Drilon questions PCOO for creating own social media office

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon questioned on Monday, September 27, the legality of the creation of a social media office by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar (PCOO)

At the resumption of the Senate finance subcommittee's deliberation of the PCOO's P1.9-billion proposed budget for 2022, Drilon raised that the PCOO, through a department order, created in 2017 a "social media office" headed by an "assistant secretary for social media".

"Can you just create an office through a department order?" Drilon asked.

"As far as I know, you create an office because of law. I do not know that a department order is enough to create an office," he said.

PCOO Undersecretary Kris Ablan confirmed that they created the office, saying this "is just internal to the PCOO".

He also reported that the office and position has already been replaced by the "Office of the Undersecretary for New Media".

But Drilon maintained that government agencies cannot establish offices or positions internally because these entail use of public funds.

"Now you have elevated this into the Office of the Undersecretary, makes your situation worse.

Because the undersecretary positions are created under the law, and by virtue of the Administrative Code," he said.

"You are arrogating to yourself a function or a power reserved to Congress, and we have not delegated that power to you. How do you legally justify the creation of an office under a department order, and you made it worse," Drilon further said.

Ablan insisted that the creation of the office through the department order was "in order", saying the PCOO secretary could create an ad hoc office.

Drilon asked Ablan to submit to the Senate a legal justification authorizing a department secretary to create an office through a department order.

"I have been a lawyer for 50 years, involved in public law, for the last three decades but I am not aware that a department secretary can create an office to appoint personnel by virtue of a department order," said the senator, who also served as a justice secretary.

The agency was again quizzed about the surge in the number of its contractual employees, whom senators suspected were working as "trolls".

Drilon said the PCOO has "disregarded" an existing government circular for the hiring of personnel under contract of service (COS).

Citing a joint circular issued in 2017 by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Commission on Audit (COA), the minority leader said COS workers must be hired only for "special projects" being implemented by agencies.

Drilon said that state-run People's Television Network (PTV-14), for instance, increased its personnel by 250 percent, from 214 in 2016, to 534 in 2021.

PTV-4 general manager Kat de Castro, who was appointed to the position last year, said she was not aware of the said joint circular but maintained they "needed to hire more people for operations".

"That's why you just kept on hiring COS personnel in total disregard of the circular," Drilon lectured De Castro.

Ablan told the Senate panel that the PCOO plans to reduce the number of their COS personnel in 2022.

PCOO officials maintained that they did not hire social media trolls.

The Senate finance subcommittee, chaired by Senator Richard Gordon, approved the PCOO's proposed 2022 budget with reservations.