MANILA - Communications Secretary Martin Andanar on Tuesday denied his office and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) were behind an online signature campaign promoting the Philippines' possible shift to federalism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) report earlier said the DILG has shifted its signature campaign online during the pandemic, collecting 2 million signatures in support of constitutional amendments even as the country fights the pandemic.
"The online signature campaign that was done is not managed by the DILG nor the PCOO (Presidential Communications Operations Office), but instead by partner Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), who are voluntarily conducting the initiative online and not physically going barangay to barangay. The said initiative is also not pushing for charter change but focuses on CORE which is about amendments and not revisions," Andanar said in a statement.
Andanar said his office has "minimized engagements" on the federalism roadshows since the start of 2020.
"We have refocused all our efforts towards mitigating the dire effects brought about by the pandemic. Therefore, no active engagements are in place as we continue to undertake frontline responsibilities to our citizens," he said.
DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, the Inquirer reported, said in a memorandum dated Jan. 28 that the collected signatures would be presented to Congress to show the support the agency has gathered for constitutional reform.
Malaya told the Inquirer regional directors have been ordered to stop collecting signatures and "focus all attention on anti-COVID efforts."
Sen. Nancy Binay blasted the DILG and PCOO for prioritizing the push for federalism amid the country's COVID-19 crisis.
"Matagal na po nating sinasabi na we are at a crucial point where communication is vital in confronting a state of a public health emergency. Mag-step-up naman sana ang PCOO at DILG in elevating the ante in risk communication,” she said.
(We have long been saying that we are at a crucial point where communication is vital in confronting a state of a public health emergency. The DILG and the PCOO should step up in elevating the ante in risk communication.)
The senator also called on the two government agencies to realign their federalism roadshow funds to programs for the public, especially those who are severely affected by the pandemic.
Andanar said, however, that their funds for the federalism roadshow "have either already been spent or have been returned" to the national treasury to support programs and actions against the spread of COVID-19.
"No part of this year's budget or any fund has been used for any roadshow whatsoever," he said. "We would also like to assure the Senator that the PCOO’s efforts towards fulfilling its mandate of engaging the public in matters of governance and consensus, especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, has never wavered nor strayed."
DSWD Sec. Eduardo Año earlier denied his department was collecting signatures in support of federalism, calling it "fake news."
The Inquirer has maintained its story, saying it is not fake news.
Besides Binay, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Francis Pangilinan also told the DILG to focus on efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic instead of moves to amend the Constitution, with the former saying it was a “total waste of time and resources.”