Senators question PCOO's creation of social media office without a law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 27) — Senators on Monday questioned the Presidential Communications Operations Office's move to create a social media office without authority of law.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon raised the issue during a finance subcommittee's hearing on the PCOO's proposed ₱2.09 billion budget for 2022.

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

PCOO Undersecretary Kris Ablan stood by the 2017 department order creating the Social Media Office, or SMO, headed by an assistant secretary.

"The creation of the office is only internal to the PCOO," Ablan said. "We maintain that a department order is in order, that the secretary could create an ad hoc office."

Drilon, however, said the use of public funds "can never be internal to a department."

Ablan also said the SMO has now been replaced by the Office of the Undersecretary for New Media. But for Drilon, this only makes things worse, "elevating now the head of the office as an undersecretary."

Senator Richard Gordon asked if this constitutes malversation, since public funds were spent for an entity that was not created by law. Drilon said he needs to study it further.

Ablan said the PCOO will submit a position paper defending its stand.

The subcommittee approved the PCOO's proposed spending plan for 2022, sending it to the plenary, but Drilon said he will propose budget cuts.

"Because a number of activities cannot be justified, one, and two, it can be deferred because we have no funds for COVID-19," the veteran lawmaker added.

Senators had other reservations, including the hiring of 1,479 contract of service employees, with its attached government-owned and controlled corporation — the People's Television Network — having the most non-permanent workers. The committee earlier requested the contractual employees' records on the suspicion that they may be working as internet trolls, something the PCOO has repeatedly denied.