MANILA -- Four senators on Thursday took turns in grilling officials of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on how it spends its yearly budget, zeroing in on the P76 million allotted for its contract of service (COS) personnel.
At the hearing on the agency's proposed P1.91 billion 2022 budget, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon quizzed PCOO Undersecretary Kris Ablan about the 1,479 contractual personnel hired by the agency, 330 of whom serve the Communications office.
The PCOO is asking for a P76 million-budget to support the contractual employees.
Drilon, while raising questions about the 1,479 hired COS, repeatedly called them as “Contract of Trolls.”
“Dito yung mga troll ano?” Drilon lightly asked Ablan.
“Hindi po. Wala po kaming troll,” Ablan quipped.
“Wala kayong troll. Eh siyempre, hindi mo aaminin Usec. Ablan na may troll kayo. Yung Tatay mo (referring to former Ilocos Norte Congressman Roquito Ablan), magaling din d'yan. Kasama ko pa siya noon. Magaling magturo kung sinong KGB ah,” Drilon said.
Drilon, along with Senators Nancy Binay, Imee Marcos and Senate Subcommittee on Finance Chairman Richard Gordon, asked the PCOO to submit a complete list of its contractual employees, including their complete names, addresses, job descriptions, and daily time record.
This, the lawmakers said, is for them to be able to verify if these so-called personnel are "legitimate and existing" and not "ghost employees."
"What are the projects and the job description of these employees that are so technical and so specialized that no permanent government employee can possibly perform? I’m completely baffled as well because there are no policy guidelines in hiring government employees," Marcos said.
"Your contracts of work are very random. They don’t appear to have any semblance of uniformity or even the requisite Civil Service Commission regional approval," she added.
Ablan initially said that he will confer with their legal team on this, citing the Data Privacy Act. But this reply was rebuked by Drilon.
"These are public records and you are asking for public funds… So, 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,” Drilon, a former justice secretary, said.
"Even if they are trolls, we will accept that as long as they are legitimate and existing. We are not asking for their fingerprints, mind you," he added.
Ablan later on committed to submit the list while showing the committee a pile of papers.
Drilon also asked about the PCOO’s proposed P200 million budget for a “Visayas media hub” to be constructed in Cebu, and the P50 million allocation for a communications training academy in Bukidnon.
“I think a rational assessment would tell you that these are not urgent projects – putting up a building to house an academy for propaganda and another P50 million as (maintenance and other operating expenses) for another propaganda,” Drilon said.
"We have been hearing the budget and it is very obvious that we need funds for COVID-19 response. Every single peso of resources should go to COVID-19 response and the much-needed vaccines," he added.
Drilon suggested that these PCOO projects be delayed for 2023 so the funds can be used instead to augment the country’s pandemic response.
Binay echoed Drilon's concern, citing the needed funding to support hospitals.
She noted that nine major hospitals suffered budget cuts amid the pandemic.
- Batanes General Hospital
- Region 2 Trauma and Medical Center
- Bicol Regional Hospital
- Mindanao Central Sanitarium in the Zamboanga Peninsula
- Philippine Children's Medical Center
- Lung Center of the Philippines
- Philippine Heart Center
- National Kidney and Transplant Institute
- Philippine General Hospital
"While we do not dismiss the value of these hubs, we have increasingly diminishing resources which we should dedicate towards our fight against COVID-19. Our people’s lives and health should be given top priority right now over anything else," Binay said.
"Sana ang mga ganitong construction projects na hindi urgent, ibuhos na lang natin sa mga ospital na nabawasan pa ang alokasyon imbes na dapat dagdagan," she added.
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar acknowledged Drilon's points and opted not to appeal their proposed budget for the Visayas media hub and communications training academy.
Marcos, meanwhile, zeroed in on the failure of the Duterte administration to privatize the cash-strapped IBC-13, which was sequestered by the government right after the 1986 People Power Revolution.
"We initiated (the privatization) in 2016 then the pandemic hit us," IBC-13 President and CEO Hexilon Alvarez said.
"Ang layo naman… Pandemic ay 2020," Marcos said.
"The process was initiated in 2016.. but it took some time to compile the inventory," Alvarez said in reply.
The approval of the PCOO's budget was deferred pending the other questions from the committee members, and the agency’s submission of the requested documents.
The breakdown of PCOO’s proposed budget is as follows:
- PCOO -- P740.62M
- Bureau of Broadcast Service -- P456.03M
- Bureau of Communications Services -- P70.59M
- National Printing Office -- P9.13M
- News and Information Bureau -- P129.20M
- Philippines Information Agency -- P333.54M
- RTVM -- P171.86M