There will be no public funds wasted in the government’s Press Freedom Caravan in European countries to discuss media-related issues, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) said on Monday.
PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar made this clarification after saying in an earlier interview that some officials under his agency will be meeting with European journalists to discuss press freedom and possibly answer questions in relation to the cyber libel case filed against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.
The caravan in Brussels took place from Feb. 17 to 18 and another will be conducted in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 20.
“All engagements in Bosnia, Brussels and Geneva are all part of PCOO mandate to deliver and disseminate information relation to policies, programs, and achievements of the President and Executive Branch,” Andanar said in a statement.
“Rest assured no public funds are wasted in this official mission which came about from a directive from the National Security Council,” he added.
Andanar also explained that he, as well as other officials of his agency, did not know about Ressa’s arrest over a cyber libel case beforehand and merely used it as an example of what might be raised during the caravan.
“The arrest of Ms. Maria Ressa happened two days after the official delegation left for Europe. Nobody from the delegation was aware it was coming. In any case, it is just natural for me to instruct the PCOO officials in Europe to answer possible queries about Ms. Ressa,” Andanar said.
“I only used Ressa’s case as an example of what might be raised in the caravan; We didn’t know much about the Ressa case when we prepared for this trip,” he added.
Earlier, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan questioned the PCOO’s caravan in Europe, asking the agency to reveal how much was spent for the trip.
“Why is the government suddenly interested in clearing its name before the international community on the arrest of Maria Ressa when before, when before it has ignored criticisms on extrajudicial killings as a result of the drug war?” Pangilinan said in a statement.
“Aren’t the President’s defenders enough to parry the views on the apparently harassment incident? Could it be that Secretary Andanar and the PCOO people just want a whiff of winter, thus, the sudden urge to go into this information caravan?” he added.
Andanar explained that the caravan is a side event in-between official meetings with officials from the EU Parliament, Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), European Commission, and leaders of the Filipino community.
He said a Philippine delegation will be meeting with these officials to discuss ways to address communist insurgency.
“PCOO, being a committee member of the National Task Force (NTF) to End Communist Armed Conflict pursuant to Executive Order 70, provides communications support in terms of messaging and content to the anti-Communist Terrorist Groups efforts,” Andanar said.
“The engagement of PCOO in the NTF alongside relevant agencies of gov’t in the security cluster is necessary in the adoption of a National peace framework as directed by the President by putting together the context, messaging and communication plan for the whole-of-nation approach to be executed by the NTF,” he added.
Andanar said the PCOO in the same NTF mission, found it ”an opportune time” to include a Press Freedom Caravan to maximize the official trip.
Before the Press Freedom Caravan in Europe, Andanar said the first caravan in a foreign country was conducted in Bangkok, Thailand in January this year.
In a phone interview, Andanar said officials of the PCOO including Undersecretaries Lorraine Badoy and Joel Egco, the Executive Director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security; and Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan will be part of the delegation.
On Dec. 2018, Duterte, through Executive Order No. 70, created an 18-member task force tasked to craft a national peace framework which will include a mechanism for local peace engagements.
Under the EO, a whole-of-nation approach will be implemented to ensure participation of all sectors in the pursuit of the country’s peace agenda. (PNA)
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