MANILA – The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on Thursday told legislators that they do not employ “trolls” to churn out fake news to the public, contrary to allegations made by critics.
“The PCOO and the Duterte administration have no policy to spread fake news and false information to the public through employing social media trolls and fake accounts or through any other means,” Secretary Andanar said during the Senate finance subcommittee hearing on the PCOO’s proposed 2022 budget.
“We will never use it as a tool to discredit our critics in order to consolidate power, as our critics have gravely alleged us of doing without any evidence,” he added.
The Commission on Audit (COA) said that the PCOO spent over ₱70.6 million for the salaries of contractual hires, to which the agency responded that these hires were needed in order to intensify information dissemination amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PCOO submitted on June 7, 2021 the justification for the hiring of 375 Contract of Service (COS) personnel for the year 2020.
Secretary Andanar said that the majority of these COS personnel are occupying highly technical positions in the creative and production field such as producers, photographers, videographers, video editors, drone operators, animators, graphic artists, multimedia artists, sound design editor, streaming operator, and radio production assistant, among others.
“Due to the lack of plantilla positions and the fact that the current personnel complement is not capable of performing said duties and responsibilities, the PCOO hired contractual personnel to execute the needed tasks,” he added.
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the PCOO initiated various communications campaigns which focused on producing multimedia materials about the national government’s COVID-19 response, the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for COVID-19, and many other priority programs and achievements of the Executive Branch.
Special projects have also been undertaken by the agency by virtue of Memorandum Of Agreements with other government agencies which require the hiring of COS personnel, such as the Philippine Statistics Authority for the Philippine Identification System, and the National Housing Authority for the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program.
During the Senate hearing, Secretary Martin Andanar expressed his support for a policy seeking to penalize individuals who are found to engage in spreading malicious information.
“It’s a good idea to enact something like that or go beyond it by penalizing those who spread fake news,” Secretary Andanar said as he agreed to submit a draft of the bill.
This signifies the PCOO’s full commitment to providing accurate and timely information to the public even though it has been at the receiving end of accusations of being a breeding ground for social media trolls.
PCOO also agreed to submit to the Senate finance subcommittee regarding the 1,479 COS workers that it has engaged, including that of its attached agencies. The PCOO proper currently has reduced its COS personnel to 330 personnel, after filling up recently-opened plantilla positions granted by the Department of Budget and Management. ###