Drilon wants ‘proof of life’ of 1,479 contractual employees hired byPCOO suspected as trolls’

Drilon wants ‘proof of life’ of 1,479 contractual employees hired by
PCOO suspected as trolls’

By Ernie Reyes

MANILA — To avoid suspicions of state-funded troll farms, Senate
Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon demanded records of 1,479
contractual employees of the Palace’s communications group, 375 of
which work at the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO)
that was recently flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).

During the budget hearing of the PCOO on Thursday, Drilon aired his
suspicion that these contractual employees could be “trolls”.

“Ito yung mga troll?” Drilon asked lightly. “Hindi mo naman aaminin na
may troll kayo.”

In the PCOO alone, PCOO Undersecretary Kris Ablan confirmed they had
hired 375 employees with a “contract of service” status with a budget
of P76 million. Drilon labeled it as a “contract of trolls.”

But Drilon found that “odd” considering that they have huge vacancies
in their plantilla positions. Only 2,107 out of 3,883 plantilla
positions have been filled up.

The Palace communications group is asking for P1.9 billion for 2022
from its present budget of P1.62 billion. Of which, the PCOO is
allocated with P740.62 million from P502.28 million this year; the
Bureau of Broadcast Service with P456.03 million from P405.53 million;
the Bureau of Communications Services with P70.59 million from P68.62
million; the National Printing Office with P9.13 million from P11.89
million; the News and Information Bureau with P129.20 million from
P133.12 million; the Philippines Information Agency with P333.54
million from P317.60 million; and the RTVM with P171.86 million from
P178.79 million.

Drilon asked for proof that the 1,479 temporary hires are “legitimate
and existing” and not “ghost employees”, specifically the 375
employees in the PCOO that were flagged by COA. He asked the PCOO to
submit their records, including their names, addresses, and job
description. The committee also asked for the employees’ daily time
record.

Ablan said they would comply but would have to seek the opinion of
their legal office if the addresses can be provided, citing the Data
Privacy Act.

But Drilon quickly countered the undersecretary, saying that there are
public funds involved.

“These are public records and you are asking for public funds. You
better provide us with these documents that we need in order for us to
be convinced that this budget will be properly used,” Drilon said.

“So, don’t invoke any confidentiality here, because these are public
funds and these are subject to audit and if these are subject to
audit, these are subject to scrutiny by the branch of the government
who is holding the purse,” the former justice secretary said.

“You are asking for the appropriation of public funds and it is our
right to know. As part of our right to know, it is to make sure that
they are not fictitious names,” he added.

“Even if they are trolls, we will accept that as long as they are
legitimate and existing. We are not asking for their fingerprints,
mind you,” he said.

Meanwhile, Drilon questioned the rationale for the construction of a
media hub in the Visayas, which Drilon labeled as propaganda hubs,
worth P200 million amid a pandemic.

Aside from the P200 million for the construction of the Visayas media
hub, the PCOO has also allocated P50 million for next year for a
training academy in Bukidnon.

“I think a rational assessment would tell you that these are not
urgent projects – putting up a building to house an academy for
propaganda and having P50 million again as MOOE for propaganda,”
Drilon said.

“We have been hearing the budget and it is very obvious that we need
funds for COVID-19 response. Every single peso of resources should go
to COVID-19 response and the much-needed vaccines,” Drilon added.

Similar to the P28 billion NTF-ELCAC’s anti-insurgency fund, Drilon
suggested that the said PCOO projects be delayed for 2023 and the
funds be used to augment the country’s pandemic response. (AI/MTVN)

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