The proposed PHP1.59 billion budget for the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) next year will center on communicating the nation’s recovery, Secretary Martin Andanar said on Tuesday.
During the agency’s budget hearing before the Senate Finance subcommittee led by Senator Richard Gordon, Andanar said the PCOO and its attached agencies will continue to deliver truth, as well as hope that better days are coming for the Philippines amid impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
“The PCOO’s budget for 2021 amounts to about PHP1.59 billion, which we will use to communicate to the people, as we recover as a nation, with the Duterte administration laying out the path for resilience and sustainability,” Andanar said.
The 2021 budget of the PCOO and its attached agencies was submitted to the plenary after the subcommittee session.
In the proposed budget, the PCOO proper has the largest share amounting to PHP472.3 million, followed by the Bureau of Broadcast Services (BBS) at PHP405.5 million, and the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) at PHP317.6 million.
The Presidential Broadcast Staff Radio-TV Malacanang (PBS-RTVM) gets the fourth largest share at PHP178.8 million, followed by the News and Information Bureau (NIB) at PHP133.1 million, and the Bureau of Communications Services (BCS) at PHP68.6 million. Meanwhile, the National Printing Office (NPO) will get PHP11.9 million.
The agency also allocated subsidies to its government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) amounting to almost PHP150 million. Of this amount, PHP76.2 million go to the People’s Television Network (PTV-4) to support its operations in offering better quality of programs; while PHP73.7 million will go to the Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC-13) to support its maintenance and other operating expenses.
This brings the total agency budget and GOCC subsidy to PHP1.74 billion.
Andanar also discussed landmark programs that the agency aims to embark with the proposed budget for next year, including the move to institutionalize the Laging Handa as the government’s leading crisis communication and information platform.
“Having this platform throughout all administrations that will follow will enable government communicators to be ready for future crises that may necessitate much coordinated, and stronger communication efforts, in order to provide extensive, timely, and reliable information for the public to prepare for, avoid, and respond to any man-made disasters, natural calamities, or infectious diseases,” he said.
Pioneered in 2016, Laging Handa has served as a one-stop information platform of the country for keeping the public informed during crisis situations, may it be natural disasters or a health crisis.
Andanar reiterated that the PCOO will likewise continue to push for the passage of its key legislative priorities such as the Freedom of Information Bill and the Media Workers Welfare Bill.
“We will push for two key priority legislations next year to enrich our country’s vibrant freedom when it comes to information access, along with the welfare and the capacity of our media workers. These are the Freedom of Information bill, and the Media Workers Welfare bill,” he said.
The Freedom of Information bill seeks to institutionalize the FOI across all branches of government, directing them to disclose information on projects and other matters that involve public interest.
The Media Workers Welfare bill, meanwhile, seeks to provide media workers more access in terms of security of tenure, adequate health benefits, housing programs, and appropriate hazard and overtime pay.
Purchase of ICT equipment, upgrade of gov’t media
He said PHP79.23 million of the PCOO’s budget will go to capital outlays. Two-thirds of this amount, or PHP52.35 million, is intended for the building construction of the Government Strategic Communication Academy in Bukidnon.
This will serve as a training hub for information officers of both the national agencies and the local government units. The facility will also house the government television and radio centers as well as housing facilities for personnel.
Moreover, the PBS-RTVM, BBS, and NIB budgeted the procurement of ICT equipment and software to further strengthen its media coverage on the President, and the Executive branch of government.
The BCS, meanwhile, allotted funds for the printing equipment to complement its on-the-ground communications efforts. The PIA, on the other hand, will spend its allotted capital outlays to the improvement of its central office’s parking area and perimeter fencing.
While the 2021 budget may be significantly smaller compared to the current year, Andanar assured that PCOO will remain steadfast in fulfilling its mandate of delivering the truth, especially in this difficult time.
“Please be assured that we will continue to build on our efforts of bringing the truth to the nation, along with our foreign audiences,” he said.
He said the job of the PCOO is to deliver accurate and valuable information with excellence, responsibility, and integrity to the Filipino people, “so that they may be transformed into informed citizens and thought leaders, who will partner with us in achieving President Duterte’s legacy of providing a comfortable life for all Filipinos.”
“Our objective remains: bring hope to our people that better days are coming for the Philippines,” he added.
In the same hearing, Senator Bong Go expressed full support for the PCOO’s 2021 budget.
“Information is our best weapon against fear-mongering and public anxiety. It is for this reason that the role of the PCOO, as the lead communications arm of the government, is very crucial now more than ever. Through the PCOO, we were able to inform, educate, and enlighten the Filipino citizenry about matters of national importance, and empowering them to deepen their civic engagement,” Go said.
“Dahil po sa PCOO, naiihahatid natin ng maayos at organisado ang impormasyon na kailangan ng tao tungkol sa mga proyekto, programa at polisiya ng gobyerno, lalo na ngayong kasagsagan ng pandemya. At napatunayan po ito noong Marso na kung saan nagkaroon ng lockdown, talagang nag doubletime po talaga ang PTV-4 (Thanks to PCOO, we are able to deliver information properly and organized that the people need about government projects, programs, and policies, especially at the height of the pandemic. This was proven in March when we had a lockdown, and PTV-4 had to work double time),” Go said.
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, manifested support for the PCOO budget, especially the creation of the Government Strategic Communication Academy.
“I’ll push for the amendment of the budget of the PCOO to include that particular center to be placed in Northern Mindanao. I think ideal because Mindanao still needs to grow in terms of development, in terms of spreading the good news of government to its people because we still have an insurgency problem there, and we still have to convince the hearts and minds of the people there that government is actually doing something for them, is actually working for them,” Zubiri said. (PNA)