiting trial for illegal possession of firearms and explosives. She and two others were arrested in November 2019.
Nasino was originally granted a continuous 3-day furlough for the wake and burial but a Manila court cut it to 6 hours —spread over 2 days — after the Manila City Jail Female Dormitory claimed there was inadequate manpower to guard the activist. Nasino bid her final goodbye to baby River last Friday at Manila North Cemetery.
Pialago today issued an apology for her Tweet and sort of clarified that the “drama serye” she was referring to was created by people who were “capitalizing” on Nasino's situation. “Dun naman po sa pamilya, kung maga-apologize po ako sa salita na drama serye sa paghihinagpis niya bilang isang ina, I’m sorry. But for who you are, kung sino ka, kung bakit ka madaming security that I won’t apologize.”
This is not the first time Pialago trended online. The 28-year-old Miriam College alum figured in the news back in 2014 for a faux pas she committed while competing in the Miss Earth Philippines pageant. Pialago, who was then using her real name Pircelyn Pialago, was bashed for using the phrase “passed away” instead of “passed out” to refer to a fellow contestant who fainted during the competition.
Pialago recalled the experience to PEP in an interview last year. “Noong time na yun, yung buddy [roommate] ko ang nag-pass out, so tinapatan na ako ng mga TV camera. Gusto ko siyang puntahan, stressed na ako. Ang gusto ko sanang sabihin noon, huwag kayong mag-diet kasi baka mamatay kayo. I was supposed to say that, pero hindi ko nasabi.”
The lady’s Facebook account reveals her line of expertise is in communications: she’s worked as Chief Media Officer at the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), as media consultant at the House of Representatives, as a TV anchor at People’s Television Network, and as researcher at ABS-CBN. She’s also been an event host and event organizer, a model and DJ.
Her entry into the Duterte cabinet was met with reservations by political watchers and naysayers, aware she had previously worked for the Liberal Party. She was the PR head of then-Makati City OIC Mayor Kid Peña and was eventually assigned to help out with the presidential campaign of Mar Roxas.
“When I applied to President Duterte in Davao, the first thing they asked me, ‘You came from the Liberal Party, you know the issue about political colors?’ I told them that my loyalty is not with the person, it’s with my country,” she said in an interview published by the Miriam College website. “I want to serve and I want to communicate. When someone wins, I support his or her government. If he or she is wrong, then, I will quit. If I like the administration, of course I will stay. But my loyalty is with the country first.”
In an interview with autocar.com, Pialago said she often gets into fights and arguments with pasaway drivers. She usually joins operations in the field and confronts erring and arrogant drivers herself.
Getting threats does not faze her, she said. “Hindi ako natatakot. I’m actually waiting for them!” she said. “I do firing, I have three guns. I’m actually excited (Laughs.) Pero nasaan ba sila? Kung magpapadala ka sa takot mothen mali-limit na ‘yung trabaho mo, maaapekuhan na ‘yung performance mo which makes you less effective.”