By Corina Oliquino 

MANILA — Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Sec. Kris Ablan, in an interview with TeleRadyo, denied their department is employing trolls to attack critics of the Duterte Administration.

Ablan insisted their unit focuses on “content” and not online trolling

“Wala po kaming trolls. Ang meron pong unit namin ‘yung social media unit na gumagawa ng content. Wala pong nagmo-monitor, content po ang ginagawa,” Ablan said.

Ablan also noted that PCOO Sec. Martin Andanar will talk to Undersec. Lorraine Badoy on the issue of red-tagging, which led to the suspension of the last September 9 hearing on their budget, adding that the official’s statements are her personal opinions.

PCOO will also talk to the Makabayan bloc to clarify Badoy’s questionable social media posts.

In a report by Rappler, Andanar called Badoy’s social media posts not official positions or statements by PCOO.  

“It was a Facebook post of Undesec. Badoy using her own Facebook page. It was not posted on the PCOO page which has two million followers. It was not even posted on PTV which has more than two million or three million followers, or the Philippine News Agency,” he said, pleading with lawmakers not to let the posts affect the agency’s budget.

“Whatever our esteemed Undersec. Badoy (was thinking), that is her own post on her page and that should not affect the rest of the PCOO budget, including the agencies’ budget. This is for the PCOO to be able to disseminate information, especially now during the time of the pandemic,” he said.

“I cannot imagine not having any budget to help the national government, every Filipino, to disseminate the correct, the right information, to avoid COVID-19,” he added.

Andanar also tried to persuade solons that PCOO is not affiliated with NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict), the group Badoy is representing and also accused on red-tagging.

“The NTF-ELCAC, they have their own office. The NTF-ELCAC also creates their own content but it is not distributed in the PCOO platform,” he said.

According to Rappler’s report, PCOO’s official social media pages have cross-posted content from NTF-ELCAC’s pages including those red-tagging media outfits and journalists.

Last May, Andanar decided to limit the kind of content PCOO pages cross-posted.

In last year’s budget hearing, News and Information Bureau chief Gigi Agtay admitted PCOO is a member of NTF-ELCAC cluster Strategic Communications.

Red-tagging and ‘abuse of power’

In the same report by Rappler, ACT teachers Rep. France Castro called for the suspension of PCOO’s budget hearing last week. The move was seconded by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.

“Kailangan muna natin, Mr. Chair, sa susunod na pagkakataon nang siguro mapasagot at mag under oath  itong Undersecretary na ito, para masagot ito. I am moving to suspend the briefing of the budget of the PCOO,” Castro said.

In 2018, PCOO’s budget was also endangered by one of its officials, then assistant secretary Mocha Uson, as her absence annoyed lawmakers and forced them to defer preliminary deliberations.

Zarate who, along with Castro ,showed hearing participants some of Badoy’s Facebook posts accusing them of being high-level members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and of giving orders to its armed wing (the New People’s Army) said it was insulting that Badoy and the rest of PCOO are asking for the House of Representatives to approve their ₱1.59 billion 2021 budget.

“Kung ganun-ganun na lang pong mag-aakusa itong isang unelected official na ito sa mga halal ng bayan at humihingi sila ng budget dito, then Mr. Chair, we cannot allow that. This is not only an affront to us but I think this is an affront to the institution,” Zarate said.

PCOO’s budget will cover the following expenses, with Rappler noting it shrunk by five percent compared to its budget in the 2020 General Appropriations Act.

PCOO proper – ₱472.276 million

Bureau of Broadcast Services – ₱405.528 million

Philippine Information Agency – ₱317.596 million

Philippine Broadcasting Service – Radio Television Malacañang – ₱178.787 million

News and Information Bureau – ₱133.120 million

Bureau of Communication Services – ₱68.624 million

National Printing Office – ₱11.894 million